There’s only one overnight shelter in Monroe County, its work is more important than ever.
This winter, the Poconos have often seen temperatures plummet below freezing.
December saw an average low temperature of 27 degrees Fahrenheit at night in Stroudsburg. January saw an average of 25 degrees.
More information:Cold weather shelters in Stroudsburg, East Stroudsburg
Meanwhile the first two weeks of February have barely reached an average temperature above freezing. The lowest nighttime temperature clocked in at 5 degrees on Feb. 10.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, people experiencing homelessness have a much higher risk than the general population of developing exposure-related conditions such as hypothermia and frostbite.
These conditions can be immediately life threatening and may also increase the risk of dying from unrelated conditions in the future.
There’s only one place the homeless can shelter from the cold in Monroe County: Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church.
Located at 915 North 5th Street in Stroudsburg, the shelter is open from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day, through March 31.
Some necessary upgrades
The shelter recently relocated to a new location in the church’s basement, which received some necessary renovations.
“We’ve been in operation for seven years, where we’d set up as many as 30 cots across the floor in the (church gym),” said volunteer, Pete Mankin. “We’ve even had people sleeping on mats between the rows in the sanctuary, until we moved down (into the basement).”
After years of planning and construction, the new facility now boasts a spacious, home-like feel that can accommodate 30-40 people or more.
Mankin said it was a vision of something great that came to fruition through the labor of love and kindness in their church. Stroudsburg Wesleyan recruited volunteers, who in turn recruited more volunteers, and it grew from there.
“We opened this part in the basement two months ago,” Mankin said. “Pastor Linda and Pastor Dana had long had a vision of giving a place for the shelter guests that made them feel like they weren’t just homeless and being shoved somewhere,”
With individual beds, a kitchen, full bathrooms and living spaces, the shelter feels more “like a home” Mankin said.
Bedrooms are separated by gender, providing 30 beds in all. Two men’s bedrooms provide 21 beds, while a women’s room provides nine.
Shelter guests are provided a basket under their bed as well as a locker for their personal belongings, to help ease their load during the day. However, they are not permitted access to these items during the shelter’s closed hours.
There is a storage closet with clean linens, blankets, towels, cleaning supplies and necessities.
A large kitchen is equipped with a microwave, refrigerator, and a coffee maker— that is “always brewing fresh, hot coffee.”
Shelter guests can prepare their own meals or have access to anything that is available in the refrigerator or left on the counter to eat and drink, such as fresh fruit, bagels and other available snacks.
“We even have a washer and dryer where they can do (laundry),” Mankin said. “This is something really important, because a lot of them don’t have a lot of clothes and so they can do their wash here.”
Mankin pointed out the multiple bathrooms and showers, noting the importance and value of something so basic to most people.
The large multi-purpose sitting room is open for a weekly Bible Study for anyone that wishes to attend or a place to just relax or gather. It also serves as an overflow for any additional sleeping cots if and when necessary.
Overnight guests are always welcome to attend church upstairs on Sunday mornings, followed by movies and a meal at 3 p.m. in the shelter.
Not possible without volunteers
Mankin, who has been involved with the shelter for four years and now acts as a co-faciliator, touted the efforts of the volunteer staff.
More than 20 people are committed to the shelter’s operation, with some even staying the night on cots.
“As an example on Valentine’s Day, one of our volunteers showed up with gift cards for all our guests. Members donate food, clothing, socks and underwear,” He said.
“If the weather is really bad and schools are closed, we will let our guests stay all day and provide them with food or order pizzas,” Mankin said. “We have people that come by and donate food.
“This church is just amazing at giving back and helping.”
The fact that Stroudsburg Wesleyan operates the only overnight shelter in Monroe County is “mind-blowing”, Mankin said.
“At least (the homeless) have this place to come to,” he lamented. “It’s a shame that there aren’t more places for people to go to and warm up, especially during the day.”
Before COVID-19, Mankin said places like the public library or even the local McDonald’s would allow the homeless to come inside for a while.
With pandemic-related restrictions, area homeless have no choice but to wander the outdoors, leaving them vulnerable to the worst of the Poconos’ severe weather.
Many are taking advantage of what the shelter has to offer, 27 out of 30 beds were occupied at the time of this story.
The shelter’s women’s bedroom had seven out of nine beds occupied by the second week of February. Out of two men’s rooms, the largest room had 12 out of 13 occupied beds. In the smaller men’s room, all eight beds were occupied.
Mankin was very proud to report that the shelter had not yet experienced any COVID-19 positive guests. Social distancing and masks are mandated within the shelter at all times. Beds are divided by plexiglass and shower curtains.
“The homeless tend to band together, they don’t gather at stores or malls,” Mankin explained. “The chance of them getting sick or (catching COVID-19) is slimmer. We’ve been lucky and blessed where not a single shelter guest has shown signs or tested positive for COVID.”
According to Mankin, this year has seen a disproportionate increase in homeless males versus females at the shelter. He noted that in previous years it was more of an even split, and the shelter has seen a significant increase in young people between the ages of 18-29.
“It’s become a sad statistic…our younger people are often displaced by families that moved away without them or they fled because of abuse, or a lack of family,” Mankin said. “Sometimes, parents just no longer want them back in the house. But we get to shower them with love, and they are all very grateful and happy that they have somewhere to come to.”
The shelter guests come from all over Monroe and nearby Pike County. Some guests come from other states, many of whom migrated to the Poconos with someone and then became homeless.
The shelter works closely with several local organizations, such as the Salvation Army, Pocono Mountains United Way and Street2feet in Stroudsburg. These organizations work to find the homeless more permanent housing and necessary resources.
Mankin estimates that about 50% of the people that come into the shelter during the winter months do transition into some type of shared housing. Many others become familiar faces that remain on the streets, living in tents, and return year after year.
Two people transitioning into permanent housing recently was good news for Mankin, but welcoming four new guests to the shelter that same week was a dose of harsh reality.
“We’ve had some people this year that were never homeless before,” Mankin said. “They lost their jobs during COVID and couldn’t pay their rent. They ended up getting evicted from their homes and became homeless for the first time in their lives.”
“Homeless people are no different than us… they are just on a different journey than us.”
Mankin said some of the homeless population do work part time or hold minimum wage jobs that bring them a few hundred dollars a week.
However, he says it is impossible to find an apartment in the Poconos and survive on that amount. The median monthly rent in Monroe County is just shy of $1,200 according to the 2019 American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau. Minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour.
“We want to make it feel like this is their home, for at least the time being, so they can do what they need to do to get out of this situation and better themselves,” Mankin said. “Without a shelter to stay in, they’d lack that home base, a place to lay and rest their head or a place to come and start helping themselves to get their lives better. That’s what this place is trying to do.”
Mankin described the stigma that comes with being homeless and said people shouldn’t be afraid of the homeless population: “the more love we can show them the better their chances of getting them out of this situation.”
“They are just going through a rough patch and really need to be shown that they are still part of society and that society loves them and hasn’t forgotten about them, that is so important.” He said.
The shelter can provide a safe and inspiring atmosphere for people down on their luck.
“God hasn’t abandoned them, this is the work of God. People see God working there and it gives them hope for more.” Mankin said. “Whoever thought years ago, that I’d be spending all this time here? It’s been the greatest blessing of my life to volunteer here.”
How you can help
The shelter accepts donations of necessary staples, such as linens, detergents, toiletries and food. Supplies can be dropped off any day Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the annex building, adjacent to the church.
Monetary donations are always welcome.
“While it may not be our duty, I’d say it’s our calling to help the homeless as much as we possibly can,” Mankin said. “One church can’t do it alone, we do what we can, and wish we could do more.
“A lot of people want help; they don’t want to be homeless. They can’t do it alone.” He said.
Resources for the homeless
Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church is the only overnight Cold Weather Shelter in Monroe County. It’s open Monday-Friday 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., and weekends 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Call 570-872-0126 for more information.
Street2Feet Outreach Center is a homeless day center open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon. Services range from showers and laundry to case management and more. The center is located at 130 North 1st Street in downtown Stroudsburg. Call 570-369-1299 for more information.
Salvation Army is the only single men and women’s shelter in Monroe County. They also house families. The shelter is open 24/7 and is located at 226 Washington Street in East Stroudsburg. Call 570-421-3050 for more information.
Anyone in need of shelter in Monroe County is asked to call 2-1-1, the county’s social services number.
Specialists are available 24/7 to direct callers to assistance and local resources. They can help with food, temporary warm shelter, housing or utilities.