By Jesse Trentini
Since opening its doors to the community on March 7, 2015, the Martha and Mary House has spent the last seven and a half years providing shelter and care services to the housing compromised populations of Cambria County. An ambitious project, the facility is a result of a gap within the local health and human services network that was created following the closure of the counties previous emergency shelter a few years prior. Seeing the importance of having such a resource for our community, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown took the lead in forming a committee to develop, build, and open a facility to meet this important need. Nearing a decade later, our shelter continues to serve the purpose, and community, that our development committee set out to reach with premiere service quality and excellence of care for our clients and county.
The Martha and Mary Shelter is located at 899 Bedford Street in the Dale Borough of Johnstown and houses up to 15 occupants at a time. This includes four single male beds, four single female beds, a private family suite, and a handicap accessible private room on the ground floor. Those served by the facility are actively homeless residents of the county who have exhausted all of their other personal options of a safe and stable place to stay. Residents can contact us directly to self-refer themselves, or they can be referred by a third party agency that may be assisting them and feel that placement at our shelter is the best option for their client at the time. Applicants then complete a brief pre-screening application which can be done over the phone, faxed/emailed to us or even submit an online application using our newly update Catholic Charities website.
Once a client is admitted into the shelter, they go through a formal intake process, and work with us to complete a structured case plan. This case plan is a list of the goals they wish to achieve while in our care, and a road map for assisting the resident down a path back to independent housing and stable permanency. Residents may stay at the shelter for a maximum of 30 days, where they work daily with our shelter team members to complete these assigned service plans, and relocate themselves out of the shelter and back into their own personal housing. Our shelter does this by following a rigorous curriculum of structure and accountability to both help the resident in re-achieving housing autonomy, and to provide them with the skills needed to ensure sustainability in their new housing setting. Homelessness, by nature, is a cyclical barrier that community members can easy get stuck within. Our ultimate goal is to re-secure all of those who we serve, but do so in a way that helps in breaking that cycle, and provides them education and tools for the success of their future outcomes.
The Martha and Mary House is the community’s shelter. Thus, we always enjoy any opportunities to involve the community into the work that we do. Whether that be through fund raising, donations, item drives, and more, community support is a corner stone to keeping our doors open, and allowing us the continued ability to serve our local housing compromised. Additionally, the shelter is always open to volunteers who are interested in coming in and assisting us with the various jobs that come along with running such a facility. Anyone interested in supporting or volunteering with our program are welcome to check out the great resources listed on our newly updated Catholic Charities website (www.catholiccharitiesaj.org), or contacting us directly during business hours. This includes individuals interested in making monetary or physical item donations. Before doing so, please contact us here at the shelter, and we can discuss the present needs that we have, and ways you can help in supporting or supplying for those needs.
Each one of us hold our own special definitions of what we see as stability and what we consider “home.” Having the opportunity to assist those who have lost their way in re-defining their own stability and home is an honor that we get to share with our local community each and every day. I look forward to the continued successes of the Martha and Mary House, and our work to sustain as the premiere providers of emergency shelter services for our area, and the wonderful people who make it a community.
Jesse Trentini, BS, MPH, is the Program Director of the Martha and Mary House Shelter, a ministry of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.