The Safe Harbor of Greater West Chester provides shelter for 20 men and four women on a daily basis, but it is also much more than just a roof over their heads. The shelter, established in 1992, is run on a strict set of rules that maintain the living spaces and aid in encouraging residents to find employment and, in some cases, overcome addiction. It is also the only shelter in the county to house single women. That said, there are only four female residents at the shelter at any given time.
Glenn Fricke, executive director of Safe Harbor, is “semi-retired” but still spends many hours a day at the shelter. “We have some success stories and we have some people that just move on after their 90 days,” Fricke said. The shelter instituted a 90-day residency rule in 2000 to allow for a greater number of people to be served by the shelter.
The greatest contradiction that exists between the shelter and its surroundings is that Chester County is the wealthiest county in the state and the fifth wealthiest county in the country, according to Fricke.
“The average per capita income in this county is around $80,000 a year,” Fricke said. “A job that pays $7 or $8 an hour isn’t enough to afford living expenses in this county.” Even in such a wealthy area with a high employment rate, the services of organizations such as Safe Harbor may be necessary. The residents are responsible for the upkeep of their living areas and in return are provided with bedding and a laundry area.
There are 24 beds in the shelter, each of which was donated by a different organization, family or individual, at a cost of roughly $1,000 per bed. One of the beds, Fricke explained, was donated by a man who was able to get back on his feet after his stay at the shelter and later had the money to donate a bed as a sign of his appreciation. Fricke also explained that there are a variety of reasons for why people need the shelter. The man who was able to move on successfully from Safe Harbor and donate a bed had been involved in a work related injury that did not provide any workers compensation and he ended up losing his savings and home. There are also people who need the shelter due to an addiction to drugs or alcohol that they may be trying to overcome.
Especially interesting is the increasing number of veterans that Fricke sees coming to the shelter. “A lot of soldiers return with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Fricke said in regards to veterans of both the current war in the Middle East and older veterans of the Vietnam War.
“These guys get back from places like Afghanistan and a lot of families can’t handle it (post-traumatic stress disorder) and tell them to find somewhere else to go,” he said. Fricke said physically disabled veterans come to the shelter as well.
The shelter is run by a mix of volunteers and paid staff. United Way provides some money to the shelter but it is largely the efforts of volunteers who keep the shelter running.
“It takes $300,000 to run this place,” Fricke said.
Food and other daily living needs are largely supplied by volunteers and through donations.
Safe Harbor provides a free hot lunch everyday from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. “For some people this is the only meal they get all day,” Fricke said. While there are regulations for residents of the shelter, Safe Harbor has no requirements for who can help or be helped through their operations. “We try to be a part of the community, the meals are open to everyone.”
Shane Madden is a fourth-year student majoring in history with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at SM590676@wcupa.edu.