The Allentown Commission to End Chronic Homelessness is passing its baton to the Lehigh Valley Regional Homeless Advisory Board as part of the regional effort to solve the issue of homelessness across the Lehigh Valley.
The move was announced at a late morning news conference by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller, Lehigh Conference of Churches Executive Director Jack Felch and Co-Chair, Lehigh Valley Regional Homeless Advisory Board Lori G. Sywensky.
The announcement at the Lehigh County Government Center was attended by representatives of social service agencies, churches and neighborhood groups.
The commission was formed in 2006 with a goal of ending chronic homelessness in 10 years. Since its inception the commission has worked to close unsafe homeless camps on city or county properties and relocate those persons to shelters or permanent housing opportunities. More than 140 permanent supportive housing units were created to house chronic homeless persons (based on the HUD funding definition). Those units have been administered by a variety of community partners including the Lehigh Conference of Churches, County of Lehigh, New Bethany Ministries, Resources for Human Development, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Those organizations have created collaborations with area service providers to improve access to services for chronically homeless persons.
However, there is still work to be done. Fortunately, the evolution of the Northeast Region Homeless Advisory Board, (which served 12 counties in northeastern Pennsylvania) to the Lehigh Valley Regional Homeless Advisory Board (LVRHAB) serving Lehigh and Northampton counties provides the perfect opportunity to address homelessness on a local, regional basis. The LVRHAB members include government representatives (from the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton along with Lehigh and Northampton counties and state and federal elected officials), homeless service providers and interested citizens who all share the ultimate goal of eliminating homelessness. More than 40 members meet each month to discuss a variety of issues including grant funding opportunities, challenges and best practices. An email network allows providers to share challenges of individual cases, with members often being able to help secure shelter from other sources. This regional effort is part of a 33 county Eastern Pennsylvania Continuum of Care initiative to address homeless issues. Homelessness is not limited to municipal or county boundaries and the regional approach provides an increased opportunity for success.
“The Continuum of Care is designed to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness,” Sywensky said. “As a group we’re committed to implementing the lessons learned and continuing the successes achieved by the Mayor’s Commission.”
It was also announced that the city is renovating the Fountain Pool House off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as a winter warming station for the coming season. The warming station will be operated by the Lehigh Conference of Churches.
The Salvation Army and the Allentown Rescue Mission both operate shelters in the city with 90 emergency beds total. The number of individuals seeking emergency shelter during recent winter months either exceeded the number of available beds or the homeless individuals could not or did not choose to stay at the existing shelters.
“The experience at the warming station at Alliance Hall last year proved that a similar facility will be needed again this winter,” said Felch. “Some 304 unique individuals spent a cumulative 4,498 nights at Alliance Hall last winter. Guest attendance averaged 29 per night, with a high of 53.”
Pawlowski said, “Our goal across this region remains to get homeless families and individuals on the road to finding permanent shelter. As a society, the price tag for getting the chronically homeless into housing is much less than the cost to address issues through the healthcare and local law enforcement systems.”
Muller stated, “It is important that the city and county and human services partners come together to combat homelessness. That’s why we have committed funding to this warming station. It meets a critical need for those who desperately need assistance.”
The warming station will be open from 5pm to 8am, seven days a week. Up to 40 bunk beds, blankets, bathrooms, showers and lockers will be available to clients. Limited packaged food and water will be available. Volunteer healthcare providers will make weekly visits to address physical, mental health, nutritional, and medication management needs. Case managers will meet with clients on site.
City crews began interior demolition at the site this week. The city is also picking-up the cost of about $20,000 in materials.
The City of Allentown is contributing $25,000 of Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program funds to the Winter Sheltering Program. In addition to the Winter Shelter Program, the city is providing $30,000 to the Sixth Street Shelter, $29,000 to the Allentown Rescue Mission, $30,000 to the Salvation Army and $62,198 to the Lehigh Conference of Churches for the Pathways Rapid Re-housing Program.
The Fountain Park Warming Station is the result of collaborative discussions involving a number of community organizations — the city, the county, the Lehigh Conference of Churches, Housing Association and Development Corporation, the Allentown Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army Hospitality House, Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, faith-based organizations and homeless advocates.