Many homeless shelters across the country come with a negative stigma. Oftentimes, assumptions are made about those in need–drug problems, crime and teen pregnancy usually stand at the forefront of those judgments. The staff and residents of Stenton Family Manor, however, are trying to put an end to that stigma.
As a faith-based shelter, the manor, which is located at 1300 E. Tulpehocken St., has developed over the last 20 years into a well-rounded emergency family shelter.
Rev. Robert Harrison, executive director of program, has been a part of the growth process and has seen a lot of positive changes come out of the manor. Local businesses have gotten involved with the shelter, providing work opportunities for residents. Local schools such as Martin Luther King and Anna Blakiston Day School work with children from the shelter to improve their education and overall schooling experience while their families look for housing. “AB Day has been a phenomenal support for us. They have embraced our children,” Harrison said. A unique benefit of AB Day has been their acceptance of children in the middle of any semester. Kids have often come to the shelter during the school year and AB Day school has worked with the kids, Harrison said, even if they come to school in the middle of a test.
Support from the community is the first step to turning lives around, and that is what Harrison and CEO and pastor at Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, Bishop Ernest Morris, see as the turning point for the manor. “One of the things we had to do was change the mentality of the staff. That has so much to do with it. We’re not just housing people. These are human beings,” Morris said, “Once we changed the mentality of the staff, then we begin working on the residents. We tell them, ‘When you’re in a crowded situation like that, everybody has got to work together.’”
Harrison shared the same sentiments, which is why the manor has had such success over the past 20 years. The staff, the residents and the church all work together as a family to build relationships and grow within the community. It is much easier to find cohesion when the people working at the manor were once residents of it.
At least 50 percent of the current staff, Harrison said, were once residents, working their way out of struggles. Theresa Lammons lived at the manor when it first opened from 1991 to 1993 and is now a shift supervisor. At the time she had two young children whom she says are very happy and successful today and still come back to the shelter to visit. “I was homeless. I didn’t have anywhere to go and I couldn’t go to family. Someone suggested to go to the shelter but I didn’t think that was such a good idea. If I didn’t, my kids would have been out on the streets. So I did and it wasn’t so bad,” Lammons said.
Her experience at the manor put her in a position to pay off all of her outstanding bills, become a homeowner and be more informed on how to maintain her finances. Lammons’ situation is exactly the scenario that Harrison sees on a daily basis and is the reason why he said he thinks the negativity towards the term “shelter” shouldn’t be. “I see it as a positive step. I see it as a place where you can restructure your foundation. Get your thoughts together and let us help you with your children. While they can work on getting their documentation together, getting their housing together, getting their finances together, we try to support that,” Harrison said.
That support obviously extends beyond Lammons, but her story is just like hundreds of others, said Morris, who is always happy to employ former residents. Their willingness to help others who are in the same position they once were shows a true change of character. “They have a knowledge of what it’s like. They have a sensitivity for it. We have seen literally hundreds of families get back on their feet,” Morris said.
Those successes, Harrison said, are always eager to stay in the community because of how well they have been treated. “Once you come here, you are a part of this family. To be able to live in this community and to help rebuild this community, I think it’s essential for us to try to find housing in the Northwest community. When the children and the families leave here they want to stay in the Northwest. The children say ‘I want to be a part of this community. I love this community because they loved on me,’” Harrison said.
Both Harrison and Morris agreed that although the economy is poor and the finances are not there currently to find a lot of housing in the region, they are always looking for support from the neighborhood to allow families to stay. Harrison reiterated that low income does not mean bad people, and once that stigma is gone it will be much easier for everyone to come together and help these people find the housing they need in the neighborhoods.