There are 28 beds, and usually that's enough. Each evening, men file in and those beds are filled for a time with York's homeless, Craig Ritter said.

When morning comes, the men disappear into the streets again.

That's the ebb and flow of life at a shelter, Ritter said.

But when it's cold like this, the in-house coordinator for York's Rescue Mission said on Wednesday, the numbers swell. The beds fill earlier. Men appear by lunchtime, looking for a way out of the cold.

Ritter opens the door.

"We don't want nobody out there on those streets," he said. "Not when it's like this."

This week's cold snap has driven up the number of homeless looking for help at the Rescue Mission, Ritter said. The shelter has hit its 28-bed limit on some recent nights, with demand threatening to surpass it.

And for now, the forecast doesn't look any brighter.

Thursday's overnight low was pegged at a chilling 6 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, and snow showers are expected today. High temperatures likely won't climb above freezing until the first of the week.

Officials at local homeless shelters know what that can mean.

Linda Haley, program coordinator at York's Bell Family Shelter, said so far this month the nightly number of families helped has remained about the same. But the 42-bed shelter stands ready to help if the recently rough winter continues.


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"We'll put mats down in the family room," she said. "We're not going to turn people away."

Ritter has worked with the homeless in York for a dozen-plus years. He's been at the Rescue Mission shelter when the beds ware full, and cots were rolled out on the floor of the little chapel onsite.

Normally, though, that sanctuary serves another purpose. After dinner each night, those staying gather there for a short service. It's led by a staffer, and the men bow their heads together.

"We're here to pray with them," Ritter said. "And our faith is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

Ritter admits to mixed results. Some return again and again, and he questions if they're moving forward. Others disappear once, and he's left to wonder.

That's why he offers each a meal, and maybe a scarf or gloves. He extends a hand in shared prayer while he can, before those men vanish again.

"That might seem like a little," Ritter said.

But in the hours when those 28 beds stand empty, he said, there's some warmth to be found in hope.

@timstonesifer; 771-2032