Downtown Rebound: Keystone Mission Programs Work to Solve Homelessness

I am writing to you today because I am a past guest of Keystone Mission and I am living proof that Keystone Mission programs are effective in solving the challenge of homelessness in our community.

Many people are afraid of people who have nowhere to live except on the streets and assume that we are all alcoholics or drug addicts. It’s not me and it’s not most homeless people I know. I’m a veteran of the US Army and ended up on the streets not because of drugs, alcohol or any other reason except that I couldn’t afford housing.

One day I was sitting on a park bench in the public square in Wilkes-Barre working on my college course and thinking about my predicament. I was nearing my last days at the local shelter and I had nowhere to go. Two ladies approached me and asked if I wanted to attend church in the square, but I declined their invitation.

Later that same day, still with no practical solution to my lack of housing, I called another veteran and said, “I’m done. Every veteran knows when another sibling says they’re done. It’s not good. I had reached a personal crossroads and low point, and when I looked up from my phone call, I was staring at the church door in the square.

You’ll probably find it hard to believe what happened next. I know it was, but surprisingly, the door seemed to glow, inviting me to enter. So, I approached, opened it and entered to join their service. I found my way to the front row and sat down to watch and listen. I appreciated the opportunity to be there for the church, and after the service, a current guest from Keystone Mission who was also there approached me, spoke with me, and invited me to come to the mission and to speak with an employee.

The next day I grabbed my 30 pound backpack and made the trip to Keystone Mission. When I met the employee, I was interviewed and then accepted into the nine-month life-changing program. Since that day, my life has changed dramatically for the better.

Keystone Mission provided food and clothing but surprised me by not stopping at these essential but short-term interventions. Additionally, Keystone Mission guides its guests through a proven program that includes education and housing opportunities. They don’t just clean

get up and send us back to the street. Instead, they teach their clients skills to help us find jobs and succeed in everyday life.

Keystone Mission teaches us to be productive and contributing citizens, helping us regain our self-esteem and confidence. It’s a big job and the Keystone Mission team does wonderful things for its guests and community. But they can’t do it alone.

Keystone Mission, Diamond City Partnership, the government and many other agencies and organizations are stepping up to help us. I have seen members of the Diamond City Partnership Clean and Safe team work every day to pick up and clean the public plaza and surrounding streets, and it makes me proud and responsible to do my part to make downtown Wilkes-Barre inviting visitors. And I know Keystone Mission services personally.

Thanks to the well-planned help of the Mission, I found a home, a job and I give back to the community. Currently I am renting a room and employed through the Luzerne County Mature Worker Program. I also work at the Keystone Mission.

I am living proof that life transformation is possible. Keystone Mission is about building relationships. It’s not an overnight process, and it took me nine months to see real change happen in my life. It also works for other people.

The Mission Transformation Center is a wonderful facility, and I am pleased that zoning approval has been granted for the Mission to convert the Thomas C. Thomas Building on East Union Street in the city to expand its offerings, including facilities to keep homeless families together.

When more homeless people get their lives back together, it’s better for our whole community.

I close by thanking Keystone Mission, Diamond City Partnership and everyone else involved in solving homelessness. I enjoy it and know many others who do too.

Transformational change is happening. Thanks again for making this possible.

Billy Harrington is a US Army veteran and former Keystone Mission guest.

David H. Henry