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Honesdale shelter beckons the homeless

On winter’s coldest nights Rev. Edward Erb and a group of volunteers welcome homeless individuals to an overnight shelter at Grace Episcopal Church in Honesdale, PA.

January 30, 2013

HONESDALE, PA — As cold as it was last week (on several nights the temperature fell to minus numbers), Rev. Edward Erb of Grace Episcopal Church worries about the homeless people he knows who spend their days—and sometimes nights—living on the streets and in the public places of Honesdale, or surviving by depending on the kindness of strangers.

On the coldest of winter nights, when the temperature or wind chill drops to zero and these vulnerable people need a warm, safe place to sleep, Grace Church opens the doors of its parish house as a shelter at 7 p.m. Volunteers put out a hot meal—usually soup, made by some member of the church’s congregation or some other generous home cook from the community.

“Food, and other things we need, just show up on our doorstep,” Fr. Erb remarked. On Wednesday, two local businesses each drop off a cardboard box brimming with loaves of bread. These will be double wrapped and frozen for consumption another day.

The menu this night is chicken-vegetable soup, bread and butter, and some cupcakes contributed by the church’s cub scout troop. There’s always hot tea or coffee. In the morning, before being encouraged to leave by 7 a.m., overnight guests will be served breakfast.

Meals are served at a big square table at one end of the large parish hall. At the other end of the room, several cots are set up, waiting for occupants. Off to the side, there’s a TV with two comfortable chairs parked in front of it.

Fr. Erb and the night’s two volunteers wait for their guests to arrive. Tonight only one fellow comes and he does not spend the night.

John, as we’ll call him, a man of 77 years, arrives for a hot meal and some company. He shares his story of how he once had one of Wayne County’s coldest winter jobs—harvesting ice on a large lake as the winter winds whipped across the frozen surface. When he’s ready to go, Fr. Erb sends him off with a container of soup, a loaf of bread and a pie for John’s disabled wife, who’s waiting at home for him.

Fr. Erb concedes that when it gets this cold he wonders where the homeless he knows are sleeping. “Maybe they’re huddled in the foundation of an old building or inside a dilapidated old barn,” he says. But why does he think they don’t come to Grace Church for the night? “Often it’s a matter of pride, or of embarrassment,” he says. “Or maybe they think that because we’re a church we’re going to preach to them, or try to convert them. But that’s not what we’re about.”

In Wayne County, PA, call:
Rev. Edward Erb 570/241-2685
Any of the county’s social services agencies by calling the courthouse at 570/253-5970
Wayne County Trehab 570/253-8941
Catholic Social Services 570/253-1777
Wayne Memorial Hospital 570/253-8100
Your local police department or 911
In Pike County, PA, call
Pike County Human Development, Christine Kerstetter, director 570/296-3434
In Sullivan County, NY, call
Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless 845/794-2604
Sullivan County Family Services 845/292-0100
Sullivan County Community Services 845/292-8770
Sullivan County Veterans Services Agency 845/807-0233
Sullivan County Rehabilitation Support Services 845/791-4010 or 4151
Sullivan County BOCES 845/295-4000
Catskill Regional Medical Center
Your local police department or 911
Or, for homeless persons with addiction problems, call 845/794-8080