American Rescue Workers mission seeks to bring needy in out of the cold

Director of Shelters Michael Kane, left, and Lane Ellis, a previous participant of the men’s long-term program, pose for a photo recently. COURTNEY HAYDEN/Sun-Gazette

No roof overhead, little food to eat and a blanket for a bed in the woods can drive the humanity out of most people. For Lane Ellis, it took years of dedicated love and service from a local ministry to bring him in out of the cold to find a home.

Every person who comes through the doors of the American Rescue Workers has been on a different journey. The faith-based organization is a “church with a mission” that seeks to help prevent homelessness and food insecurity by helping others.

Four and a half years ago, Ellis came to American Rescue Workers with a bag of clothes, his winter jacket and truck.

“That’s all I owned. I had nothing, I came from rehab,” he said.

The group has three shelter programs and a prevention program to help keep people in their homes when possible, said Michael Kane, director of shelters.

There is a men’s short-term transition and long-term program, lasting nine to 12 months, and Saving Grace, a program for families facing homelessness, said Dawn Astin, business administrator at the ARW. Last year through its shelter program the ARW served about 500 men, 350 individuals through Saving Grace.

Its main program focuses on “men’s long-term work rehabilitation” for men that have a “significant barrier to being self-sufficient, (have) some kind of disability,” whether that be mentally, physically or emotionally, such as a mental illness or addiction, he said.

Annually, 600 to 800 people come in and out of the ARW door, Kane said. Between its three shelters, there are 70 beds.

The organization helps men who don’t know where they are going to go — they are fed, clothed and housed, Kane said. Men enroll in the long-term program and do work therapy to mimic a full-time job based on their capabilities, such as working in the thrift store and, in return, help the organization run smoothly.

It teaches men soft skills and coping skills and partners with outside agencies to help provide them needed resources, Kane said. They’ve also partnered with counselors and services to provide a holistic approach to recovering from homelessness.

In addition, before leaving the program, men are connected with landlords to secure a home. They are then given housewares and furniture to help them succeed, he said.

A misconception people tend to have when imagining a homeless man is the idea of someone wearing a camouflage jacket with messy hair and dirty clothes, but Kane has never encountered this stereotype, he said.

Ellis was a former alcoholic but has been sober now for a year and 10 months. He has been in and out of the ARW program for three years, he said.

When Ellis wasn’t staying in ARW, he lived in South Williamsport in the woods, was on disability, living on $300 a month and walked to

Sojourner Truth Ministries to eat one meal a day, he said. He lived on $10 daily and that money went to drinking and cigarettes. It’s what he cared about at the time.

“When out in the outside world, my whole world was negative. I felt there was a black cloud following me around,” Ellis said. “So I come here, and it took me a few tries to stop drinking.”

Ellis wasn’t ready to come to ARW because he had two dogs he was trying to care for and didn’t want to surrender, and he wasn’t ready to be sober, he said. He was only looking for a place to stay.

It took time and people caring about Ellis for him to change because he didn’t care about himself, he said.

For six months, Ellis was in Florida and he called ARW and they held a bed for him for three days. Knowing he had a bed waiting for him gave him hope because he knew there was safety, he said. But ARW was the last place he wanted to be because there are lots of people and rules. Ellis was living recklessly only abiding by two rules — to stay safe and clean.

“This is not a place where you are giving in or giving up. This is a place where you are giving up your old ways, because you do. You change here,” Ellis said.

Through ARW, he felt like he was a part of something through daily devotions, reading and talking about the Bible and working in the warehouse, Ellis said. Sometimes, he would overhear conversations about people working in the warehouse and it brings the men pride. The mission helped Ellis start thinking of others, helping and watching people grow.

He enjoyed going to the American Rescue Workers Church because it was good for him, he said.

“This place gave me a new start,” Ellis said. “It’s a safe place. I was sleeping out there in a tent; I lived the winter out in the cold.”

During winters, Ellis used to hike out into the woods to sleep and would lay down a wool blanket on the cold earth, a pad, sleeping bag and a wool blanket on top to keep warm, Kane said. That’s how Ellis survived.

At the time, a self proclaimed “wild woodsman,” Ellis often was in trouble with the law. He said ARW helped him become a “human being.”

Now Ellis is out of the program, living in his own apartment and working as a painter. He still feels like ARW is a home and stops by to say hello to everyone, he said. Ellis continues attending the American Rescue Workers Church. He now surrounds himself with a supportive and caring friend group that doesn’t drink.

“You found hope,” Kane said to Ellis.

“It’s like a home here,” Ellis said. “This place rescued me because I was out in the world wandering for years, just lost.”


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