Each night, from now until the end of March, the First United Methodist Church’s foyer becomes home to a number of the area’s homeless population.
“There are always opportunities to serve people,” said John Best, who founded the Code Blue Ministry shelter with his wife Sue. “There could be more shelters, there could be more places for them to go during the day. It’s a big issue… it’s a community issue.”
The streets of Williamsport are no stranger to homelessness. As nights dip below freezing, warm places to sleep are slim for those who don’t have a home, money for a hotel room or a friend’s couch to sleep on.
Seeing a serious problem, John and Sue Best founded the Code Blue Ministry shelter in 2018. The shelter opens at 9 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. It is meant to provide a safe place to sleep for homeless individuals who are unable to get into the other shelters in the city.
“We think there are more homeless people now than there were in 2018,” John Best said, adding that when the shelters close in the mornings, the participants find other places in the city to keep warm – the library, bus station, area laundromats or Wegmans.
Volunteers for the Code Blue Shelter take turns which nights they spend at the church.
Janine Herr first heard about the Code Blue shelter after reading about it in the newspaper.
“Honestly, I feel like I get more out of this than the people who I interact with,” Herr said.
“For me it’s not an obligation.”
An evening at the church is simple, Herr said. Participants enter around 9 p.m. and after setting up their cot and getting some food, most are ready to sleep. Many have spent much of the day trying to find a place to stay warm and get food.
It’s the first time Herr has participated in helping the community’s homeless, but she said she enjoys getting to know the people at the shelter and often come in on days when she isn’t scheduled.
“The stigma of the homeless is just so awful and so far from the truth,” Herr said. “Literally it could be any one of us.”
In Williamsport, the region’s homelessness is “a community issue,” Best said, adding that it goes beyond the Code Blue Ministry.
“The difference between you and I and a homeless person is a pretty thin margin. We got a break and they didn’t,” Best said. “Our real motive here is to share the hope and love of Jesus Christ and we do that by giving them a warm place to sleep and giving them some food.”
The Bests hope that the shelter will continue to be available to the area’s homeless as long as the need is there.