Shelter in Christ’s Love
A first-hand account of our work with Atkinson, written by parishioner Martha Thomae
This personal outreach of St. Andrew’s has a very long history. It has been a part of our outreach during the tenures of several priests. Begun as a way of giving St. Andrew’s an in-person form of outreach rather than just sending a check, by a young woman in preparation for becoming a deacon. She envisioned giving men in a center in Coatesville the sort of meal we might give our guests instead of the typical spaghetti with sauce and bread that was frequently food at homeless shelters. During normal times the Atkinson center has been a place where the men can live while going through a program designed to teach them to find jobs and have the skills to keep those jobs. They have had men who just came out of jail as well as men who had lost their jobs and were unable to find other jobs. This usually meant they had also lost their house or apartment and car. Giving these men a home cooked meal, such as one would give a guest, is a way of showing respect for them as people.
Our normal custom of not only taking the food down but also serving them ourselves is another way of showing respect for them as individuals and gives us the opportunity to chat a bit and find out more about their problems and what they must do to regain a place of their own in this world. In the past we have encouraged families to take children down to help with the serving. The men have always enjoyed having the young people around. When our youth group cooked the dinner (frequently chili) and took it down and served it the men were especially delighted; many took the opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit of conversation.
This outreach ministry seems to me to be one uniquely suited to allow our children to understand that not everyone has a home in which to live and not everyone can afford to buy food. Those of us who do have food, clothes and homes can share what we have and help others in a real and tangible way. St. Andrew’s has been involved with the Atkinson Center in Coatesville for several decades – it may be as much as 20 years – and we hope our best days are still to come!
A Brief Overview of the Atkinson Program
Written by program director Minnie McNeil
The 22-bed emergency/ temporary shelter is the entry level of a progressive program to address the root causes of homelessness that lead men to our doors. The emergency shelter is a source of food, housing, and supportive services for those who have lost most or all of their own support systems. More than 200 men are sheltered annually. The men most often remain beyond the 30-day emergency stay as they continue toward self-reliance. It is rewarding to see their progress. Historically, men find jobs (if even part-time) as their self-esteem builds, and they may go into treatment for addictions, or return to family. Many find their own housing and begin the long journey back to total wellness.
The shelter provides a non-threatening environment where residents may stabilize their circumstances and discover the various support systems available, and then begin to access those services within the community. Most men stay an average of 5-6 months. Atkinson has five three-bedroom permanent homes as well as eighteen one and two-bedroom efficiency apartments to offer. The residents are provided an address and telephone number, and a stable and caring environment which enhances their ability to gain employment. This process begins with case management (including but not limited to individual goal setting) provided by Building Bridges of Chester County. Case management is loosely defined as participation in any structured environment that addresses the causative factors of the individual’s homelessness. The residents sometimes also receive case management services from the VAMC treatment programs, Riverside’s outpatient program, and Open Arms steps program.
Our target population are men experiencing homelessness. The average age ranges 24–70 years. 65% of residents are diagnosed with mental illness, an average 25% present with physical disabilities, 3% are veterans, and most are chronically homeless. Surprising to many is that 24% of the men have a history of substance abuse. For most, circumstances that lead to poverty is the cause of homelessness. From 1992, sheltering men has been the focus because there are limited shelters in the county that address these needs of affordable housing or other generally needed supports for men only. We are providing a gap service that helps lead these men toward stability. In the last few years, we have confirmed that six formerly sheltered men are now homeowners!!!! Amen!
The most inspiring fact is that for over 25 years, the shelter staff have never been concerned about a meal on the 3rd Saturday of the month. The Atkinson center has full confidence that St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church will arrive with a complete meal in tow. Thank you!