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Rebel Cause opens year-round overnight shelter; first alternative to Water Street Mission in 11 years

Ebenezer Baptist Church

Ebenezer Baptist Church, 701 N. Lime St., is hosting an overnight shelter for up to 20 people. Rebel Cause Lancaster is staffing the program.

An overnight shelter serving up to 20 single adults has opened at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Lancaster, the first year-round alternative to Water Street Mission since Crispus Attucks Center closed its shelter 11 years ago.

Rebel Cause Lancaster, a nonprofit serving people experiencing homelessness, has been contracted to run the shelter in the fellowship hall of the church at 701 N. Lime St. It will operate seven days a week from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The shelter has been averaging 15 guests since it opened July 24.

LanCoMyHome, a coalition of agencies seeking to reduce homelessness, received a $128,364 grant in federal funds to open a shelter, and contracted with the church and Rebel Cause to provide the space and services. The grant is for 18 months.

“It’s an alternative and complement to Water Street,” Jen Koppel, LanCoMyHome director, said. “People have a choice. Not every person fits into one thing.”

Some people choose to sleep outdoors or in vehicles rather than stay at the Mission’s shelter at 210 S. Prince St., which for decades has been a mainstay of Christian outreach to people in crisis.

Ebenezer Baptist, a 300-member congregation that serves free meals and distributes food bank items, agreed to host the shelter at LanCoMyHome’s request.

“I think homelessness is a huge problem right now,” the Rev. Roland Forbes Jr., the church’s senior pastor, said, particularly because of loss of income during the pandemic. “How bad it’s going to get, I don’t know. We want to be of assistance to everyone.” 

Kaden Stetler, who founded Rebel Cause as an outreach program of Star Wars fans, said he’s excited to expand his group’s services.

Starting in April, Rebel Cause staffed a day center at Crossroads Mennonite Church for people to have a welcoming place to relax. Rebel Cause received funds from the Lancaster Cares pandemic crisis fund established by the Lancaster County Community Foundation and United Way of Lancaster County.

The day center — which operates weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — moved last week to First United Methodist Church, 29 E. Walnut St., which also hosts the Anchorage free weekday breakfast program.

The day center accommodates up to 20 guests in a basement room furnished with tables, chairs, sofas and a pool table, Laura Meisl, the church’s facilities manager, said.

Rebel Cause was a logical choice for staffing the overnight shelter because they know some of the people who will likely stay at the shelter, Koppel said.

Building relationships with people in crisis is a strategy for helping them to accept help or treatment for a mental illness or addiction, she said.

“Most of these people are our friends,” Stetler said. “It’s a lot easier to help people when you know more about them.”