How Harrisburg Helps the Homeless

Story and Photos by Danielle Debley

While the new year brings times of cheer and fun to many in the Harrisburg area, it also brings a new challenge for others; winter can mean cold nights, and often times, nowhere to go. The chronic homeless population continues to live on in the streets of Harrisburg, but multiple organizations are making strides to meet the needs of those with very little.


One such organization, Bethesda Mission, has helped the homeless for over one hundred years, and is a great asset to the community. While many may know that the shelter feeds and houses men and women at their shelters, their core program and values lie within the idea of long-term recovery.

Scott Dunwoody, Executive Director of Bethesda Mission, speaks on the stigma surrounding the organization, and the specifics of what they truly aim to do.

“I think the thing that’s not understood really well about Bethesda is that we’re busy all year long. Sometimes people think it’s the old philosophy of ‘three hots and a cot.’ In other words, you have a place to come in, you can get some food, you can get some clothing, and you have a place you can stay for a few days. There’s a limited understanding in some segments of the community thinking that’s what we’re primarily about, and they appreciate that, the fact that we help people,” exclaims Dunwoody, “but that’s not our primary objective. Our primary purpose is long term recovery for these men and women struggling with addiction and abuse, with lives that are in chaos.” Providing food, clothing and other vital services help these hurting men and women discover a life that can be very different.


So what is long term recovery all about and why is it so important and beneficial to the community?

Each man and women who enters the men’s or women’s shelters is invited to walk with us through a series of stages that will help them heal—physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Social services, drug and alcohol counseling, life skills, educational and occupational training and connections with local agencies and businesses, at every step of the journey, our staff and life coaches walk alongside our guests. “Our role is to assist guests according to their needs with the love of Christ, ” comments Dunwoody.

Bethesda collaborates with many organizations to provide the services needed. An example is doctors from the Hershey Medical Center and local dentists volunteering their time to provide excellent free medical care to Bethesda’s men and women guests. “Lion Care”, first year medical students, work alongside attending physicians. All this occurs in “state of the art” medical and dental clinics located at the Men’s Shelter.

In tandem with Bethesda’s emphasis on long term recovery is its foundational principle – sharing the love of Christ. Guests coming into Bethesda’s facilities are offered the opportunity to understand there is a God who loves, and it is Jesus Christ who makes it personal.

For people who don’t want to believe in the spiritual aspect, there are compelling economic benefits of long term recovery –  no longer creating havoc in households; no longer in and out of prison; and, no longer making trips to the emergency department at local hospitals.

Another great thing to happen within the past couple of years at Bethesda is the job opportunities coming in. “Four or five years ago, very few businesses wanted to take the risk of hiring anyone at Bethesda. Now, for the past year or so, people from businesses and organizations are taking the initiative and coming to us, asking if we have any guests who need work!” says Dunwoody.


Bethesda has also looked for more ways to aid those in need of emergency shelter during some of the winter months, who may not be willing to participate in their program. This is where another organization, Downtown Daily Bread, comes into the picture.

“There is a true collaboration between Downtown Daily Bread and Bethesda Mission,” says Dunwoody. “In the summer of 2017, we spoke with Downtown Daily Bread and told them we were struggling at Bethesda because over past the four or five years during the winter time we would have 150 to 170 men in our men’s shelter with only 78 beds. We were struggling in providing a ‘trauma sensitive environment’ conducive for healing and effective recovery in a facility that is 60% to 100% over capacity.”

What then was the outcome of this collaboration? In 2017, Downtown Daily bread agreed to open a night shelter during the winter months. While they have had a day shelter and soup kitchen for many years, the new night shelter during the months of December to March was a big change. The shelter accommodates up to 40 people overnight.  

“Through collaboration I feel like we’ve been able to serve the community better; we’ve been able to see funding grow. Collaboration between our two organizations has really improved what we’re able to offer and how many people we’re able to help,” says Susan Cann, Director of Development at Downtown Daily Bread.


“Downtown Daily Bread is a mission project of Pine Street Presbyterian Church that started 35 years ago. It was launched by volunteers and in the early years was mainly a soup kitchen.” says Cann.

Now, the shelter has expanded greatly. On average, Downtown Daily Bread sees about 100 guests a day in the soup kitchen, and around 80 guests a day come in to the Day Shelter to rest or receive other services. While touring the facility, I observed the kitchens, the Day Shelter area, the showers, and more, all which are open for use weekdays 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Churches from around the Harrisburg area come alongside the staff to serve and make meals every day, and companies like Panera Bread and Giant donate food to use. Every Thursday guests come in to get clothing from their large donation closet. Downtown Daily Bread even provides those staying with lockers for up to three months, a place to do laundry, and an address where they can receive mail, and also use when filling out applications and forms.


Both organizations are 501(c) 3 non-profits and rely on charitable support to fund their programs. Whether you are able to donate food, clothing, other items, or a monetary gift, everything you give is put to good use, furthering the betterment of those in need residing in the Harrisburg area.

For more information, to sign up to volunteer, or to make a financial donation, you can visit both Bethesda Mission and Downtown Daily Bread online:


To visit any of the shelter locations, or to drop off physical donations, you can find them here:

  •  Bethesda Men’s Shelter:
    611 Reily St. Harrisburg, PA
  • Downtown Daily Bread:
    234 South St. Harrisburg PA
    (DDB mailing address is: 310 N. Third St. Harrisburg, PA, 17101.)