FAQ Sheet About the Continuation/Discontinuation of the Shelter when We Have Permanent Housing

FAQ Sheet About the Continuation/Discontinuation of the Shelter when We Have Permanent Housing

ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS YOU HAVE ASKED about whether we should continue the shelter when we have permanent, supportive housing…

1Q.How long are we going to work on this question before deciding / voting as a congregation?

1A. The process can take as long as the congregation needs. Responses suggest people are still acquiring an understanding of the facts (hence these answers!).  Ideally, we will have this figured out before we go before the Zoning Board in April / May.

2A. Why consider this question now, rather than waiting to see if we can handle both once the permanent housing is built / inhabited?

2B. We have to present this project to neighbors, city officials, planners, funders now. There is a big difference between saying:

“We have had a winter shelter for 30 men for 35 years, and now we plan to move up our game and do permanent housing for 36 formerly homeless people”


“Adding to the winter shelter for 30 men that we’ve done for 35 years, we want to build permanent housing for 36 formerly homeless people.”

Evaluating the effects of our plan, there’s a difference between “having 36 formerly homeless people in a building with social service support” (enough of an ask?) and imagining 36 new residents plus 30 men in the shelter. In the latter scenario, for 6 months, there would be 66 “homeless-ish” folks at 4th & Race. That could sound like too high many for some stakeholders whose support we need. Ultimately, it could be too high a density for what our resources can handle as well.  

3Q. Does it have to be an either / or decision?

3A. The question is: “Can we as a congregation say now that we would discontinue the shelter once residents were moved into permanent housing on our property?” In that sense, it is posed in a yes or no form, as we are trying to determine if we can decide and share now that there will be no more shelter once the building is open.

We could decide not to decide now, and later (when we are trying to do both and finding we can’t, for example, decide to end the shelter. And we could try and do both.

But here are the reasons for saying YES now:


  • We have been advised that we have a better chance of getting zoning approval if we are able to represent that the shelter will end when the housing is open.
  • Those actively involved in the outreach oversite believe that we will not have the person power/resources to both support the shelter and engage in community building with the residence of the apartments.
  • If we do not continue the shelter, we will want to start visioning the ministries that we will engage in with the sanctuary building.


4Q. How many Old Firsters volunteer in the shelter? How many nights of the 180 do we have members of our community involved in the shelter?

4A. We have dinners approximately 3 – 4  times a week, at which there is always an Old First host. That means about 1/2 time an Old Firster is involved. Some nights Old First groups are cooking dinner. Staff is probably involved even more.

However, this doesn’t  mean 90 different Old Firsters are involved. 12 members currently serve as shelter dinner hosts, not including staff. Another 15 Old Firsters are shelter volunteers (preparing and sharing a meal).

35 Old Firsters are involved as volunteers in the Saturday Morning Breakfast and Cupboard, 2 currently serve run Saturday mornings, as well as staff.

5Q. What could we do to increase volunteer involvement in our outreach ministries? Could we elicit volunteers from Old City neighbors (and engage more with them)?

5A. These are questions the Outreach SLG asks often; you could join that Outreach SLG. Outreach regularly undertakes efforts to recruit new volunteers.  

Over time, the numbers of Old Firsters involved fluctuates. Sometimes people expect that everyone who worships at Old First should volunteer, but that is not realistic. The percentage of our whole congregation that serves in our outreach does not appear inappropriately low: people have other commitments and other callings.

But we need more leaders who can run a Saturday morning (currently 2 people are carrying this burden alone) or host a shelter dinner.

Already a much larger proportion of our volunteers comes from outside the OF Community. We could not do all we do without their help. Outside volunteers are a great help to us, but the Outreach SLG believes it is imperative for Old Firsters to always be present alongside outside volunteers and that Old Firsters need to be a significant presence — we cannot have others doing all our work for us.  

6Q. Are there cost figures on the use of the building for the shelter?

6A. In 2011, we estimated that about 28% of the church’s variable expenses (i.e. not fixed property expenses) went toward our outreach programming. The total that year was about $70,000. While some of those expenses went for our other outreach ministries (i.e. service camps and Saturday breakfast), mostly the portions of salary for outreach staff), a significant portion were related to the homeless shelter.

Both our ministries and our fundraising efforts will need to be reimagined with the advent of new neighbors.

7Q. What are the specifics of the concern about stretching ourselves too thin by doing both the shelter and permanent housing?

7A. Spacewise, the shelter already claims our primary non-worship program space every night for half the year. If the shelter continues, the Social Hall would remain unavailable for ministry with the neighbors in supportive housing.   

We have told DePaul we wish to have significant involvement with the neighbors in supportive housing. DePaul has indicated there is a need to “get people out of their rooms” and create community — that promises the whole program will be more successful. We can’t do case work, but we are confident we are skilled at building community between diverse people.

What will those ministries look like? We do not know yet, but we need people and space to develop them.

The shelter in the Social Hall would also make it unavailable for other uses. Could there be other forms of ministry we could develop if we had the Social Hall available?

Without the CE Building, if the shelter is in the Social Hall, there would be no space to host service camps from Nov. 1 to May 1 (for more details on those service camps, see 12Q. below.)

Human resources-wise, currently, the outreach ministries of the shelter and the Saturday Breakfast and Cupboard have us scrambling for leaders, particularly hosts. We intend to continue our Saturday morning ministries. If we also had the shelter, would we have the “people-power” to do anything with the new residents?

8Q. If the shelter is in the Social Hall in winter, we couldn’t have dinner meetings with the permanent residents. Perhaps both groups could eat together? (Good idea? Bad idea?)

8A. Mixing the temporary shelter population and the permanent, supportive housing residents is not recommended. It would undercut tight community in both groups; the needs of both communities could adversely affect the others;  and Old First could be stretched too thin for a significant ministry to either group.

9Q.How does the shelter call on our administrative and human resources?

9A. There is significant administrative work and use of staff time handling the needs that come up when the shelter is using the Sanctuary building. That includes 1) staying in touch with Bethesda staff — from the opening meeting to the season wrap-up; 2) repairs, cleaning needs and usage of supplies rise; 3) monitoring the kitchen to make sure it — particularly  food storage — meets health department guidelines; 4) drafting, orienting, supervising dinner groups; 5: interacting / relating with individual shelter residents. It is extra work on our plates.

10A. Is the shelter the only ministry we have that tries to take seriously the humanity, the needs and the realities of homelessness?

10Q.  The Saturday Breakfast & Clothing Cupboard serves 80 homeless and near homeless people. (It could end up being a resource for the new residents too).

As well, service camps introduce their participants to homelessness and homeless people in a way that fosters dignity, understanding and respect.

Isn’t creating permanent housing for those who have been homeless the ultimate respect.

11Q. How do we best serve people with the greatest need?

11A. We can only serve some limited number, definitely less than the number of people who are homeless. The question becomes, therefore, where we feel called to help.

Shelter beds are needed; that’s why we have been offering them for 35 years. Homelessness is still an issue in our city, or on the rise because of the opioid crisis. Shelters are one step in a series of interventions needed that also include transitional and permanent housing and social services at each stage.

Clearly, with the transiency of residents, the shelter serves more individuals than permanent housing will. But at the Shelter we provide a mat on the floor and a bin for their belongings. With permanent supportive housing we give people a home of their own and help they need to succeed in their residency all year round.  

Current thinking in the field of homelessness suggests a “housing first” approach — when people are housed and stable, other challenges in their lives are easier to tackle.

Helping more people less or fewer people more, isn’t that one way of posing the question?

12Q.How many Service Camps come during “shelter months” (who we couldn’t  host without the CE Building, if we have the shelter)? How much money / loss does that represent?

12A. Service camps can vary year to year. But overall, we have seen an uptick in the number that come more than a weekend in the late winter / early Spring. For example, we had 3 straight weeks of service camps in the in late Feb. – early March.

In 2018, between January – April and Nov-Dec, we had a total of 7 service camps and a total of 96 people stay with us. We received $9035 from those groups.

In 2019, January – April, we have 5 camps who either came or are scheduled for a total of 63 people who have / may stay with us. If nothing changes with scheduled service camps, we should receive $7700. It’s too far out to provide an estimate for October – December 2019.

13Q. Does Old First mean to practically triple its commitment / work on homelessness (by adding year round permanent housing on top of the half-year shelter)?  

13A. Currently, we serve 30 people for 180 nights at the Shelter.  

With the new supportive housing, we would serve 36 people for 365 days and nights.

The questions are:  

Do we think that the latter is sufficient without the former?

Do we believe we can pull off  both programs simultaneously, doing them well?

14Q. What services will DePaul USA be providing the residents of the new building?

14A. DePaul will provide the following

Case Management: All programs provide intensive case management services to residents including assessment, goal development and referrals. Residents are assisted in applying for entitlements including SNAP benefits, health insurance and SSI/SSDI. Services are provided on a consumer-centered basis. Each resident meets with a case manager weekly.

Employment services: Education and Employment staff work closely with residents to develop clear plans to improve educational and vocational skills, to improve resumes, conduct mock interviews, review basic job search guidelines and apply for sustainable employment. All services are provided on a “work first” basis. DePaul operates a social enterprise / cleaning company, Immaculate Cleaning Services, that employs residents of the Philadelphia programs and has paid out $375,000 in wages in 5 years.

Medical Care, Health and Wellness Programs: All residents receive primary care services to stabilize their health needs through referrals to local clinics. DePaul aims to have a weekly on-site clinic at Old First provided by Drexel University’s College of Medicine.

Life Skills: Case managers hold weekly groups on topics including communications, wellness and recovery, healthy eating on a budget and computer skills. Community groups present on health education topics and credit repair.

Recreation: Community groups and local schools volunteer at DePaul’s programs to assist residents with gardening, game nights, meals. Groups are designed to decrease isolation for residents and create opportunities for residents and volunteers learn about each other.

Building Over-site / Front Door Reception: There will be DePaul staff onsite 24/7.

15Q. What are the specific  ways Old First could be involved in ministry with the permanent residents?

15A. We have not figured this out yet. The residents in permanent housing will face the same challenges as our shelter guests, except that they will have permanent housing. But their income will be insufficient (many could have about $400 – 500 a month after they pay ⅓ of their income for rent), and they may need soup kitchens and cupboards for help with food and clothes. Many of them will have disabilities.

We will figure out how we to be of assistance to the new residents. It’s assumed community meals will be part of the mix. Gardening, a coffee hangout, meditation groups, games nights, holiday parties, meeting space have all been suggested.

16Q. Will DePaul need space in our Sanctuary building for their work with the residents?

16A. The building plans include small gathering places off two larger, communal kitchens (people will have kitchenettes in their units, but 2 larger kitchens will provide for cooking full meals). Those will only be accessible to residents, their guests and DePaul staff.

Otherwise, the largest meeting space in the new building is the meeting room created for the church’s space, that looks to be able to seat approximately 30 -40  people comfortably.

DePaul could need either our space in the new building or the Social Hall for work with residents or staff at times. An advantage to this plan more frequent use of church property — less spaces sitting fallow so much of the time.

The commitment to do ministry together with DePaul would direct us to share the space.  

17Q. What spaces will be created in the new building; would Old First have access to them?

17A. Plans provide for about 2600 sq. ft. of retail space on the corner of 4th / Race. There is also about 2000 sq. ft. of administrative / program space that is reserved for the church. There will be offices also for DePaul’s operations.

The remainder of the space is for 36 efficiency apartments with private baths and kitchenettes. There will be 2 full kitchens with common rooms off of them. Old Firsters  would only be in the residential areas as guests of the residents (it’s not where we expect to do ministry with them; rather we would invite them into one of our spaces.)

18Q. What  impact will  the shelter or permanent housing or both have on neighbors in Old City?

18A. The neighbors we have talked with have been supportive and helpful. There is appreciation for adding retail space. People have envisioned a cafe or a green grocer.

The community is also interested in additional community / meeting space, whether in the new building or if our Social Hall were more available (assuming the shelter closed).

In general, people hearing about our plan assumed the residence will replace the shelter (if they have known about the shelter at all!) One community leader said, “You have done this for 35 years, now you are going to do it better.” He was assuming the residence would replace the shelter. Another leader said, “I think people would appreciate having neighbors having permanent homes and a program supporting them in their homes.” Again, she was assuming the residence replaces the shelter. One neighbor asked, “You are not going to do both, are you? That seems a lot of people for one place.” (So far, we can only explain to people that the church is in a process considering this question.)

Once we tell people from the community that the new building will be staffed 24/7 (with someone at the front door), no one is particularly concerned about new neighbors.

And everyone has been happy the residents won’t bring more cars to the surrounding blocks.

Old City residents are open / in support of diversifying the neighborhood demographic.  

19Q. How are we sharing our plans with the wider community, particularly as we will be approaching the zoning board to change the zoning of our property?

19A. We have approached all the religious congregations. Councilman Squilla knows of our plans. We have met with the leaders of the Old City District and the leaders of the former Old City Civic Association.

We still want to meet with the Condo Association across the street and with the developer of the new building, the Station House Project, mid-block on Race Street.

One neighborhood leader suggested we might want to poll the businesses in Old City.

And in the process of seeking zoning approval and making funding applications, we will have to host at least two public meetings about our project.   

20Q. Can other congregations help with issues of homelessness and housing?

20A. Without other congregations helping with homeless and housing, Old First could not possibly carry on our own the Shelter Ministry or the Saturday Breakfast and Clothing Cupboard. Other congregations contribute volunteers, food, clothing, financial support. We have been the organizing site / engineer for many congregations’ efforts.

21Q. What would Bethesda say… how critical is the need for emergency shelter beds?

21A. Emergency shelter serves a vital role in communities experiencing homelessness., offering basic indoor accommodation so a person can avoid sleeping in places that are unfit for human habitation. It makes all the difference in the world for that person in the moment.

We cannot underestimate how difficult housing is for some people. When the existing housing supply is largely unaffordable (particularly those whose only source of income is a ~$700 monthly Social Security check); when there is insufficient affordable housing; and when the breakdown of community networks leaves people without family or friends to rely on, then shelter is particularly crucial for helping people avoid street homelessness.

Emergency shelter is also an interim measure that, as the name suggests, is intended to provide a temporary triage service. Emergency accommodations are not intended to be long-term solutions, even if they often become entrenched and entrenching. Because homelessness is still a national crisis, it is reasonable to consider increasing shelter services.

The question of “Should we keep our shelter open?” is looking at only half the equation.

When a person is experiencing homelessness, the blunt issue is that this person lacks permanent, stable, affordable, safe, and clean housing. So Old First is wanting to contribute to the solution to homelessness and shelters by creating permanent housing.

In a multifaceted crisis, the “solution” is not necessarily found in picking one item from a list, but rather an “all-of-the-above” situation. But not everyone can do everything.

I do think some high priorities are expanding Housing First initiatives for chronically homeless individuals; creation and maintenance of more permanent supportive housing; economic interventions to ensure that market-rate housing is truly affordable; and also a deeper philosophical, spiritual, and cultural reckoning about the commodification of housing, the morality of eviction, and the notion of housing as a human right.

— Andrew Huff, Church Shelter Case Manager, Bethesda Project

22Q. Where will the men who stay in our shelter stay if we do not have a shelter?

22A. We always hope the men in our shelter get placed in permanent housing so they no longer need shelter!

But the need for shelter spaces will continue. If we no longer have the shelter, Bethesda would find another congregation for the 30 spots that were here at Old First, as they doing now with the spots that were at St. Mary’s that has now closed.

23Q. How else could we use the Sanctuary Building if the Social Hall were not dedicated every night half a year to the shelter?

23A. That is a question to be determined by our congregation, in light of our mission and vision, the needs we perceive and God’s direction. People have talked about children’s ministries; fellowship opportunities, community gatherings; receptions for art events in our Sanctuary…  

24Q. Who would be served by having space available in the Sanctuary building?

24A. Other congregations have had great success making known they have space available at no / low cost for community efforts paralleling their mission commitments. We welcome groups when they have come to us, but have not actively sought users for our space. It can be an effective way for a church to make itself known to more people. Likewise, space is a contribution church can make to community efforts we wish to support, much like we do now with AA.

25Q. Is there a plan to replace the “grant income” that we currently get for the shelter each year from shelter donations?

25A. There have been no estimates yet of how income and expenses will change. We may wish to think about how we can continue to seek support for our outreach ministries — even or especially if the shelter and its grants are ended.

We have assumed that grants received for the shelter do not equal or exceed the cost to us of hosting the shelter. Service Camps are more of a source of income for outreach ministries.

Likewise, we have not really begun to sketch out the ways that expenses will be lessened if we no longer had the costs of the Fox and the CE buildings.  

26Q. Is our leadership already decided, despite this conversation, that we should concentrate on permanent housing and let the shelter go?  

26A. It’s an astute question.

Not all of our leaders, but it seems a majority are of the mind:

~ that we cannot do both well; our resources are too limited;

~ that permanent housing is a better offering than a winter shelter spot,

~ that there will be ministry opportunities with the new residents akin to what we value about the shelter ministry, in fact perhaps more with people we can have longer and deeper relationships with; and

~ that approval for our project will be easier if we only work with permanent supportive housing.

Nonetheless, the leaders do not decide for our church. In our governance, the congregation makes the ultimate choice of what God wants. Hence this process / conversation.  

27Q. Can someone make a simple chart that depicts the trade-offs?

27A.  We think the issue is too complex for a simple chart. This document has tried to provide the details and the nuances.  

28Q. Are there safety issues around potential residents in the permanent housing building that need to be addressed?

28A. Yes, there are safety issues needing to be addressed in the design of our respective spaces. And also in our procedures and safeguards as a church. In the UCC, there is a program called “Safe Church” to help congregations with such precautions.  

From what we understand now, the residence will accept the people that come up on the city’s list of people needing permanent housing. While there will be certain criterion, for example, that people can live independently, it does not appear we can count on any other conditions for screening.

This is currently the same situation with our shelter guests. And everyone who comes to worship.

Solving any safety issues have been from the beginning and will continue to be a primary commitment of the JVMT in working on the design of this building.