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Keystone Mission opens permanent overnight shelter in Wilkes-Barre

Danielle Keith-Alexandre CEO/Executive Director discuss the Keystone Mission opening .
Aimee Dilger
Danielle Keith-Alexandre, CEO/executive director, discusses the Keystone Mission opening.

Before this month, one of the only times Keystone Mission would offer overnight housing was during a Code Blue emergency situation - when the weather was too cold or snowy for people to sleep outside.

Now, no matter the weather, those in need of shelter can go to the Mission’s
365-Overnight Shelter on East Union Street in Wilkes-Barre.

“We are truly excited because we have opportunities for individuals to really and truly have the option of coming in somewhere off the street,” Executive Director Danielle Keith-Alexandre said. “We know that there are other shelters that do offer this, but not at this capacity.”

The shelter in Wilkes-Barre can house up to 50 individuals every night. Keystone Mission had been using the space for its day programs and emergency overnight shelter since October, but needed to make a few upgrades and get more staff to be able to offer overnight shelter at any time.

They received $109,500 in American Rescue Plan Act funding from the City of Wilkes-Barre to fund the shelter. Keith-Alexandre says most of that went toward having enough staff to run the overnight program.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown presented Keystone Mission with the funding at a grand opening on Monday. He said the money will cover the first year of operation for the overnight shelter, then Keith-Alexandre will work that amount into the budget in coming years.

“This has been a dream of mine for five years,” he said. “Starting today, there will always be a place for homeless people to go at night.”

The overnight program eliminates the need for the city’s prior Code Blue protocol for the cold, and means Wilkes-Barre will not have to worry about instituting a Code Red procedure for extreme heat.

Kathy Regan, operations and program director, says the other cities where Keystone Mission operates are considering a Code Red procedure as the summers get warmer. In Wilkes-Barre, they’ve seen more and more people come through the center just looking for a place to cool off.

“A lot of people think it’s higher in the winter, but it’s actually higher in the summer,” she said. “Our daytime numbers actually rise.”

Monday's grand opening happened at the beginning of a heat wave in the region this week. Staff and guests reached for iced drinks from Abide and enjoyed the air conditioned building to keep cool.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for the region from noon on Tuesday until 8 p.m. Thursday.

Brown said the city will be able to rely on Keystone Mission to provide a cool place for those experiencing homelessness, and the city fire department will be checking on older adults living in high-rises throughout the city.

The 365-Overnight Shelter has space for both men and women to sleep, and a room that can be converted for a family to stay in. It offers full showers, bathrooms, a closet of donated clothing, and laundry machines for guests to use.

During the day, Keystone Mission offers programs and activities in the shelter’s main room, and some guests will volunteer to keep the space clean. Guests like Tony Mattero, who just started staying at Keystone Mission this month.

“I’ve been getting to know people, helping people,” he said. “They help you get jobs and everything like that. They don’t turn you away…I just wish that we could do more of this.”

Tony Mattero discusses the Keystone Mission.
Aimee Dilger
Tony Mattero, a guest, discusses the Keystone Mission.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.

You can email Sarah at sarahscinto@wvia.org