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United Way of Lancaster County


Homeless facility update: Otterbein shelter on course for December opening, South Prince hub pushed back to late 2025

Otterbein United Methodist Church, left, and 132-34 S. Prince St. (Photos: Tim Stuhldreher)

Having checked a regulatory step off its to-do list last Wednesday, the low-barrier emergency shelter at Otterbein United Methodist Church remains on track to open in December, officials at the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority confirmed this week.

That is not the case, however, for the homelessness services hub planned at the former Neighborhood Services building in the 100 block of South Prince Street.
It, too, was to open toward the end of the year. However, it has now been pushed back to November 2025.

The delay resulted from the need to focus on bringing the Otterbein shelter online first, spokeswoman Jocelynn Naples said.

The hub’s revised timeline calls for the design team to submit final land development plans this month, Naples said. That should allow for governmental review and approval by early September, setting the stage for construction to begin in October.

Service expansion

Both the Otterbein shelter and the South Prince hub are seen as crucial expansions of services in the city, which has seen a substantial increase in street homelessness since the pandemic.

Officials had hoped to bring the Otterbein shelter online this past winter, but it needs renovations first, including the installation of a sprinkler system and an elevator.

In the meantime, the low-barrier shelter at the former Benjamin Roberts building on North Prince Street is winding down. Forty of its 80 beds came offline at the end of March; the other 40 beds will be decommissioned at the end of June, vacating the site to make way for a redevelopment project.

Between then and the opening of the Otterbein shelter, there will be no low-barrier beds in the city. To compensate, the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition is planning to bolster street outreach in the interim.

Officials have acknowledged the situation is less than optimal. “I’m very concerned about what is to come,” Mayor Danene Sorace said after a briefing in February.

“Low-barrier” refers to shelters with minimal criteria for entry: The Food Hub has required only that individuals be able to take care of themselves without assistance and pose no danger to themselves or others.

Waiver secured

The Otterbein shelter will be the city’s first permanent low-barrier shelter, and is to have 80 beds. The renovations there, including the sprinklers and elevator, are budgeted at $1.4 million.

At the city’s April 17 Planning Commission meeting, the commission agreed to waive the requirement to submit a land development plan. Apart from needing additional water and sewer capacity, there’s no reason for one, and the capacity issue can be handled administratively, the project team and city staff agreed.

The city strongly supports the Otterbein project, Chief Planner Douglas Smith told the commission his team has been working closely with the coalition and the redevelopment authority, where the coalition is based. The city is providing $800,000 in American Rescue Plan Act to the authority to underwrite low-barrier shelter services through 2026.

South Prince

As for the South Prince hub, it would provide short-term crisis housing, longer-term supportive housing and a community center where case managers can work with clients and refer them to services. The plan calls for adding a second floor to the existing one-story Neighborhood Services building.

The project is currently budgeted at a little over $7 million. The city has pledged $800,000 in ARPA funds; the county has pledged $1 million, also through ARPA. The authority, through its affiliated nonprofit, the Lancaster Redevelopment Fund, is pursuing other public and private grants to cover the rest.

A rendering of the South Prince hub for homelessness services, showing the facade. (Source: Tippetts Weaver Architects)

Lancaster County’s upswell in homelessness is part of a trend being seen nationwide, spurred by a widespread affordable housing crisis, the opioid epidemic and other factors. In some parts of the country, homeless encampments have swelled to populations approaching 1,000 or more.

Last year, Lancaster County’s annual “point in time” count documented 526 individuals who were in emergency or transitional housing or were unsheltered, up 11% over 2022. The point-in-time count is conducted each January; the coalition is on track to release this year’s numbers to community partners later this week and to the public next week, said Deb Jones, director of the coalition’s office.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case involving whether a city can enact a de facto ban on homelessness by criminalizing behavior, such as sleeping outside with a blanket or under cardboard. The case is being followed closely, including in Lancaster County, Jones said.

“We’re waiting with bated breath for the ruling this summer,” she said. “This does impact our community.”