On Sunday, December 1st, Upper Darby township officials halted a county program called Connect by Night. Connect by Night is a county-inter faith based program that allows churches to take in approximately 50 handpicked homeless people and allows them to sleep on church property overnight due to the overflow conditions at the 63rd Street shelter in Millbourne PA. The Life Center serves only 50 individuals on a nightly basis yet there is a great need for more beds especially with winter temperatures.
Llanerch Hills Chapel has served as a warm home to those in need in month of December the past two years. At approximately 9 p.m. a van from the Life Center goes to the church with these handpicked individual people, where the hall of the church is turned into a dorm of sleep mats and a warm meal is given out. Unfortunately, the church has been criticized by only a few neighbors who believe this one a year program will detract from their property values. As one neighbor who wished not to be identified said, “we don’t want those kind of people in our neighborhood.” The neighbor was surprised to learn that “these people” are not allowed to leave the church once they arrive, are accompanied by officials of the Connect by Night Program and the church has volunteers who stay to ensure the neighborhoods safety.
Yesterday, Llanerch Hills Chapel and the complaints of these few neighbors came head to head. With only 8 hours’ notice until the first van of people was to arrive at the church doors, Upper Darby Township shut down the church and were ordered to stop allowing the overnight “guests’ from sleeping in the church hall. The temperatures last night dipped into the 30’s and yet these people were left without warm shelter or a meal.
Llanerch Hills Chapel recently was the focus of a national magazine article on how even a small church, with only about 50 members with most are seniors, and the impact the church had on the homeless population in the Upper Darby neighborhood.
Llanerch Hills Chapel is only one church involved in the Connect by Night program but they were scheduled to be the church that is to be used this month of December. Llanerch Hills Chapel, Pastor Joel Thompson is unsure of what the outcome will be but insists the church “will find ways to continue their Christian duty to help those without. “ The church had raised donations of food, clothing and personal hygiene products and has stated they will find ways for these donations to get to those that were going to be the guests of the church this month.
Mayor Thomas Micozzie’s office when called was unaware of the situation and the call was then redirected to License and Inspection Director Jeffrey Gentile. Mr. Gentile insisted the actions taken were a matter of public safety. Llancerch Hills Chapel does not have a sprinkler system due to the age of when the church was built therefore it can not be used, even as temporary, housing.