Monday, January 22, 2007

The Lehigh Valley Has a Homeless Problem, too!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWe're living large, bippy. Here in the Lehigh Valley, only about eight percent of us are below the poverty level. But as Jersey commuters continue to pour into the Lehigh Valley, housing costs are soaring. Affordable housing is getting harder to find. And what has Northampton County Council been doing? Bending over backwards for developers, who extort grants and tax breaks based on false promises about high quality jobs. Part of the county's $111 million megabond actually financed a parking lot for luxury condos at Bethlehem's Riverport.

In contrast, most homeless don't even vote. But council surprised me last Thursday, looking better than it has in a long time. It unanimously adopted a resolution to help fund emergency shelter grants. Grants administrator Lori G. Sywensky spoke of a "staggering" homeless problem in the Lehigh Valley. She characterized the county's contribution as a "drop in the bucket." Even Ron Angle, the county's fiscal watchdog, had no problem with this resolution. "We're supposed to be in the human services business."

On Friday, Sywensky emailed me reports from LVPC and Penn State Data Center with the most recent census on homelessness in the Lehigh Valley. Here's part of her email:

"[E]ach of the shelters in Northampton have seen an increase in the number of families using the shelter between 2002 and 2004, ranging from an increase of 4.8% to 19%. The average length of stay in a shelter was 36 nights per person.

Two things I found particularly disturbing in the report was that 79 women were pregnant during their shelter stay, with 7 women giving birth. Relatedly, the largest reason that families cited for needing shelter (21%) was the unavailability of childcare. Given that most adults residing in shelters (68.1%) had diplomas and some post-secondary education, the shelter programs certainly have a very large job to do in order to help people find stable living arrangements."

So how many people really are homeless in the Lehigh Valley? Hard to say. Some live in their cars or under bridges. Others double up with family and friends. But in 2004, there were about 2500 taken in by the area's nine shelters. Nine hundred were kids.

Around this time two years ago, Allentown was bulldozing self-made shelters in the woods around an old abandoned garbage plant, trying to exterminate its riff raff. I like this approach to a little better.


Anonymous said...

"the Lehigh Valley Homeless", now why didn't somebody submit that for the AAA baseball franchise!

In all seriousness though, housing costs are skyrocketing, and you have 2 choices, inner city Allentown or suburban McMansion. There's a hell of a lot more McMansions than 3 apartment row homes. The people living on the edge of the poverty precipice are getting squeezed, while their numbers increase. And that's WITH state supplied healthcare.
Where's Bush's Faith Based Initiatives now? Oh, he must have got his FBI's confused, and funded the domestic spying instead of domestic shelter instead.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Part of the problem was sumed up best by an article in the MCall about two sunday's ago on the area' unemployment rate. It stated that thre are jobas out there, but not necesarrily good paying jobs. Ten dollars an hour is barely enough and in some cases not enough to get an apartment for a single person.

Gentrification is happeing everwhere in the Valley. The valley was once a place where the working man could raise his family as well as the professional man, but with the influx of money from New York, Jersy and such, many Valley families cannot compete. Plus some of the unavailabiltiy of affordable housing is because many of these proerpties where lost when their landlords saw the potential for windfalls by kicing out the low income renteres and getting much higher rents. The valley is a scary place to live anymore. I won't be able to afford to live here much longer myself.