YWCA Lancaster

Rebecca Saner, director of the Women's Winter Shelter for the Lancaster County Council of Churches, left, and Cheryl Gahring, chief operating officer for YWCA Lancaster, pose with scarves donated this week by Wrap-Up Lancaster. The YWCA is asking for help paying for a new boiler to keep the shelter open.

Without a new boiler, the Lancaster YWCA risks losing its ability to provide long-term housing and an emergency cold-weather shelter in the city.

“A boiler isn’t necessarily a sexy request, but it keeps the building warm,” said Cheryl Gahring, chief operating officer for the YWCA.

A new heating system will cost about $130,000, officials said.

The YWCA provides long-term housing for about 50 women, Gahring said, plus temporary beds for up to 44 women and children who need to escape the cold.

The Women’s Winter Shelter is a collaborative effort, hosted by the YWCA and run by the Lancaster County Council of Churches since 2011.

“We have been close to capacity over the past few weeks,” said Rebecca Saner, shelter director for the Council of Churches. “But we’re always able to make arrangements for people seeking shelter.”

Significant needs

Michelle McCall, chief executive officer for the YWCA, said the 100-year-old building has some significant physical needs. Last year, she said, they raised funds for new lockers and showers, to repair and weatherproof for the gymnasium windows and to resurface the gym floor.

The boiler, McCall said, is nearly 20 years old and has failed several times. It also leaks, she said.

“The cold temperatures are straining its capabilities,” she explained. She wants to replace it with a multi-unit system of three small boilers, which will heat the building more efficiently.

McCall said she’s asking the Lancaster community for donations to help cover the $130,000 cost.

“We have to maintain this building at a certain level or we can’t offer the programs we do,” she said. If the boiler fails, she stressed, the shelter will be forced to close.

Winter shelter

The winter shelter houses women and children under the age of 13, Saner said. They can make arrangements for beds by calling the 2-1-1 social services hotline, which is manned by United Way operators, or by going to the shelter between 6 and 9 p.m. on the day they need shelter.

The shelter can always use volunteers, Saner added, as well as small items ranging from coffee and cocoa to tissues and snacks. A complete list of their needs is posted on the Council of Churches website and Facebook page, she said.

The council is pleased with the shelter’s success rate, rapidly moving women and children out of the emergency shelter and into permanent or transitional housing, Saner said.

YWCA file

The entrance to YWCA Lancaster is shown in a file photo.

The longest stay for anyone in the emergency shelter this year has been two nights, she said.

“That’s outstanding,” Gahring said. “That shows the system is working — because the goal is to get people quickly into more permanent housing.”

The next campaign

McCall said the YWCA is planning a capital campaign for improvements that will allow them to add 18 or 19 additional long-term housing units on the third floor.

But the boiler campaign is more urgent, she said. “We’re on borrowed time.”