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DelVal Counties Offer Programs To Help Homeless People

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.

The Montgomery County towns of Lansdale, Norristown, and Pottstown have been in the news lately for homeless problems.

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

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.

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GIORDANO: Norristown Home of High Drama on Homelessness

Over the last 10 years, Norristown has become the Kensington lite of suburban Philadelphia. Many mental health and drug and alcohol centers have opened in the town.

Many people drop out of those programs and live on the streets in Norristown. This situation has come to a head because PECO is poised to remove homeless encampments from its properties.

The situation has become high drama because of the battle between Stephanie Sena, a Villanova University law professor and homeless advocate, and Norristown Council President Tom LePera. LePera is a Democrat and local union leader, but that did not stop him from threatening to send the homeless to Villanova, according to Sena and a witness.

LaPera allegedly said he had offered incentives to the homeless to board a bus and be dropped off at Villanova University, which he reportedly said has many empty dorm rooms in the summer that could house the homeless.

LePera also said he was modeling himself after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has transported nearly 100,000 illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. New York, in particular, is in crisis mode after receiving 70,000 or more immigrants.

Even though LePera has somewhat walked back the alleged comments, I understand his point. I believe Sena is the face of the elitist advocates that don’t want to address why Norristown has to bear the burden of homelessness in Montgomery County.

Villanova issued a statement that Sena has not been working on behalf of the school. I consider the university a liberal elitist institution that virtue signals about issues like homelessness but doesn’t help places like Norristown deal with it.

Speaking of elitist virtue signalers, The Philadelphia Inquirer thundered that Norristown is not the only Montgomery County town it feels has sought to criminalize homelessness and poverty. It also attacked Pottstown for penalizing churches for their homeless feeding programs. I’ve interviewed officials in Pottstown about this, and they made a good case that these programs were putting a tremendous strain on their town.

Norristown is not a large town. According to most government reports, about 21 percent of its residents live in poverty. It doesn’t have the political clout of places like Villanova, Lower Merion, or Radnor. What would those communities do about homeless encampments in their towns? LePera, in his own contorted way, put this issue out there. It’s not a matter of chance that Norristown has ended up in this position.

The Inquirer reported that Montgomery County Chief Operating Officer Lee Soltysiak said in a statement, “Homelessness is not an issue that should be addressed through theatrics. It is a serious matter affecting the lives of far too many people countywide, and we must work together to solve it.” What does Mr. Soltysiak propose to relieve Norristown? What specifically will be done to take the pressure off Norristown? What does Villanova say should be done to relieve Norristown?

The silence is very reminiscent of responses by the area elitist institutions when the issue of relieving the people of Kensington comes up. In the current race to become the next mayor of Philadelphia, candidates Cherelle Parker and David Oh have routinely been criticized when they espouse aggressive policies to break up the area’s open-air drug markets. In fact, there seems to be more support for safe injection sites rather than removing Kensington as a magnet for lawlessness.

So, thanks to Thomas Le Pera for highlighting not just the problem of homelessness but the people and institutions that make designated poor and voiceless communities have to bear the burden for everyone else.

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LUDWIG: What My Experience Being Homeless Taught Me About Compassion

As the National Park Service continues to break up homeless encampments, pushing them from one neighborhood to another, it’s clear our unsheltered homelessness problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

In 2022 Washington had an estimated homeless population of 4,400, and about 690 were unsheltered. Though the total homeless population has decreased recently, the number of unsheltered homeless has remained stubbornly high.

Uncomfortable as we are with the unsheltered, we citizens largely abdicate our role in helping the homeless directly and leave the job to our government, which consistently struggles to fix the problem. While our government infantilizes them with paternalistic policies and vague rhetoric of compassion, citizens have learned the dehumanizing art of ignoring them altogether. By failing to engage with the homeless as fellow citizens and holding them to our own standards of acceptable behavior, we inadvertently perpetuate their disruption and neglect our role in fixing the problem.

I don’t say that without compassion: I see myself in all the wretchedness, mental illness and anger reflected in the eyes of the homeless.

When I was 20, a spat of severe depression cost me my job. Unable to make rent, I wound up homeless, and for a month, I wandered the streets feeling isolated and bitter. I needed help and was starving for even an ounce of compassion. Yet, many who might claim to have compassion for the homeless would walk right by me without offering even a glance. In ignoring me, it felt as though they denied my humanity.

But I don’t blame them. Years later, once again employed and housed, I find myself grappling with the same aversion that caused others to avoid me when I was on the street. Even though I know firsthand how harmful it is to be denied recognition from the other side of the street, it’s clear to me that in helping others, we put our goodwill on the line: Without some assurance of mutual respect and decency from those on the receiving end of that goodwill, few of us will take any chances. To do our part in helping our homeless neighbors, we must also hold them to a higher standard.

The only people who deserve unearned decency, kindness and assistance are young children: Pretending that every homeless person deserves such help only infantilizes them. The homeless must conduct themselves appropriately to expect recognition or help; individuals should comply only insofar as they are willing to reciprocate our respect.

A few months ago, I was on my lunch break, sitting outside of a fast-food joint, when a man approached me, his ragged clothing marking him homeless. I greeted him, and he awkwardly asked if I would buy him lunch. I said I would, igniting a light of thanks in his eyes. We hardly made it into line before someone behind the counter noted the man’s appearance and demanded that he leave. I assured her I was paying for his food, but she ignored me, ordering him to leave and threatening to call the police. I don’t know whether she was upholding store policies or recognized him from previous encounters.

But the moment of happiness that had lit his eyes at my promise instantly faded, and he began to yell at the worker, hurling obscenities at her. The store employees called the police as he fled.

I had tried to help him because of my compassion for his plight. My compassion was built on a respect for his status as a fellow citizen, whose shoes I might imagine myself in and from whom I might expect reciprocated decency and respect. Though I understood his anger at a society that had rejected him, his behavior showed they were right to do so and betrayed my expectations. If he begged me for food again, I would not assist him. Only when we maintain such expectations do we have a standard that allows us to set aside our aversions and recognize the homeless, separating the decent from the indecent.

Too often, citizens place the duty to act upon institutions, which ultimately leads to our abdication of the productive role that we can play in helping the homeless directly. Part of what makes homelessness so miserable is the sub-human self-image created when people ignore you. By recognizing the homeless and showing them the basic respect that we extend to others, we can do our part in mitigating their misery. We will often find decent people underneath the rags.

Genuine respect for a person entails more than compassion and no-strings-attached assistance — it requires that we have expectations of them, as we do for all adults. This respect can have a real effect in helping the homeless improve their self-image and moving them toward self-sufficiency. It isn’t a grand way to show your morality, and it won’t always fix things, but taking a small risk could make the difference in turning someone’s life around.

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