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Spring Grove Area, Central teachers to open homeless shelter in York City

When Kristen King and her husband were teaching in York City, they realized the profound effect homelessness can have on children.

Zac King was working at McKinley K-8, in York City School District, two years ago when he noticed a student in his homeroom lashing out and behaving out of character.

"He was crying and was like, 'I don't know where my mom and I are going to stay tonight,'" Kristen King recalls hearing about the student.

Her mother-in-law, Karen, a retired social worker, came to find that the city had limited resources for families who are homeless — especially if they wanted to stay together.

Since then, the King family — with Kristen and Zac now teaching at Spring Grove Area and Central York school districts, respectively — decided they wanted to create a shelter for those families.

They are working together with six of Zac King's family members, including his sister-in-law Dori Rivera King — a technology specialist at Central York Middle School — and his nieces Layla and Levy King, who are both students in that district.

Board president Zachery King is shown in what will be a second floor bedroom in the first of five housing units that will be available at Miss Bobbi's Place homeless shelter located at 461 West Hope Ave. in York City, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. The shelter will offer families who are experiencing homelessness the opportunity to stay together. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Three others — Stephen Butler, Michael Butler and Michael Parthree — also are involved with the project.

Miss Bobbi's Place will be five apartment-style homes on West Hope Avenue, each with full living and family rooms, a kitchen and three bedrooms. 

Though there are homeless shelters in the city, not all of them will allow single parents to stay with their children if the child is past a certain age, Kristen King said.

"We're a really close family," she said, so they wanted to provide spaces where, for example, a father could stay with his 15-year-old daughter.

They hope to have the first unit open for tenants in a year.

The future home of Miss Bobbi's Place homeless shelter at 461 West Hope Ave. in York City, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. The five units, currently being renovated, will offer families who are experiencing homelessness the opportunity to stay together. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The goal is to offer housing until families can become independent and break the cycle of homelessness, Kristen King said, so it's about identifying those needs and connecting families with resources.

She said she doesn't want a family to hear, "your six months are up, time to move on," so the length of stay will be on a case-by-case basis — without strict deadlines.

Even though she is now a teacher at Spring Grove and her husband teaches at Central York, both still feel an affinity for the York City community.

They met while teaching at Helen Thackston Charter School, a now-shuttered school for grades five through 12 that was chartered by York City School District.

"We just loved the city and the potential up there," she said.

Kristen King's colleague at Spring Grove, high school Principal David Dietrich, sees her dedication to the city evident in her work as a special education teacher in his district.

“Knowing the connections she builds and the dedication she shows to her students and families, in the classroom and beyond, it is no surprise that Mrs. King and her husband have found a way to have an even greater impact in the York community," he wrote in an email.

The namesake of Miss Bobbi's Place is Roberta Anderson, the mother of McKinley Principal Danielle Brown. Anderson did a lot of volunteer work in Lancaster, including running a homeless shelter at Lancaster's Crispus Attucks Community Center.

Brown, when writing about her mother for an award in 2015, noted that the shelter was what Anderson found the most satisfying because of the diversity of issues she was able to address.

"Roberta believes if the numbers of people that were helped would truly be known, all would be gratefully amazed," Brown wrote.

"We wanted to honor that legacy," Kristen King said.

The first floor of the first of five housing units that will be available at Miss Bobbi's Place homeless shelter located at 461 West Hope Ave. in York City, is shown Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. The shelter will offer families who are experiencing homelessness the opportunity to stay together. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Miss Bobbi's Place had a groundbreaking July 25, but there is still much work to do. Kristen King said the units need heating and plumbing, drywall, electric and other work done to make them move-in ready. 

The community has rallied around the project, she said — donating equipment, time and money through fundraisers over the last two years. 

Kristen King said the Miss Bobbi's Place team is hoping to have a "Raise the Roof" fundraiser in February, if COVID-19 restrictions allow.