Johnstown has shelter during storms

Snow falls at the Mary and Martha house in Dale Borough.

Natasha Bazika

Snow falls at the Mary and Martha house in Dale Borough.

Justin Schmithorst, Circulation Director

At 899 Bedford St. in Dale Borough stands a sanctuary from the relentless winter cold for homeless people.

The Mary and Martha House  is a restored home built during the Civil War in an area of Johnstown that is now littered with blighted and abandoned property.

In Cambria County, there are over 19,000 people living in poverty – about 13.5 percent of the county’s 140,000 population. More than 20 percent of Cambria County’s children are living in households with incomes below the poverty line.

Homeless shelter Director Danielle Bowers shed light on some of the house’s day-to-day operations.

“By teaching (shelter residents) basic coping skills, money management, skill development, and career enhancement, we are helping to lay the groundwork needed for them to work toward the life they desire,” Bowers said.

The shelter’s mission is simple: to get people who have abandoned hope in their lives back up on their feet in 30 days, the longest amount of time someone is permitted to spend at the shelter.

A resident is expected to be searching for employment and a more permanent place to live in.

During their stay, they are given food, shelter and Internet access.

“We have seen residents with substance abuse enroll into drug and alcohol classes, residents with mental health (issues) enroll into services and obtain housing, residents with extensive criminal backgrounds obtain employment and … stand on their own two feet,” Bowers said.

A stereotype of a homeless shelter might be desperate, depressing and dreary, but the Mary and Martha house has doorways decorated with mistletoe and a grand pine Christmas tree decorated with colorful, reflective ornaments.

The residents there are each given their own supply of food, a bed with blankets (part of the house’s welcome package), toys for any children, and a laundry room in the basement.

“Since opening (in May 2015) the Martha and Mary House has assisted over 200, people” Bowers said.

“One thing that I am looking forward to the most is to help others realize and reach their full potential,” said Bowers, who has been the home’s director since June 1.

The Catholic Campus Ministry leader Ladonna McCreary said the group is making plans to provide volunteer service at the shelter.