A ribbon cutting on August 30 officially opened a renovated Friends Association Family Center in the heart of downtown West Chester that provides temporary housing to families distressed by homelessness. The Friends Association apartment building on Chestnut Street can accommodate six families for 90 days while they work with a case worker to secure permanent housing and access social services and benefits. The renovations, which took place over three years, were designed to give families in crisis a welcoming, safe, and calm environment while they worked on solutions to their situation.

“Despite facing numerous obstacles during an unprecedented global health pandemic, this three-year construction journey has culminated in an extraordinary achievement, redefining what it means to find shelter by creating and operating the first trauma-informed family shelter in Pennsylvania,” said Friends Association executive director Jennifer Lopez. Lopez estimated that more than 300 families have found a safe haven at the Center. A crowd of well-wishers mingled with Friends Association officials, staff, and borough and state officials at the Wednesday morning event.

Afterward, visitors were able to tour the inside of the building. The project was based on plans developed by the Friends Association and John Lister Architects. The construction work was done with “heart and soul” by Weldon Builders, Lopez said. A key supporter of the shelter and the work of the Friends Association is Marian Moskowitz, president of the Chester County Commissioners. The county provided $651,278 for the $1 million renovations through its Department of Community Development. “This shelter cares so deeply about the people it serves daily,” she said. “We’re so excited for your future.” The Friends Association board of directors president also spoke, talking about her own family’s brush with homelessness when she was a child when her father suddenly lost his job. “It was so terrible for a child to have to see her parents struggle and be so upset about potentially losing their home,” said Yolanda Van de Krol. “Everyone deserves a nice place to live,” she said.

West Chester Mayor Lillian Louie DeBaptiste said the renovated Family Center is another first for West Chester and shows that the borough is willing to put action behind its words. “This is not any old house,” she said. “It’s done with love. Love was in all the details seen here today. ”West Chester’s next mission is to think about affordable housing in the borough to help people transition out of temporary housing, she said. Lopez, who retired in early September as executive director of Friends Association, said it was appropriate that she ended her journey with the new and improved Family Center.

“It’s fitting that I end my journey where it began in 2019, sitting on this very porch. I remember being filled with hope about all the possibilities to make this an environment that would help families heal and recover mentally and physically,” she said. Lopez related a conversation she had with one of the families. “I expected cots, no privacy, no comfort. I planned to hold my baby close to me,” a mother told her. But when they pulled up to this big house and walked across the threshold, “it was home.”