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Downtown Daily Bread: Serving the Hungry and Homeless of Harrisburg

Winter 2018 Catalyst

Imagine having no place to call home. Your feet are always wet, and the cold permeates your bones. Meet John, a client at Downtown Daily Bread, who has been living under a bridge in the city for many years. John cannot seem to escape his situation, which is driven as much by mental illness as it is by his decision to not take shelter.


He is fiercely independent, but when asked why he is homeless, he cannot give a logical answer. John eats lunch at DDB each day, where he’ll occasionally take a shower, get clean, dry socks and rest in the Day Shelter. Sometimes he will talk with a counselor, and every so often he will get his hair cut. Recently, due to the colder temperatures, he spent the night in the DDB Emergency Night Shelter — the first time in years he’d slept indoors.


A Faithful History


Downtown Daily Bread is a mission project of Pine Street Presbyterian Church that since 1983 has served men and women in the City of Harrisburg who face homelessness. The Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness estimates that 466 homeless people live in and around the City of Harrisburg. Some are chronically homeless due to mental illness, addiction or prior legal offenses. Others are temporarily homeless due to rising rent and home pricing, loss of employment or removal from unstable family situations.


Lunch is served every day of the year from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. by the cooks and volunteers of DDB. Last year alone, more than 28,000 meals were served by volunteers representing churches, synagogues and other community and business organizations. Other DDB services include lockers, bus passes, transportation, haircuts, photo identification resources, laundry tokens, mail delivery, food vouchers and the support of skilled and empathetic counselors.


New Needs in the Community Beckon


Two years ago, Downtown Daily Bread opened its Day Shelter to provide a safe and secure area where the poor and homeless can come inside during the day to rest, connect to services and socialize. Utilization rose from 443 individual visits in December 2016, to 1,364 in November 2017. Because of its location and program, the Day Shelter has become an ideal place to establish a hub of services for DDB clients from companies that include UPMC Pinnacle, Case Management Unit, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Hershey Medical Center, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, Salvation Army, Crisis Intervention and CACH. In the afternoons, DDB partners with Tri-County OIC to offer life skills classes and improve our clients’ ability to use technology, develop employability skills and improve basic literacy skills in reading, writing and math — all designed with the goal of helping them get back on their feet.


This past December, DDB opened an Emergency Night Shelter, which houses up to 30 men each evening and will be open daily through March 31, 2018. It is staffed by night managers and volunteers who are being recruited to work in the evenings from 7:00 p.m. to 10 p.m.


Can You Help?


Downtown Daily Bread has been a refuge for the hungry and homeless in our community, and will continue to be so with the help of its volunteers and generous donors. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Linda Gzehoviak, director of development, at 717-238-9304 ext. 105. Please visit our website at for information about how you can donate.


Amidst all the sadness and brokenness of so many clients, there are stories of hope. After serving a ten-year prison sentence, Steve was released with no ID and very little money. Homeless and with no family in the area, it took him a couple weeks to learn the new ways of the world. Fortunately, while in prison, Steve became a licensed barber, so he had a skill to help him get back on his feet. However, he needed some help to get started. He came to DDB and received a voucher for a photo ID, bus passes and a locker; he also took showers for about two months. Steve now has his own apartment and is working cutting hair. In gratitude, Steve took a day to do haircuts for DDB clients. Steve said, “If it wasn’t for the help of DDB, I don’t know what I would have done.”


Anne E. Guenin is director of Downtown Daily Bread.    

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