The Morning Call
A family in crisis arrives at a Lehigh Valley winter emergency shelter cold, hungry, exhausted and scared. They’ve been sleeping in their car, but with temperatures plummeting, they are worried about freezing to death.
Winter emergency sites aren’t equipped to assist families, so staff leaps into action trying to find a safe space for them. But transitional shelters are full, the hotel voucher money has run out, and the family has exhausted all avenues with family and friends. Now what?
This scenario, and others like it, are all too common. The path to homelessness is complex and often marked by significant challenges in an individual’s or family’s life. But we know poverty — not having enough money to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, clothing, health care — is a common denominator on this journey.
We also know the stories of people experiencing homelessness are complex. They may include lack of education and employment skills, physical and mental health challenges, disabilities, substance abuse, and criminal records.
Maybe after years of working at a low-wage job, someone got sick. Or the car broke down. Or the landlord refused to do anything about broken water pipes or the bedbug infestation, and the building was condemned. Or the cost of child care was more than the family can make. Or … or … or … the pathways to homelessness seem endless.
Navigating the path from homelessness into housing stability is complex and infuriating. Locally, the Lehigh Valley Regional Homeless Advisory Board — representatives from homeless service providers, city and county governments, veterans support groups, health institutions, faith-based and community organizations, and other interested parties — works to prevent and end homelessness in the area.
We work to increase the availability of safe and affordable housing, improve access to behavioral health care, link families and youths to community-based support services, and address the housing needs of individuals being released from jail.
In 2017, the advisory board adopted Connect to Home, a common entry point for people seeking resources to end their homelessness. Through walk-in sites and a telephone hotline (211), people experiencing homelessness are assessed and referred to available shelter and housing services. In 2018, over 3,000 households, representing thousands of men, women and children, reached out for assistance.
Unfortunately, we are not able to assist everyone in crisis — a heartbreaking situation. There are fewer than 700 emergency and transitional shelter beds available locally to meet the needs of those 3,000 households, and inadequate funding to create more.