Centre House: Shelter in the Highlands

Centre House
Centre House
By Benjamin Rowles

At 217 East Nittany Avenue, local residents in need of shelter can find a warm, supportive community to help them get back on their feet. Entering its 30th anniversary, Centre House is the only 24/7 homeless shelter in Centre County that welcomes men, women, children, and their families. It also houses the offices for all of the other programs offered by Housing Transitions.  And it is located right in the heart of the Highlands neighborhood!

One former resident affectionately calls the home built in 1914 with its narrow facade and mansard roof “the Monster House,”  likening it to the mansion in a popular TV show: The Munsters. After some time as a family home, it was rented to Penn State students. In 1988, Temporary Housing, Inc., which would later be called Housing Transitions, Inc., converted the three-story student rooming house into a place to call home for those experiencing homelessness, and named it Centre House.  Initially, Centre House had operated from a three-bedroom apartment on University Drive, where it provided evening emergency shelter services. In its new Highlands location, Centre House expanded and today provides 13 beds and around-the-clock professional service.

With the help of dedicated staff, and volunteers, including many Highlanders, Centre House guides local residents from housing crisis to more stable and independent living. “They gave me shelter and then a home in their transitional housing,” one former Centre House resident, Sheri, said. “They connected me with the resources I needed to stay well, to find a job, and to start my life over again. They talked with me… and they listened.” More than a place to spend the night, Centre House is a comprehensive program that helps clients start over.

In addition to receiving shelter and food, Centre House residents take steps toward life after homelessness. Case managers work with each individual or family to set objectives for housing, as well as other needs. These may include employment, child care services, mental health and addiction referrals, or education and skill acquisition. “Even when I was feeling down, feeling like I wasn’t going anywhere, the staff would always push me,” Kevin, another resident, said. “They would say I’m making progress and meeting my goals.”

Breaking free of homelessness is a challenging, gradual process. Elizabeth, who left Centre House in 2012, now lives comfortably with her son Aden in an apartment on Waupelani Drive. But she says her success was “not an overnight thing.” “It’s a huge process,” Elizabeth explained, “but it’s definitely worth going through all the steps.”

Fortunately, donors and volunteers can help make that process easier. Because Centre House is largely funded by private donations, and the Centre County United Way, the generosity of the local community is essential to making sure its services remain available to those in need.

Supporters are also welcome to attend special fundraisers throughout the year. In 2017, Housing Transitions’ first Food Truck Rally in the Valley was held on Allen Street. For each of the past 6 years, runners of all skill levels have enjoyed a jaunt up and down the hills of the Highlands Neighborhood in the annual Run for Shelter 5K. Michael Bilotta, winner of the 2013 race, explained it best:  “You do this to keep up your running and to give back because it’s a good cause.”

The good in our community gives hope to individuals and families struggling with homelessness. Together, we can help provide shelter to those who need it most. Centre House is proud to be a part of the Highlands neighborhood, and we look forward to serving our neighbors and community in the years to come. Please watch for details about an upcoming celebration of 30 Years of Centre House at its current location in the late Spring.

Benjamin Rowles is an intern at Housing Transitions. A Penn State senior studying English, he hopes to work on housing policy and other pressing issues through a career in public service.