Carbon County Task Force seeks public understanding to help area homeless
Many think the homeless are lazy and they want to live free off public services.
A common perception is they don’t want to work for a living. Worse yet, many think that most of the homeless are drug addicts or alcoholics and don’t want to help themselves.
“It’s difficult to remove the public stigma that’s attached to homelessness,” said the Rev. Allen Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish of the Panther Valley in Summit Hill.
“The truth is nobody wants to be homeless. They are victims of a series of unfortunate circumstances that have caused great loss.”
A ‘point in time count’
On Monday, the Carbon County Homelessness Task Force met to discuss their plans to take inventory of the number of the area homeless and decide what further actions are needed to address the growing problem.
Members of the group include Christine LeClair, co-facilitator; Krista Brown-Ly of Family Promise; Kim Miller, executive director of the Carbon County Action Committee; Jana Welkey, case manager for the action committee and Hoffa.
A major issue for the task force is to determine an accurate number of the homeless in the county, or what they refer to as a “point in time count.”
On Jan. 22, their plan is to take to the streets in a Family Promise van staffed with volunteers and identify those living without housing or shelters of any kind.
“We have graduates of our programs who know where the homeless might be and our local churches have this knowledge, too” said Brown-Ly. “The local police departments and school districts also have first hand information of individuals and families who have nowhere to live and this time of the year, no one wants to have to stay outside in the cold.”
Reasons are many
“It’s obviously problematic living outside now,” Hoffa said. “Some are couch surfing wherever they can find a warm shelter so many could get missed from our count.”
The task force stressed that homelessness is not by choice, but by circumstance.
Divorce, medical costs, job loss and physical disability are primary reasons why individuals and families are evicted from their homes and have no place to go.
“They are right behind the eight ball,” said LeClair. “They live pay check to pay check and if a big financial problem occurs or there is a loss of a spouse who was the breadwinner, hardship hits and they don’t even have money for gas in the car and there is no one they can turn to for help.”
Afraid to ask for help
The task force addressed the unique issues with homeless families where young children are involved.
“The parents are afraid that family services may come and take their children away,” said Brown-Ly. “Homelessness is often fear-based so these families often do not want to come forward to seek help.”
Hoffa emphasized the constant need for funding and resources, much of which comes from Housing and Urban Development.
“That’s why we have to try to get an accurate count of our area homeless,” he explained.
Family Promise, headquartered in Lehighton, can only house 14 of the homeless at a time and Brown-Ly pointed out there is great difficulty in securing another location.
“There is local resistance to establish shelters for the homeless,” Brown-Ly said.
“People don’t want them in their neighborhoods. We actually out service at least another 100 with diapers, toiletries, and school supplies. We often have to refer those in need of shelters to our Allentown facility. Many stay in designated centers during the day and at night we are blessed that they can go to eight area churches where they can stay overnight.
“People don’t want to be homeless. They want to be self-sustaining,” explained Brown-Ly.
In one case, a father was about to lose his job when his car caught on fire and he had no other transportation. We were able to secure him another car. Crisis averted.”
Many who are homeless are counseled to regain self-esteem lost due to a series of their unfortunate circumstances.
“We are proud to say that from 2017 to 2018, 89% of those who were in our program are back on their feet, working, and self sufficient again,” said Brown-Ly.
One of the task force’s biggest concerns is meeting the needs of homeless women.
“Services for women in their 30s and 40s are urgently needed,” Miller said.
There is a growing increase in homeless numbers throughout the Pocono Region. “We have single dads graduating from our programs, but we have to establish separate but equal services to meet the needs of women who have no place to go,” Miller said.
John Card, a Carbon County case manager for the Mental Health and Development Services, attended the meeting and addressed the issue that many of the homeless are understandably depressed about the quality of their lives.
“We offer outpatient services to help get homeless people back on their feet,” he said.
The task force oversees a large geographic area that includes Summit Hill, Lansford, Nesquehoning, Lehighton, Jim Thorpe and Weatherly.
On Jan. 22, the group will raise a public awareness of the homeless problem through public marketing and on multiple internet sites.
All about human dignity
Hoffa emphasized that these ongoing services are necessary for decent human beings who for a variety of circumstances have lost their way.
“We’re about helping these people regain their dignity,” he said, “and the proof that our programs are working is the fact that we have many who were once homeless come back to volunteer their services to help others.”
He added, “They are paying it forward because of the help they had gotten to reclaim their lives.”