Kaden Stetler, president of Rebel Cause, shows off the new day center at First United Methodist Church in Lancaster. (Source: Rebel Cause)
Kaden Stetler, president of Rebel Cause, shows off the new day center at First United Methodist Church in Lancaster. (Source: Rebel Cause)

This is a very big week for Rebel Cause Lancaster, the local nonprofit founded and run by Star Wars fans.

Since April, Rebel Cause has run a day center for homeless individuals at Lancaster's Crossroads Mennonite Church. Today, it reopens at a new location: First United Methodist Church of Lancaster, 29 E. Walnut St.

Then, Friday evening, Rebel Cause plans to open its new overnight shelter. It's hosted by a church in the city; for the time being, Rebel Cause is not disclosing the exact location to the general public. (Update: The organization has since revealed it is at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 701 N. Lime St.)

Sleeping arrangements at the Rebel Cause overnight shelter. (Source: Rebel Cause Lancaster)

Meeting needs

"We're super-excited," said Kaden Stetler, Rebel Cause's founder and president. The overnight shelter, in particular, is "something the city desperately needs," he said.

The day center, likewise, was long recognized as an unmet need in Lancaster. The push for it took on greater urgency in March when Gov. Tom Wolf placed the county under a Covid-19 stay-at-home order, shuttering places such as the library where people had been able to take refuge from the elements.

Crossroads was able to offer its space during Lancaster County's stay-at-home order, but once normal activities resumed, it was no longer practical due to the site's space limitations. The center wrapped up there on Friday.

At First United Methodist, it will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It has space for 15 people under Covid-19 social-distancing arrangements.

The overnight shelter will have 15 beds — like the day center, per constraints imposed by the pandemic — and will operate from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Both sites are openly affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Jennifer Koppel

Federal underwriting

The sites will operate with federal funding secured through Lanc Co MyHome, the coalition of social service agencies that serve the county's homeless population.

Part of the government's Covid-19 relief effort, the appropriation came to Lancaster city and the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority via the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, said Jennifer Koppel, the coalition's director. A little over $160,000 has been allocated for the shelters, she said.

Both facilities will be integral parts of Lanc Co MyHome's overall approach, Koppel said. The coalition has outreach specialists who work with people on the streets; they'll help people get into the overnight shelter, and will check in with them the following morning.

First United Methodist Church of Lancaster, 29 E. Walnut St. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Stetler described the overnight shelter as a "stepping stone." The hope is to build trusting relationships with homeless individuals and help them access the mental health, addiction, financial and other services they may need to overcome their barriers and obtain permanent shelter.

Everyone involved at Rebel Cause thought the shelter was "the next logical step to take," Stetler said.

Laura Meisl, facilities manager for First United Methodist, said the church is looking forward to hosting the day center.

"Rebel Cause Lancaster has been doing an excellent job with the shelter at Crossroads and we know that will continue here. ... I know this will be a great partnership," she said.

Among its many efforts to help the community, First United Methodist hosts Anchorage Breakfast Program, which provides free meals five days a week to those in need.

Koppel said the coalition had hoped to open a day center by the end of the year. To launch it and the overnight shelter in the face of a historic pandemic is a tremendous achievement, she said.

Rebel Cause has been great to work with, she said: "This is how collaboration works."

Tim Stuhldreher