a special message from the director of
Upper Room of Erie, a homeless shelter

I'm still here

Almost seventeen years ago I started the Upper Room with a few friends, about forty people, and a few thousand dollars in contributions. I never dreamed that leading the Upper Room would become the longest ---and best job I’ve ever had. When we opened, we didn’t know much about homeless people and shelters. What we did know was that we had found a need to fill and that we wanted to give it a try.

Today we have seen our daily attendance grow from ten on the first day to well over one hundred today. In addition to just providing a place of hospitality and the best free coffee in town, we go to shows at the Erie Playhouse. We have photography and chess contests, Christmas and beach parties. We have comfortable chairs and a nice TV. We have a security video system. We stay open on cold nights to provide a warming shelter to the city. We have helped a new night shelter (Our Neighbors’ Place) get established. We are now a corporation in Pennsylvania and are recognized by the federal government as a non-profit corporation exempt from taxes.

Yes we have done a lot, not to mention providing almost 17 years of every day service. No matter what the weather is or what’s happening around us, we have always been here doing what we can do. And, we have done all this as a group of volunteers with the kindness of St. Paul’s UCC. We have raised all the money we need to operate without asking any government body for support. And we still have the best free coffee in town.

So, in some ways we are still what we have always been despite so many changes in the world around us. When we started hardly anyone had heard of the internet. Now it has become an essential part of our world along with the other digital marvels. We are now living thru one of the longest economic downturns in our history, and we have elected and re-elected our first black president.

My world has changed a lot too. At the Upper Room I‘m seeing much younger people who are homeless…and many more women. No longer are the homeless old white men; we see many Hispanics and eastern refugees. It costs a lot more to operate. Getting new volunteers is more difficult, as people have to work more jobs and longer hours for sometimes less pay and so have less time to be volunteers anywhere, An unfortunate fact for me is that I’m a lot older that when we started.

I still love the Upper Room and the work we do. I love the volunteer staff of which over the years we have had more than 100. I love our guests. But, I have less energy than I used to and believe our board and I must plan for the future of the Upper Room. We will need new energy, new ideas, and perhaps new facilities and funding for a more ambitious mission. Several months ago we added a new person to our staff, Mr. Andre’ Horton. He joined us as a volunteer Operations Manager. Andre’ had so many excellent qualifications that I still can scarcely believe that he could accept our offer. He left us a few weeks ago. So we are back to square one as we say. We did learn some things about ourselves which will be useful as we again consider where we go from here. So, for those of you who gotten used to my being the face (and sometimes voice) of the Upper Room, I’m still around, but our need for new energy and ideas prevails. Anybody interested?

Tom Schlaudecker
August 1, 2013


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