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

Upper Room has grown to include new staff member, André Horton

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 than 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. We meet this weekend to continue just this conversation.Upper

But, we haven’t just talked. Two weeks ago we added a new person to our staff, Mr. Andre’ Horton. He has joined us as a volunteer Operations Manager. We hope he can be our first paid employee soon. Andre’ has so many excellent qualifications that I can scarcely believe that he accepted our offer. He is now familiarizing himself with the details of our operation and getting to know the staff. We even put a desk for him in our modest office. You will soon be hearing and seeing more of him as our relationship develops. I will be able to focus more on organizational and administrative matters. Maybe I can even find someone else to do the weekly shopping.

We also have made changes in or board of directors over the past year. In addition to board members who are Upper Room staffers, we now have five people from outside who are bringing a fresh approach to many of the things we do. Our new members include a retired university professor, a Benedictine nun, the CEO of a nearby non-profit, a engineer/manager, and a former college anti-war activist. Quite a group wouldn’t you say?

As you might have guessed, this website (also run by a volunteer) is part of our new look. We hope that it will produce many good things for us in the long run. To go even further into the digital world, we now have a young person who has volunteered to give us a Facebook presence. I don’t know yet how or if this will help us, but I am sure that it has the potential to be a great asset.

For those of you who gotten used to my being the face (and sometimes voice) of the Upper Room, I’m not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Why would I quit the best job I ever had? I’ll just have to stay out of Andre’s way.

Tom Schlaudecker
Jan 30, 2013

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