“For there will never cease to be poor ... ‘open wide your hand to your brother, the needy, and to the poor.’ ”

Deuteronomy 15:11

CrossNet Ministries in New Holland takes the Bible scripture seriously to help those struggling with poverty in the Eastern Lancaster County School District. The Christian nonprofit seeks to provide food for body and soul for those who’ve lost hope.  

Pathways to Housing was launched in September 2018 and is the latest innovative initiative of the ministry to provide another of the basic human needs — safe, affordable housing to those faced with or on the verge of homelessness.

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With the low income/poverty rate for the district at 44.2% and 88 students homeless in the 2018-19 school year, it was time to address the need for housing.

Trinity Lutheran Church in New Holland was the first to partner with CrossNet to provide a three-bedroom apartment it owns on Main Street. Shelby Zimmerman was the first Pathways to Housing participant to move into the apartment with her 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.  

As a single mother, Zimmerman wanted a better future for herself and children. The Pathways program not only gave her family a safe, secure place to live, it also provided education and resources to help her reach program goals. She is close to reaching those goals which include the ability to:  afford fair market rent in Lancaster County; increase relational resources and income; increase credit score with a favorable housing referral; and have a support system set in place.   

“I've learned so much from the program,” Zimmerman said. “I have a job I love and more confidence of my ability to provide for my family.”

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Additional apartments

Thanks to Petra Christian Fellowship, another CrossNet partner, two more apartments are expected to ready for two families to move into. Renovations have just been completed on a two-story farmhouse on Ranck Road owned by Petra. More than 70 members of the congregation donated time and labor to redesign the property into two apartments which includes a new heating/air-conditioning system. All expenses were paid through church fundraising.

“My wife, Pastor Emma (Zimmerman), had the vision to renovate the farmhouse The Homestead to meet the need for affordable housing in our community," said the Rev. Lester Zimmerman. She shared the idea with the elder board, which brought the vision to reality.

CrossNet's goal is to purchase 10 more apartments by January 2021. The Pathways to Housing Capital Campaign currently underway has raised $618,875 toward its $800,000 goal.  

Meredith Dahl

Meredith Dahl, of CrossNet Ministries stands at a home that has been renovated to house homeless on Rank Road in East Earl Township Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.

Meredith Dahl, CrossNet executive director, said the housing program is a 12- to 18-month transitional housing option — longer if necessary — for those needing shelter. Criteria to reside in a CrossNet apartment include being connected to the Elanco community; experiencing or about to experience homelessness; and having an income of at least $1,000 a month.

Participants pay 35% of their income for rent and electric. They are responsible for internet and cable costs. CrossNet pays for gas, trash and monthly rental of $200 for Trinity apartment; $250 for each Petra apartment.  

Other church partners

Dahl said 52 churches, most in Elanco, are program partners providing apartment furnishings and financial support. Churches directly involved besides Trinity and Petra are: Ranck's United Methodist, Christian Fellowship, all in New Holland plus Weaverland Anabaptist Faith Community and St. John's Center United Church of Christ both in East Earl.  

“The ultimate goal of the program is to help the homeless get back on their feet and become self-sufficient again,” Dahl said.

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