Bucks County Controller Pamela Van Blunk joined state Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) and other members of the Bagley Carlin and Mandio law firm volunteering at the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter in Bristol on the Martin Luther King Day of Service.
“It was humbling,” said Van Blunk, who worked with other volunteers to paint two conference rooms and two hallways. Volunteers played games with kids while others helped with food preparation.
Bucks has about 313 homeless people on any given day, according to the 2023 Point-in-Time Survey. And it offers numerous programs to help, including $150,000 earmarked for homeless shelters in 2024.
Candace Cabanas, a Republican candidate for the state House running in the Feb. 13 special election, said there are homeless encampments in the woods near her Falls Township home.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Rick Siger announced a total of $6,331,068 in new Emergency Solutions Grant awards for municipalities and nonprofit organizations to help homeless individuals and families find housing. Of that, $108,000 is earmarked for Bucks County.
Aided by an additional $2 million that outgoing Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence added to the 2024 budget, Montgomery County has robust programs to aid the homeless. Yet the problem persists.
Kayleigh Silver, administrator for Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Housing and Community Development, said in 2023, the county had 329 homeless people for the one-day count.
“There’s been a 37 percent decrease from 2013,” Silver said. “So, the trend is going down.”
Silver believes the biggest cause of homelessness in the county is rising rents. The cost to rent a studio apartment in the Philadelphia metro area was $1,297 in December, according to Rent.com.
There are also “rising evictions and the loss of affordable housing due to Hurricane Ida (in 2021),” Silver said.
“We are seeing more and more people systematically being pushed into homelessness in any given year,” said Silver. “So, in 2022, for example, almost 2,500 people were entered into the homeless crisis response system. Meaning they experienced homelessness, they needed services, they needed shelter, they needed housing.”
Montgomery County and other Delaware Valley counties have systems of public/private partnerships to help homeless people.
“We do short-term and medium-term rental subsidies to help pay for the housing and then connect them to the job benefits and support they need in order to maintain that housing going forward,” said Silver.
Adrienne Marofsky, a spokesperson for Delaware County, said the county has about $5.5 million from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and $1.8 million from other sources for homeless programs. There are shelters in Brookhaven, Upper Darby, and Chester. As of the Point-in-Time count in January 2023, there were 360 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in Delaware County.
“As a HUD recipient, we, like Montgomery County, are required to participate in the Point-In-Time count at the end of January,” said Marofsky.
Marofsky agreed that increased rental costs, coupled with lower wages, not enough affordable housing, and scarce supportive housing for people with mental health, drug, or alcohol “challenges,” are the main causes of homelessness there.
At a recent Delaware County Housing Coalition update, Jordan Casey of The Foundation for Delaware County said the county is home to 177,000 renters, meaning roughly one in three residents are renters. Despite the aging housing stock in the county, rental prices in the county are increasing and are higher than in other counties in the state. Casey noted a two-bedroom apartment in Delaware County now averages $1,470 per month, meaning a Delaware County resident would need to earn $58,800 to afford it at fair market prices.
Dolores Colligan, director of the Chester County Department of Community Development, and Rob Henry, administrator for the Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness, spoke with DVJournal.
The county will spend about $3.5 million on the homeless problem this year.
Last year, there were 436 homeless people in Chester County “on any given night,” said Henry. That includes 29 living outside. And 1,000 to 1,200 become “unhoused” over a year. Chester County also performs a one-night homeless count.
There is “a mixture” of ages among the homeless population, with about a quarter of them children, he said.
Coatesville is the Chester County town with the largest number of homeless people, he said.
A county program earmarked $500,000 to repair homes in Coatesville so that people can continue to live in them.
And “the lack of affordable housing,” is the main reason for homelessness, Henry said. There are 9,645 low-income housing units, 5,125 affordable housing units, and a shortage of 4,5020 units, said Henry.
In 2022, the Chester County Commissioners pledged a commitment to HUD’s “House America” initiative, with a goal of adding 1,000 affordable units in the county over 10 years.
Most of the funding comes from the federal government. The county also works with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity to meet the need.
In November, Chester County received a Community Development Award of Excellence for its efforts to end homelessness.
“We want to ensure that everyone who lives in Chester County has housing options available to do so. But that means we must come up with a variety of ways to make this happen. By establishing the Affordable Housing Developer Collaborative, we have been able to bring together partners that can, from the outset, talk through land use, zoning, and public transportation regulations, as well as house purchase and rental needs, to move forward with affordable housing options,” Colligan said at that time.
While Philadelphia has a program to find and bring homeless people indoors during Code Blue days, the surrounding Delaware Valley counties do not, Colligan noted.
In addition to trying to help people once they become homeless, Chester County tries to prevent them from losing housing. “Repairing properties is one way to keep people in their homes,” said Colligan.
The Chester County 2024 budget included $3.3 million for various programs to help the homeless. These programs include street outreach, housing support, and case management, and programs for transitional housing. Various nonprofit partners received county money to address the problems, as well.
Chester County officials likewise see the lack of affordable housing as the main cause of homelessness.
“According to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s (PHFA) 2023 Comprehensive Housing Study, Chester County has 9,645 low-income households and only 5,125 affordable units for these households, which means there is a shortage of 4,520 affordable units for these families. Chester County, the Department of Community Development, and the Partnership to End Homelessness are working on solutions to meet the need for affordable housing. One hundred eleven new units of affordable housing have been created since 2022, with another 205 under development, and aspires to create 1,000 new units in the next 10 years,” officials said.