|"Sex Tent" for Lehigh Dr. Homeless Camp|
"I've been tasked with the responsibility of keeping people safe," he explained. "I just can't keep people safe when they are living on the side of a mountain for a mile down the road."
The encampment along Lehigh Drive is one of several homeless encampments in Easton, according to Scalzo. He stated the others are more mobile, better maintained and are monitored
Unlike the others, the Lehigh Drive encampment has been occupied for the past two years, and is difficult to monitor. As of about five months ago, there were between 30-50 people living there. "I guess the word was being spread that this is an area where you can stay," he told Council. Residents included people from Allentown, Warren County and as far away as Missouri.
As the population increased, so did reports of criminal activity in an area "impossible to patrol." Public drunkenness and open fires could be expected, but there were also fights, including an aggravated assault. Welfare frauds lived there , as well as people wanted for bench warrants.
Scalzo explained that the homeless along Lehigh Drive even had their own quasi government One person was collecting food stamps, money and unspecified favors in exchange for the right to stay there. At the same time, some of these squatters threatened social workers who visited them.
Favors may have been performed in what Scalzo called a "sex tent" along Lehigh Drive.
In addition to the criminal activity, Scalzo was concerned about sanitation. People living there were defecating into plastic bags, which would then be tossed along Lehigh Drive They were also urinating in bottles that were similarly tossed. Empty propane tanks, which still contain small amounts of gas, presented an environmental concern, especially given the close proximity to the Lehigh River.
About two months ago, Sclazo sat down with representatives of Safe Harbor, who agreed to help as many people as they could. About 15 people were placed. But the remaining people were unwilling to seek help.
Scalzo decided that it was time to close the encampment, and warned the remaining population they were coming. When police and public works arrived, Scalzo stated he did not see one homeless person.
"This was not done callously and with no foresight," insisted the Chief.
When Chief Scalzo was finished making his presentation, one of the formerly homeless residents spoke out as well. Henry Rodruiguez, Jr. is disabled, was walking with a cane, and said he had "given up mentally." When he went to Safe Harbor for help initially, all they could do was give him a sleeping bag and a tent. He now lives on the South Side, and will receive an operation in April for his back.
Sal Panto blamed the County for this problem, and accused county representatives of "just turning their backs on them." Two thirds of the County's budget provides human services, and County funding does financially assist homeless shelters.