WILKES-BARRE – The Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission will try for the second time to establish a homeless shelter in the city. Phil Schultz, executive director of the mission, said the organization has applied for a special approval permit to establish a shelter at 290 Parkview Circle, behind Rider’s World on Coal Street. He said plans call for the 1,634-square-foot former Knights of Columbus building to house the program that will help up to 15 persons. The permit request will come before the city zoning hearing board at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. “It will be a homeless shelter for men and a church,” said attorney Thomas O’Connor, who represents Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission. “There will be no major changes to the building. They believe there is a need in the community for this and that it is a good use for the building.” O’Connor said there is an agreement of sale for the building, but he did not disclose the price. Schultz said his group is not like VISION, or Volunteers in Service in Our Neighborhoods, a local shelter. The mission will provide more for homeless people than a place to sleep or to keep warm, he said. “Our program is affiliated with 300 others across the country,” Schultz, 42, said. “We provide a year-long program and the goal is to help individuals to become fully independent after that year.” Schultz said residents become involved with the church, are offered assistance in finding a job and are encouraged to live on their own. “People in the program will find us,” Schultz said. “Some will be homeless; they may be walking the streets of Wilkes-Barre right now, living in a cardboard box or under a bridge.” Schultz said some of their participants come to them after being released from prison with no place to go. “We won’t take sex offenders in, however,” Schultz said. “We take people who have no place to go; we don’t harbor fugitives.” Schultz said prospective residents are expected to show photo identification and submit their Social Security numbers. Background checks are done on all applicants. Schultz said his organization tried to open a mission in Scranton two years ago, but the permit was denied because the group was not considered to be a church. “We see ourselves as an extension of church,” Schultz said. “We were denied because we weren’t considered a church despite having services; they said we were a treatment center.” In 2005, the organization was denied a permit in Wilkes-Barre. The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions – of which the Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission is a member – wanted to establish a shelter at 135-137 and 141-143 Park Ave. and 248-250 S. Welles St., the former home of the Recupero Funeral Home. More than 100 residents turned out for the meeting and the zoning hearing board unanimously denied the request, saying it was a commercial establishment that would not be conducive to residential needs. Schultz hopes the new location will be acceptable and the organization will receive the approval of the board. “We’ve been in Wilkes-Barre for three years,” Schultz said. “We hold meetings in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church. We feel we are best able to help these people break their addictions.” What’s next?
The Wilkes-Barre City zoning hearing board will meet 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, council chambers, 4th floor, City Hall.
Bill O’Boyle, a Times Leader staff writer, can be reached at 829-7218.