Homeless shelter facilitates incredible turnaround – Something good happened in Erie, 11/22/2019

Thomas Munch, a man providing for the poor who will never forget what it felt like to have nowhere else to go. | Photo via Christopher Millette, Erie Times-News.

Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:


As fall turns slowly but inevitably to winter, and the sunlight hours dwindle and the temperatures hit you in the face when you walk out the door each morning, remember that it could always be worse. You could be like Thomas Munch was.

Remember how we all lived through the record breaking – then not quite record breaking – snowfall of the winter of 2017-18? We eventually landed on 166.3 inches of snow that winter, but who’s counting. Thomas Munch might have been counting.

Spend a minute thinking about what life would be like without a roof over your head. As the sun goes down and the temperature drops, and you have no thermostat to turn up. All you have is a blanket and the clothes on your back. Thomas Munch remembers that feeling.

Munch fell through the cracks, though we don’t know exactly why or how. We know he served his country in the Air Force during the 1980’s. We know when he got home, he eventually succumbed to a devastating combination of PTSD, chronic illness, and alcoholism. I can’t tell you which of those came first, or second, but I feel comfortable speculating that the first of these maladies led to the second, and the second led to the third.

Before Thomas Munch knew it, he had no roof over his head during the snowiest winter Erie had ever seen. He did what anyone in his situation would do at that point: try to find somewhere, anywhere warm to survive through the night.

Munch did survive through that first cold night. He did it by finding Our Neighbors’ Place Seasonal Shelter, operated by Erie United Methodist Alliance.

It’s at this point I feel the need to mention that I grew up in a religious household, but have since grown apart from organized religion. I would attend church service on Sunday and get the unmistakable impression that the vast majority of my fellow churchgoers were more worried about projecting the appearance of godliness than actually living it.

Our Neighbors’ Place Seasonal Shelter is not like the hypocrisy-projecting church I attended. It’s a place dedicated to living Jesus’ mission of helping the poor and less fortunate, and that’s just what it did for Thomas Munch.

When Thomas was feeling the bite of a cold winter night in late 2017, he found Our Neighbors’ Place and settled in for the night in the basement. The accommodations weren’t much, but they were warm, and they were enough.

Munch stayed there again the following night, and the night after that. He was surviving. Before long, Munch met Chris and Gail Detar, a couple dedicating their lives to belong others through their church. The Detars even drove Munch to a surgery at Millcreek Community Hospital.

The Detars encouraged Munch to seek help for his alcoholism, and therapy for his chronic illness. They put the tools up front of him so that he could help himself. Munch took advantage of those tools, and before long was back on his feet. The charity of a homeless shelter in church basement changed a life.

Today, Thomas Munch lives in subsidized housing at 26th and Peach, but that’s not all. Munch now volunteers at the same homeless shelter that provided so much comfort for him just two short years ago. He is spending his time paying it forward.

Thomas Munch – not to mention his mentors, Chris and Gail Detar – are some of the very best Erie has to offer. They’re some of the best the world has to offer. They’re living the gospel of Jesus himself by dedicating their spare time to helping those who have the least among us.

As the Erie days get darker and colder, and our holidays bring with them the stress of family gatherings, remember to give thanks for the people in our community that give back. Thomas Munch will remember. Thomas Munch embodies what is good about Erie.

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