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Vandalism at Lancaster women's shelter spurs push for funding

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Michelle McCall, pictured in the first row, third from left, has been the CEO of the YWCA Lancaster since January 2017.
Michelle McCall, pictured in the first row, third from left, has been the CEO of the YWCA Lancaster since January 2017. - (Photo / )

An emergency winter shelter for women and children in Lancaster is hoping a new fundraising campaign will cover increased security costs after a vandalism attack in December.

The YWCA Lancaster announced an effort to raise $21,500 to cover the cost of running the shelter through the 2017-2018 winter season.

The fundraising goal reflects a combination of money already spent this season and costs the shelter expects to accrue through March, said Michelle McCall, CEO of the YWCA Lancaster.

Housed within the YWCA Lancaster, the short-term winter shelter maintains 44 beds and operates from December through March, accepting those in need of shelter from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. every night.

The shelter was the target of an attempted burglary on Dec. 20, resulting in over $10,000 in damages. The shelter covered $2,500 of the total before hitting its insurance deductible.

According to McCall, the attack may have been carried out by a man affiliated with one of the shelter’s residents.

"We believe, and I can’t prove it, that the person got angry and took it out on our door," said McCall, who added the high cost of the damages stems from the structure’s century-old original architecture.

A report was filed but no arrests have been made at this time, according to the Lancaster City Bureau of Police.

Since the attack, the shelter has increased security for the building and both its long-term and short-term residents, many of whom are fleeing circumstances of domestic violence and will be enrolled in other services offered by the YWCA, including counseling, parent training and long-term housing.

"I made the decision to bring security officers in for a bit and settle things back down," said McCall. "We have people in this building who live here 24/7."

According to McCall, the extra security costs $8,750 for all four months of the shelter’s run, raising its annual operating costs from last year’s mark of $15,000. An existing donor to the shelter is already considering offering some of the funds, said McCall, but she's hoping to attract new donors to help recover the security costs.

"We're in fundraising mode all the time. But we find when the community is aware of a specific need, then that's helpful," said McCall. 

The shelter is staffed by volunteers from the Lancaster County Council of Churches, which has partnered with the YWCA on the project since the 2009-2010 winter season. It typically runs at half or three quarters its total capacity depending on the weather, said McCall.

In addition to the shelter, the YWCA Lancaster oversees 36 long-term housing units with plans to add 19 additional units. The organization as a whole maintains an annual operating budget of $4.5 million, serving 2,000 clients at any given point in the year, including 800 new clients per year.

According to the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness, which conducts an annual count of homeless persons in the county, 360 county residents are currently homeless.

According to a study published in December by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Pennsylvania saw one of the largest decreases in the nation among its homeless population with a 7.8 percent decrease in homeless individuals from 2016 to 2017 and a 13 percent decrease among homeless families. In January, the department awarded $102 million to Pennsylvania in funding grants for programs devoted to ending homelessness.

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Gillian Branstetter

Gillian Branstetter

Gillian Branstetter covers health care news for the Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at gbranstetter@cpbj.com.

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