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United Way of Lancaster County


Low-barrier shelter adjusts to new North Prince Street site

Workers stack mattresses and bed frames during the relocation of Lancaster’s low-barrier emergency shelter to North Prince Street on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The Lancaster County Food Hub’s emergency shelter is settling into its new quarters in the 200 block of North Prince Street, Food Hub Executive Director Paige McFarling said.

Food Hub staff have been working to adapt the vacant former Benjamin Roberts furniture store, and the people whom the shelter serves “seem to be managing well,” she said.

The shelter was abruptly relocated last Wednesday after the failure of the boiler at its previous location, Ebenezer Baptist Church. Staff from the Food Hub, city government and the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority packed the shelter’s furnishings and moved them across town in a few short hours.

The new site has plenty of space for the low-barrier shelter’s 40 beds, separated into men’s and women’s quarters. There weren’t enough bathrooms, but the Food Hub has set up four handicap-accessible portable toilets and two portable handwashing stations in warehouse space in the building’s north wing, and that’s working out well, McFarling said.

Staff are making some minor alterations to the site, such as covering some of the windows with tinted film for privacy. They continue to evaluate what other modifications, such as security cameras, might make sense, McFarling said.

So far, McFarling said, there have been no problems with the portable toilet set up behind the site, where it’s accessible overnight to individuals sleeping outdoors. City staff and individuals from homeless advocate Dave Costarella’s Hand Up Partners crew are sharing the job of cleaning and maintaining it.

The Food Hub operates the shelter under a contract with the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition, which is housed within the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority.

Because the shelter’s move was so abrupt, there wasn’t time for the authority to formalize an agreement with Ben Lesher, owner of the new site. The authority expects to have a memorandum of understanding with Lesher finalized in time for its board to review and approve at its regular monthly meeting, Executive Director Justin Eby said, but a lease, also in the works, will likely take a bit more time.

Dec. 1 marks the start of Lancaster County’s winter shelter season and the annual expansion of shelter space. In Lancaster, that expansion was expected to include the debut of a 40-bed shelter in the basement at Otterbein United Methodist Church, doubling the low-barrier capacity within the city.

However, it was announced last week that the shelter will not open on time. The church’s basement requires renovations and no organization to run the shelter has yet been found. Eby is scheduled to appear before City Council next week to discuss a revised timeline and budget.

Between the relocation and the delay at Otterbein, the situation has evolved quickly, McFarling and Mayor Danene Sorace said. Representatives of the city, the redevelopment authority, Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition and Food Hub have multiple meetings planned over the next few weeks to discuss strategy and options.

There is space at the North Prince Street shelter site to accommodate winter shelter beds, McFarling said, but the Food Hub would need support from one or more partner organizations to set it up and run it.