One morning last fall, Kenneth Leslie woke up in his car in the parking lot of a Chester County Walmart and knew he had hit rock bottom.
He had ended a toxic relationship with his girlfriend the previous week, leaving behind the beautiful two-bedroom apartment they had shared.
He had turned his side hustle as a DoorDash driver into a full-time job, leaving behind his steady customer service job at a valet company.
Suddenly, at 51, he finds himself homeless with an irregular income, but he knows one thing: “Either you go down lower or you try to get up again, so that’s what I decided to To do.
Leslie took his first step up the same day when he became a resident of the Good Samaritan Services men’s shelter in Phoenixville. Good Samaritan provides emergency shelter, residential housing, and housing support services to individuals and families living or at risk of homelessness in Lancaster and Chester counties. In addition to Phoenixville, they have facilities in Coatesville, Lancaster, and Ephrata.
“They opened their doors to me and all of a sudden I didn’t know which parking lot I was going to sleep in tonight and I could get a bed and take a shower,” says Leslie. “So many people take for granted waking up in a bed, taking a shower, being able to follow their personal hygiene and being able to eat.”
But Good Samaritan Services offers more than the basic necessities.
“Our overall goal is to get men off the street and back home,” says the shelter’s resource coordinator, Tyler Logan.
The Phoenixville emergency shelter where Kenneth Leslie found refuge is actually three residential townhouses that can house 14 men for up to 60 days. Good Samaritan also offers transitional housing for up to six months, as well as affordable two-year transitional housing for men over 62. They collect program fees from residents of transitional housing and affordable housing.
Recognizing a similar need for men in North Lancaster County, Good Samaritan Services hopes to open a men’s shelter this spring in Ephrata, on the same residential street where they already operate a winter shelter and a single women’s shelter and single mothers.
“It was really our winter shelter that made us realize the need for a men’s shelter,” says Mandy Johnson, Director of Community Engagement.
Last year, the Ephrata Winter Shelter served 41 unique people, including 26 men. “It was an eye opener for us,” Johnson says. In its first month this winter, the shelter served 38 people, 70-80% of whom were men, she said.
The Ephrata Men’s Shelter will offer the same programs as the Chester County Shelter, including several financial programs to help men get back on their feet. A microcredit program allows eligible participants to obtain loans ranging from $500 to $2,500 to cover costs associated with self-sufficiency, such as security deposits or car down payments. A matching savings program allows participants to make small monthly deposits, which Good Samaritan Services will match upon completion.
Case managers help connect residents to community resources that can help them secure everything from Social Security cards and birth certificates to food stamps and jobs.
Weekly Bible studies are also available, but not required.
“We want to meet them where they are,” Logan says. “Nothing is black and white, so the solutions are not black and white. When I see these guys, I don’t see them as just an individual. I see them as a brother, a human being whom Christ loves.
Good Samaritan Services offers hope and opportunity. Kenneth Leslie decided early on to get the best of both.
After the counselors convinced him of what he already knew – that he needed a job with a steady paycheck – he focused his search on the type of customer service jobs he had. occupied for decades, but he soon realized that was no longer what he wanted.
“This whole experience has completely changed the way I see people,” says Leslie, who recently moved into transitional housing. “I’ve been supported basically over the last two months by people I don’t even know out of the goodness of their hearts.”
He now feels compelled to do the same.
He recently accepted a shift supervisor position at Ann’s Heart, a code blue emergency overnight warming shelter in Phoenixville.
“Just being kind to someone and showing compassion, care and love for another human being. … right now is the most rewarding time of my life that I think I’ve experienced for a long time,” Leslie says. “I feel like I have a purpose again. I get up this morning to make a difference in my life and someone else’s.
For more information, visit www.goodsamservices.org.
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