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United Way of Lancaster County


YMCA of the Roses tapped to manage homeless shelter at Otterbein church

Otterbein United Methodist Church, 20 E. Clay St. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The YMCA of the Roses has agreed in principle to staff and manage the 80-bed low-barrier shelter that the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition plans to open this winter at Otterbein United Methodist Church.

Larry Richardson

“It’s certainly something we believe we have the capacity to support and deliver on,” said Larry Richardson, YMCA’s executive director. “We look forward to being part of the solution.”

The shelter is a key part of the coalition’s strategy for coping with the rise in homelessness in Lancaster since the pandemic. It was originally to open at Otterbein this past winter, but that was postponed after officials determined the site would need extensive renovations first, including installation of an elevator and a sprinkler system. The work is budgeted at about $1.4 million.

The authority had included the Otterbein shelter as one of the categories in its most recent “joint funding” call for applications to provide homelessness services, but got no responses, Executive Director Justin Eby said. So it reached out to a number of providers individually, and the discussions with YMCA worked out.

The partnership is getting under way under the terms of a memorandum of understanding that YMCA and the coalition’s parent authority, the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, signed this week. It lays out their responsibilities: The authority is to oversee the fit-out of the shelter, raise funds and pay for it, and serve as liaison with Lancaster city government, while the YMCA is to hire and train staff and begin developing an operating plan and budget.

The two entities plan to sign a contract superseding the MOU and laying out financial arrangements before the shelter’s expected Dec. 1 opening. The contract will likely run through June 30, the end of the authority’s fiscal year, Richardson and Deb Jones, director of the coalition’s administrative office, said.

The coalition is “delighted” to have the YMCA as a new partner in the homelessness response system, Jones said.

About YMCA of the Roses

YMCA of the Roses was formed in 2021 through the merger of the Lancaster Family YMCA and the YMCA of York and York County. While this will be its first homelessness operation in Lancaster County, it builds on a robust capacity in York County, Richardson said.

The YMCA in York, home of The Men’s Residence. (Source: YMCA of the Roses)

Since 2000, it has operated The Men’s Residence, a men’s shelter with more than 100 beds. at its York city headquarters. Its Y Community Development Corp. has a portfolio of 119 affordable houses and apartments. In all, YMCA’s history of York County housing services stretches back nearly a century, Richardson said.

It aims to provide service with empathy, he said: “Our mission is to love everyone.”

The Otterbein shelter is a successor to the 40-bed low-barrier shelter launched in the summer of 2020 at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Once open, it is to operate year-round.

The Lancaster County Food Hub took over management of the Ebenezer shelter in summer 2021. It moved last fall to 232 N. Prince St., and was temporarily expanded to 80 beds. It is now being wound down to make way for a construction project; it is scheduled to close no later than June 30.

The city will have no low-barrier beds between then and the opening of the Otterbein shelter. Low-barrier is the most inclusive category of shelter, with minimal conditions for entry. At 232 N. Prince St., clients need only be able to care for themselves without assistance and present no danger to themselves for others. The city has other shelters available, but they generally impose additional criteria, such as sobriety or participation in programming.

Service providers and officials say the interruption of low-barrier shelter over the summer is likely to result in more street homelessness. To offset that, the coalition recently awarded contracts to three nonprofits to expand their street outreach services.