Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Matthew 25 Grant Recipient: Women and Families Find Housing, Resources and Community at Agape House in Gettysburg

Homelessness is often a hidden crisis in our communities. Concealed beyond the visible “tent cities” and men and women sleeping on park benches or in city streets, the homeless in our communities are also those who couch-surf between family and friends, live in their cars, or take up shelter in a motel.

On any given day, more than 15,000 Pennsylvanians are known to be homeless, according to the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

Across the commonwealth, community-supported ministries like the Agape House in Gettysburg are dedicated to helping homeless families and individuals obtain the assistance and skills they need to secure permanent and affordable housing.

Located in a sturdy, secure, three-story complex just a block or two off the main square in Gettysburg, Agape House is Christian ministry of the Adams Rescue Mission. The shelter has ten fully-furnished apartments and operates a program for women and families to find sustainability in the community.

“It’s a blessing to have a family shelter in this community,” said Jenny Punchard, the Director of Agape House. The program has been in existence since the late 1980s, working to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of those it serves.

“Clients come from every walk of life. Homelessness doesn’t wear a certain mask. We have women with children, we have women without children. We have families that come here,” she said. “The happy ending sometimes looks different for each person, but we work with them on their specific needs. Our goal is to see them thrive spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and we do our part to help that by advocating for them.”

Residents of Agape House come through referrals from local shelters, safe homes and recovery programs. They’re provided with a fully-furnished apartment with one or two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area, bathroom and living room. Bunk beds and sofa beds are added to accommodate larger families. Residents have access to the home’s laundry facilities, shared kitchen space and food pantry items.

But assistance at Agape House is much more than a key to a safe and clean apartment. The ministry’s ten-phase program helps clients connect to resources for employment, permanent housing, childcare and education.

“We incorporate things like how to create a budget, how to clean, how to manage time and keep a calendar – things that we take for granted but that a lot of our families weren’t taught,” Punchard explained. “In those ten phases, we are also incorporating their short-term and long-term goals. If they don’t have a vehicle, if they don’t have childcare, if they need to sign up for disability assistance, those are steps we walk through with them until they reach their goals.”

The residential program spans four to six months, although residents who are thriving in the program can be invited to stay a whole year using their HUD voucher. Punchard said this helps clients receive a “landlord stamp-of-approval” toward finding permanent housing.

With a trained counseling staff, a live-in life skills coach, group meetings and social events, Agape House provides displaced women and families opportunities, education and skills they need to be successfully integrated into the community.

“Thirty-three percent of homeless are women and children. I can tell you from personal experience, the amount of women of children that do not have housing in this area is unbelievable. If they can’t find shelter here in the two shelters that we offer, they have to go out of state because there’s no other option for them here,” Punchard said. “If we can catch them and house them for even a month, that’s our part and we want to try to fill in that gap.”

A Matthew 25 Grant Recipient

Agape House is one of 35 ministries within the Diocese to receive a total of $170,000 in grants from last year’s Matthew 25 Collection. The annual collection is an undertaking of the Diocese to assist parish-sponsored programs that provide food, clothing and shelter to people in need.

This year’s collection is the weekend of November 19. Monies contributed by parishioners will be directed into grants for area ministries, like Agape House. Some of these ministries help alleviate the burden of food insecurity. Others provide shelter for those who are homeless, or help provide the less-fortunate with warm clothing.

All funds contributed to the Matthew 25 Collection benefit local needs. Seventy-five percent of the monies are distributed to programs within the Diocese via grants. Twenty-five percent of the monies are returned to parishes for their use in assisting others.

The grant that Agape House received from the Matthew 25 Collection last fall is being used to provide food from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and help pay rent for those living in its apartments.

“For me, the best part of this ministry is how we can love people like Christ has loved us,” Punchard said. “The Matthew 25 grant speaks to me because to turn anyone away is to turn Christ away. To love the least is to show love to Christ, and that is our passion here – to catch the people who fall through the cracks and tell them they’re worthy of love and acceptance.”

“The community here benefits in a huge way from the grant. We provide food, shelter, clothing and medicine for all of our clients,” she said. “Right now, we have 13 children here. The needs are so vast, and with an organization like the Diocese supporting us, it’s huge. The grant is allowing us to continue purchasing food from the food bank, as well as paper products, and rent for the apartments. The grant has changed the lives of every single person in this building. It changes their lives through the work we do every day.”

“I’d like to personally take this opportunity to thank each one of you who have taken out of your finances to give to this ministry,” Punchard said. “There are so many of you in your congregations around this community that have pitched in, and you are your finances are changing lives every day.”

Learn more about the Matthew 25 Collection and how you can contribute at www.hbgdiocese.org/matthew25. Find information on the Agape House at this link.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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