Notes from Shaker Hill is a blog written by York County Shelter Programs’ CEO Bob Dawber.

Notes from Shaker Hill. #2 May, 2019

During the 1980s-1990s, cyclist Rebecca Twigg of Seattle was a force. She won six world championships and medaled in two Olympics. 

Today, Rebecca, who is 56, is homeless in Seattle. She has been homeless for five years. She stays in city shelters. I read an interview with her in the Seattle Times; reporter Scott Greenstone said in a preface that Rebecca wanted to share her story because she wants people to know how someone can end up being homeless. She believes that too many people think the homeless population is primarily made up of people who are substance abusers.  She wants people to understand that there other reasons.   

Rebecca was not a stranger to homelessness. When she was 15, she left her mother’s home under difficult circumstances and began a transient life.  At that time, she was also training in earnest, so she had a focus, and a large network of people she could stay with – friends, fellow athletes, trainers.   

In 1996, she quit the team while at the Olympics in Atlanta. She learned to be a computer programmer and started a job.  

What happened for Rebecca over the years is that she found that she could not handle steady employment. She struggled with anxiety and depression, which worsened when she felt a job was too demanding.  At age 50, after being fired from an IT job, she gave up trying to fit into the working world.  She now spends her times in shelters. She is doing the best she can. 

The reason I am reflecting on this story is that I am touched by Rebecca’s willingness to share her story. And the cold truth is, that while she may be doing the best she can – there are those who will not understand. They cannot understand how someone could go from being a high-achieving, successful athlete to someone who cannot hold a job.   

The point is, you can never truly know how another person feels. What I have learned from my years in social services is that the best thing one human can say to another is: “I hear you. I see you. And I understand that you are doing the best you can.” Compassion, not judgment, is more likely to help another person. 

  Mental health is a complex and fragile entity.  Some people will never get better. They are unable to accept help. For every homeless person who gets to our shelter – there are countless others living on the streets or in the woods who cannot avail him or herself of help.  It is the best that a person can do.   

If you know someone who is homeless, let them know about us, or call us, at 207.324.1137.

Notes from Shaker Hill. #1 March, 2019

York County Shelter Programs Has Been Helping People for 40 Years

This year makes 40 years since the York County Shelter Programs was created.  In 1979, 56 people in Alfred came together to incorporate a non-profit that would use the abandoned jail on Route 111 as a shelter for anyone without a home. The organization was incorporated as the York County Alcoholism Shelter,  as that is what community members perceived as the population who were living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in cars, in the woods.

Over time, this program has expanded tremendously, because it soon became evident to its founders that homelessness does NOT solely afflict people suffering from substance abuse.

I am proud to be leading an organization that, today, is far more than just a shelter. We help people look at the issues that resulted in homelessness – and our goal is to help people resolve the problems that prevent them from living independent, safe and healthy lives.

I have been working for YCSP since 2011. I became the Chief Executive Officer in 2014. The reason I love my job and this work is quite simple: Every day I see that we are helping people. EVERY DAY. Nothing matters more. NOTHING.

I am so proud of the efforts, the determination, the compassion of YCSP staff members who work with people living with incredibly debilitating circumstances.  One by one, we address each piece. We offer support, resources, treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse. But what I learned early on when I started working for this program is that what lies beneath all of what we do is something that perhaps helps our residents more than anything.  We offer hope. As we say, HOPE STARTS HERE.

Forty years of helping people is an incredible legacy. And what I know about this agency is that every passing year we are only more committed and determined to  being there for the people who need us. Our neighbors. Our people.  Last year, we helped more than 700 people at our shelters. We also provided food for 20,000 people at our food pantry.

Here’s to 40 more years. At least.