Friday, January 18, 2008

Northampton County's Homeless: Just the Facts

Lori G. Sywensky, Norco's Community Development Grants Administrator, is one of those county workers whose name is not mentioned often. But it is people like Lori who put a human face on government. Last night, at her request, county council adopted a resolution seeking state funds for emergency shelter services. She has some startling and sad statistics about homelessness in Northampton County.

In 2006, 8% of the County's residents - over 23,000 people -were living in poverty!

According to the 2006 census on homelessness, 780 adults and children stayed in one of the County's five shelters. Single men continue to have the highest incidence of homelessness, but the number of women and children staying in shelter increased during 2006.

Families in Crisis

Children comprised over 36% of the Lehigh Valley's homeless population last year, compared to 33% in 2005. Children in family shelters were accompanied by a female head-of-household over 92% of the time; the majority of these households had mothers between the ages of 18-22.

* For the first time since 2000, the average length of stay in the LV's homeless shelters has increased over the previous year. Children had the longest stays, with an average of 39 nights spent in shelter.

In the LV's family shelters, the reasons cited most often for unemployment were domestic violence (24.5%), followed by care of young children (20.0%), unaffordable child care (11.7%), and relocation (9%).

The four primary concerns cited by shelter residents were lack of affordable housing, unable to afford housing, lack of accessible housing, and lack of adequate transportation. These concerns continue to be cited year after year.

Affordable Housing as a Factor

* In Northampton County, the average wage for a renter is $10.04 an hour. In order to afford the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 61 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. A person making minimum wage would need to work 118 hours a week to afford this rent.

* The issue of persons at risk of homelessness in the County's Boroughs and Townships is very real. Over 860 renter households and 1250 owner-occupied households in these municipalities are considered to have "Very Low Incomes" (30% of the County's median income) and the cost burden of their housing is more than 50% of their income. This means that homelessness is a great concern for more than 6,000 of the county's suburban residents.

* Persons who end up in shelters usually have moved from the suburbs to urban areas to search for affordable housing.

Place of Residence Prior to Shelter

LV Suburban Municipality - 54.7%
Bethlehem - 34.1%
Easton - 28.2%
I'll present more of her findings next time.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

It appears that the real problem is children having children. We no longer have those "homes for unwed mothers" since it is no longer a social disgrace to have an "illegimate" baby. That would be politically incorrect. We have decided that those who are biologically capable of reproducing should have that freedom whether or not they are capable of supporting that freedom. Reproductive freedom means taking resposiblity for your actions and "back in the day" tht meant going to the home having the baby and giving it up for adoption.

It is also a shame that the responsibilty is always borne alone by the mother becasue, well, the fathers are either unknown or totally bereft of character to step up to the situation they helped to create.

It may be politically incorrect today and it is heart wrenching, but it saved both the baby and the mother from a lifetime of poverty and dependence on the system.These cahritable homes were usually church run, but today, we can comapre the cost of providing a prenatal healthy enviroment for 9 months rather than welfare and healthcare for 18 years.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

its so hard to even know how to respond to a post like this probably because I am a woman, I am a woman with several close single mother friends, and it really bothers me the way women's reproductive rights are treated in this country. I will try to respond respectfully though, in line with Bernie's chastising me about my snarkiness.

Besides the obvious points of "who the hell are you to tell women what to do with their bodies" and "if economic means is the standard by which children should or should not be allowed to live with their birth mother what kind of precedents does that set?" I think that there is something really upsetting when the solution to teen pregnancy or unwanted pregnancy is "go live in a home for 9 months and then give the baby up for adoption." Sex ed in schools is a disgrace, the availability of affordable birth control is so limited in most parts of this country it makes me want to cry, and the stigma on young, single, pregnant women is so real that women frequently drop out of school or leave their jobs after being ridiculed and shamed by their teachers, bosses, and peers.

Also, one of the most respected studies in the last two decades on Teenage Pregnancy (An Economic Analysis of Teenage Fertility; William L. Davis, Kent W. Olson, Larkin Warner in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology) found that when women felt they had an economic future or had goals in life they were considerably more likely to seek out birth control or avoid getting pregnant.

The same way that I think we collectively bear some responsibility for creating a society in which children believe that their best opportunities in life come from a gang, I think we collectively bear some responsibility for a society in which poor and largely minority women feel their future is so dim that having children before they are ready is an acceptable option.

donmiles said...

Great post on Northampton County's homeless and economically at-risk families, Bernie. The mainstream media (read: M.Call and ExTimes) pay little attention to this issue. I have supported some of the few LV organizations that make a difference on this issue (like Alan Jennings' CACLV and Victory House in Bethlehem) and those folks, too, get little media attention. Would that the "pros" at M.Call and ExTimes do their job and cover this issue forcefully. Thanks for doing what they should be.

Bernie O'Hare said...

We have decided that those who are biologically capable of reproducing should have that freedom whether or not they are capable of supporting that freedom.

Whoa there. Are you actually supporting the involuntary sterilization of people? And you think that will solve the homelessmness problem?

The US stopped this barbaric practice after the second world war, once we got to see how the Nazis did it. It's a monstrous violation of civil liberties. If someone is below a certaion income threshold, should he or she be sterilized? If the targeted person gets pregnant, do you rip the child out of the womb? After all, why should the state have to pay for a child that has a child? See where I'm going?

Many of us are at risk. Lori's research shows 23,000 in NC. Should they all be sterilized? Then what happens if they improve their economic suituation?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don,

Although I appreciate the compliment, this is Lori's good research. She was just kind enough to share it. Also, Addicted at LVPoliblog has a series of interviews with some of our homeless population. I'll post a link to it in my next post on this topic.

Anonymous said...

"It appears that the real problem is children having children. We no longer have those "homes for unwed mothers" since it is no longer a social disgrace to have an "illegimate" baby. That would be politically incorrect. We have decided that those who are biologically capable of reproducing should have that freedom whether or not they are capable of supporting that freedom. Reproductive freedom means taking resposiblity for your actions and "back in the day" tht meant going to the home having the baby and giving it up for adoption."

Wow. Back in the day, blacks sat in the back of the bus, ate at separate lunch counters and went to different schools. Women couldn't vote and anybody who could get a job worked 12-14 hour days for whatever the management felt like paying. Let's not forget those critical laws that prevented blacks from marrying whites and contaminating the purity of our nation. And people loved it! If they didn't, the blacks would get lynched, the women imprisoned for subversion and the workers labeled as communists. I forget just how wonderful the glory days were. Thanks for the reminder.

Clearly political correctness allowed for all of these things to change and we now need to stop being so touchy so we can return to those glory days. Those changes, along with all those unwed mothers and their bastard children, have destroyed out country.

Okay... now back to reality... that's where your line of reasoning takes us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making my point Look Out LV. Women who have a future will take better care of their child ( and themselves) than those who feel abandonded. In the residential seting for their specific needs they received the nutrition, sanitation, instruction and counseling they need. It is done in a HOME. Home is not a dirty word.It is an intimate setting rather than an institution.It is far better than just throwing some short term cash at the problem, becasue that money will be gone and the needs still unmet.

We must know when to stop yelling reroductive rights and begin yelling reproductive responsibilty. That time is when you are pregnant and have decided to keep your child. You relinquish all else besides the responsibility for the welfare of the child for 18 years (minimum).
You do what you must to make that child's life safe and secure.

That is the only way to stop the children having children syndrome that tears down the future of so many families.

Look Out has great theory but no real plan of action. My suggestion merely puts into practical practice what she espouses.Lets take them from victimhood and enpower them to be good parents and citizens .

Anonymous said...

While despicable, so-called "dead-beat" dads are actually men who have exercised the same reproductive choice that many women demand. Women do not want men's demands for choice to infringe upon theirs. I agree, and it should be the same for both. Choice and responsibility cannot be separated or compartmentalized.

If, rightly so, a man can't dictate to a woman what to do with her body, neither should a woman demand that the man use his body to labor for a child he doesn't want. This is a pure pro-choice position.

Anonymous said...

LOLV sez:

"The same way that I think we collectively bear some responsibility for creating a society in which children believe that their best opportunities in life come from a gang, I think we collectively bear some responsibility for a society in which poor and largely minority women feel their future is so dim that having children before they are ready is an acceptable option."

Predicting that response from you would be like predicting that the sun will rise tomorrow in the east.

Anonymous said...

Bernie sez:

"Whoa there. Are you actually supporting the involuntary sterilization of people? And you think that will solve the homelessmness problem?"

Wouldn't abortion be sterilization "after the fact?"

Just asking.

Anonymous said...

I'm from a lower middle calss background, paid attention and got good grades in high school, put myself thru college, get up every day to go to work.
I get the feeling Bernie somehow wants me to feel guilty, and that the "government" should confiscate some of my money and do something about homeless people. Is that the point of this?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I get the feeling Bernie somehow wants me to feel guilty, and that the "government" should confiscate some of my money and do something about homeless people. Is that the point of this?

The point of this is to provide the unvarnished facts, as generated by a dedicated county worker, about the state of homelessness in Northampton County. I've suggested no answers. If you feel guilty, join the club. So do I.

addicted said...

People told me I was full of it, that there really isn't a homeless problem, or a poverty issue. I'm glad it is getting some attention, but I'm not glad that it exists.
Why does the answer from some quarters always involve "punishment?" I advocate responsibility being taught to young parents. I would gladly pay taxes to be used to educate teenagers in parenting, birth control, and for job training.
What really irritates me is that the teen parents are so easily stigmafied as "welfare queens". That is the exception, and assistance exists for them.
It is too easy for politicians to play the blame game on this issue.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

please don't twist my words to be 'making your point', your point is that women should be INTERRED during pregnancy and have their children taken away from them if they do not have the economic means to provide for their families. I disagree completely. My "plan of action" would involve proper sex education (which means NOT abstinence only to the chagrin of the christian right), access to affordable and adequate health care - particularly birth control - and continuing to push for more equal opportunities in work and education for women.

To the other anon: If I am consistent in my view points it is because they are carefully considered and thought out to the point of exhaustion. This is not to say that my mind cannot be changed, just that I don't form opinions without looking at information and relying on what I consider to be a pretty firm set of values to help me find my way. I won't take it as an insult that you find me predictable.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

on the point of whether taxpayer money should or should not go to homeless shelters and the outreach and assistance that goes with taking care of the homeless population I offer the following:

a) the working poor can barely afford to pay their bills and feed their families, much less save for a rainy day. An illness, a death in the family, getting laid off - any of these things can cause people to go from "making it" to "not making it" in the blink of an eye. If a family needs to stay a week, two weeks, or two months in a shelter while they get back on their feet, that is inevitably a better solution than spending that time on the street or in a car, where they will not be safe, fed, adequately sheltered, or have access to resources for continuing with school or work.

The other side of homelessness is by and large people who suffer from very real mental illness or disabilities. The government has decided that taxpayer money should not be spent housing or caretaking those in our society who are unable to provide for themselves (and spare me the story about the kid with downs syndrome who greets you at the Wal Mart), and so those people are on the streets. They are the majority of our homeless population in this country. It is the continuing cutbacks in funding for housing, institutional facilities, and social programs which serve these individuals which leads to the increase in homelessness all over the country.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The government has decided that taxpayer money should not be spent housing or ...

I get the feeling Bernie somehow wants me to feel guilty ...

It appears that the real problem is children having children.

The other side of homelessness is by and large people who suffer from very real mental illness or disabilities.

My post is intended to give you the facts from someone who was in a good position to gather them. I do not presume to state what causes homelessness, and I present no plan for dealing with it.

I just thought I should note that last night, county council unanimously passed a resolution seeking $233k from the state for its emergencty shelters this year. It will get it, too. The amount of money has gone up every year since I've been following it. I do think people care, even the people in government, just as you all seem to care, too.

Some of us disagree with each other, but we all would like the problem to end and we all need to be listening to each other.

Anonymous said...

Living in a home with a room of your own, decent nutrition and counselling is NOT interment. It is a theraputic situation with a room of their own, nutirition, medical assistance and counselling. If they are working or going to school they certainly have that freeedom, and if they are adults they may come and go as they please.

Your objection is that it is not government funded, but more than likely a church or private charity and that they try to teach these young women the wisdom of making good choices. They will flag residents for drug and/or alcohol abuse tha may hurt the baby and they cannot be out all night partying.

They are run by comapssionate and caring people, and are far more sucessful than the shelters.

Anonymous said...

Homelessness is a symptom of the larger problems of mental illness and addiction.

Treatment for mental illness is not markedly different than it was 50 years ago (just ask any of us whose family has been visited by the tragedy of schizophrenia), and our "drug war" industry spends billions on incarceration and a relative pittance on rehabilitation.

We are a country of mostly shallow political thought that is too lazy to look a couple of layers deeper and understand underlying problems. Our political class knows this and treats us accordingly.

I doubt there are as many homeless as averred by those whose jobs and budgets depend on claims of troublesomely large homeless populations, but one homeless soul is too many to countenance in this land of plenty.

To paraphrase a political slogan from the 90s: "It's the addiction and mental illness stupid".

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

I have no problem with churches or religious groups running any kind of facilities, nor with anyone voluntarily deciding to take advantage of them. I disagree with your assertion that this is any kind of solution to the problem of teen pregnancy! Many shelters and soup kitchens both in the LV and beyond are run by religious organizations. The Rescue Mission, in Allentown, is the biggest men's shelter that I'm aware of in the Lehigh Valley, and it not only is run by a religious organization, but there is huge pressure to participate in the church indoctrination! I don't think any less of that program nor do I think that it should be funded any differently than the secular shelters.

Anonymous said...

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