LCCM Executive Director
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
At this point we have been operating LCCM in COVID mode since March 13, 2020. It is hard to believe the last 16 months have passed and our operations did not once shut down. The community support in both prayers and financial blessings has been humbling.
We experienced significant increases in food distribution, then a significant slow down in food distribution. We also experienced an increase in those receiving the free noon meal, and extended stays in our homeless shelter due to limited housing stock in our community.
While the pandemic brought loss, grief and unimaginable challenges, we used this period of time at LCCM as an opportunity to reflect on the services provided in our homeless shelter and wanted to identify ways to enhance those services. This was an unexpected opportunity to rethink what we do. Is there a better way? Will changes be supported by our community of churches, private supporters, and our volunteers?
Want to support our shelter guests? Participate in our Hurdles to Housing fundraiser
The last 16 months have provided clarity on the need for a physical shelter, a single location where our guests are engaged, services are provided, programs are delivered, and individualized growth of each guest can occur. This location must be designed in a way to provide a safe environment for each guest who stays at our shelter.
This is why our Board of Directors recently established a shelter committee that will be evaluating the feasibility of a physical location and establishing how our program can serve our guests most effectively. There is a lot of work to be done as we are in the early stages and are praying for direction and guidance as we seek to serve our community.
Our guests have been staying in a hotel/motel setting for the last 16-months. Prior to the pandemic, our shelter operated in a congregate “cold” shelter model for seven years. The physical location of the shelter rotated every two weeks among a dozen churches throughout the year. Each host church was tasked with having six to eight volunteers per night to welcome and register guests, to minister to them, and have, at minimum, two volunteers spend the night with our guests. This was a huge lift for each church over the years and the commitment by our community of churches is amazing. We also know how difficult it has been at times for churches to secure the volunteer commitment. BUT we also know how much of an impact the volunteering has made on many individuals. We are committed to continuing to provide volunteer opportunities regardless of what the future holds.
While we work on gaining clarity on what the future looks like for FRESH Start, one thing is clear – homelessness is an issue in Lebanon County. This year, FRESH Start has averaged 17 guests each night. Our shelter is a family shelter, and at any given time 50 percent of our guests are children. Without turning this article into a detailed account about adverse childhood experiences or other trauma, just take a minute to think about the impact on a child’s life when they are unsure about their next meal, where they will sleep at night, or, when they enter our shelter, what it is like living with 15-20 other individuals while their home moves every two weeks.
Is a roof over our guests heads enough? Well, it is certainly a start. But what other factors must be considered? We start with basic needs being met. Do our guests have food? Do our guests have clothing? From there we begin to ensure our guests acclimate to a new normal and identify areas of opportunity to grow as a person. Are our guests working? Is it a life-sustaining wage? What factors have led to our guests’ homelessness?
Homelessness is often hidden and not found in plain sight. The experiences we observe in our FRESH Start program find most individuals who seek our assistance have been leveraging relationships with friends and family and eventually exhaust their resources and have no other place to turn. Occasionally we have guests who have been sheltered in their car or have been camping without any plans for long- term housing. Does this mean we do not have a homelessness issue in our community? Simply stated, no it does not! Our community struggles with homelessness on different levels. For example, data collected for homelessness by the Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) show a significant number of homeless children. The 2019-2020 report from ECYEH notes 727 children were identified as being homeless in Lebanon County Schools. Homelessness, for the purpose of the above data, is defined as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This does not mean each of these children are in a shelter or on the streets.
LCCM is committed to providing shelter for individuals in our community. We continue to work through these uncertain times, but we are excited to have some clarity until at least December of 2021. Recently, funding through the state via Lebanon Community Action Partnership was designated to LCCM to financially support our shelter in the hotel/motel environment. What this means for LCCM is our team can focus our efforts on case management of our guests and ensuring funding to shelter our guests through the rest of the year. It also provides our board and leadership the opportunity to plan to answer the question: “What is next?”
As we enter one of our biggest fundraisers for FRESH Start this July and August, we just wanted to take this opportunity to reflect and look toward the future. There have been many lessons learned, modifications and on-the-fly adjustments made, and incredible partnerships which allowed us to continue supporting those experiencing homelessness in Lebanon County. Please help us make this fundraiser a success. There are numerous opportunities to support FRESH Start’s operations. These opportunities include group activities, a barbecue meal, a poverty simulator event and peer-to-peer fundraising. It can be as simple as a couple clicks on your Facebook page.