calendar August 1, 2017 in Congregations, Faith in action, Innovating

Row House Offers Women Serenity

Key: Fearless. Image by Daryn Bartlett on

By the time it was to close for the spring, The Well — a microshelter for women experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia — was down to just a handful of residents.

Since opening in November, about 20 women had been sheltered evenings at The Well, and “most had found permanent housing,” said the Rev. Violet Little, pastor of Welcome Church, which sponsors the shelter with Trinity Memorial Church.

In late April, the few women left were facing returning to the streets 24/7. When participants in Kairos Communities delivered a meal to The Well days before the shelter was to close, the women asked for prayers that they would find housing soon. “So we formed a circle and prayed, Lord, we don’t know how, but we know you will find a way,” recalled Bob Fisher, mission developer of the synodically authorized worshipping community of house churches.

The women hosted volunteers, supporters, Bethesda staff and city officials at an open house June 27. Photos: Bob Fisher

The women hosted volunteers, supporters, Bethesda staff and city officials at an open house June 27. Photos: Bob Fisher

God, indeed, had a way. Behind the scenes, Little was working with partners to set up an innovative, permanent supportive housing arrangement for the women, some of whom had been on the streets for more than a decade. Bethesda Project, a Philadelphia nonprofit providing services to homeless residents, and which provided supervision for The Well, helped brainstorm the idea of leasing a house “and offering each unit to those most resistant to traditional housing options,” said Misty Sparks, Bethesda’s director of entry-level programs.

Trinity Lutheran Church in South Philadelphia had an available row house, and The Well was able to provide some funding. The city’s Office of Homeless Services offered support, and after renovation the house opened in May as Bethesda Serenity. Three of The Well’s residents now live there full-time.

Serenity offers each of the women their own bedroom, which the women have personalized. One has a Bible open on her new desk, ready for study. The others have supplies for their favorite crafts, knitting and painting. There is a pink tile bathroom, a comfortable living and dining area, even a patio complete with tomato plants and a charcoal grill. Sparks checks in on the women from time to time, but each has her own key, and is free to come and go — no signing in and out like the shelter system.

“I have to keep pinching myself to believe that it’s real,” said one of the women who had asked for prayer back in April. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Serenity is proving effective for women who strongly resist “coming inside,” Little says.

One resident had been living on the street for 17 years, Little said. “It was difficult to get her to even come into The Well,” which operated from 8 pm to 8 am, Little said. “When I talked to her about Serenity, she said, ‘I think I might be ready.'”

At a late June open house, the women were already settled in. They baked cookies and brownies, carefully identified by handmade signs, and chatted with visitors between giving personal tours of the home.

“Community issues require community solutions,” Bethesda CEO Tina Pagotto said in an email thanking visitors and supporters. “And the opening of Bethesda Serenity is proof that together we can truly change lives.”


Key image by Daryn Bartlett