The following story was published in The Express-Times
Thursday, January 15, 2009
BETHLEHEM | A cold snap expected to start today, as well as a down economy, has a church saying the city should do more to provide shelter for the homeless.
The Rev. Elizabeth Miller, of Trinity Episcopal Church on East Market Street, says the city hasn't done enough to provide warm places.
Miller asked the city to provide shelter in its parking garage but the city refused, offering four jail cells instead.
"We've got some people on the street who are going to freeze to death if we can't get them out," Miller said Wednesday. "We're finding the city is offering very little. Well, it's no help."
The Rev. Laura Howell from the same church said she's reached out to the city, police and others but found "everyone is passing the buck."
Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said shelter is an issue for Northampton County. The city can't provide shelter, he said, because it doesn't have any.
"We certainly don't have the facilities. It is something we have always looked to the churches to do," said Callahan, who met Wednesday afternoon with church members and Tony Hanna, the city's community and economic development director.
Miller said Trinity Episcopal can't provide shelter either. Its volunteers and space, she said, are devoted to a year-round soup kitchen.
The cold snap is expected to start today with temperatures that don't leave the teens. Temperatures can drop to 10 below zero and wind chills can make it feel like 30 below zero.
The cold has already caused problems.
Bangor Area High School closed Wednesday because of frozen pipes. Students were dismissed at 9:15 a.m. because there was no water. Superintendent John Reinhart wasn't sure the school would have water today.
Pennsylvania's Department of Health urged caution, saying hypothermia and frostbite can occur even indoors. The department said people, particularly the very young and elderly, should dress in layers, cover their faces and stay inside as much as possible.
The Easton Area School District made similar recommendations for its students.
But an increased number of people don't have anywhere to stay, and others have had their heat turned off because they can't afford it, said Miller, other Bethlehem clergy and the heads of shelters. The clergy worried bad finances would mean people will need more help than can be provided.
"There's a concern we won't have enough space," said the Rev. Scott Allen, of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Pennsylvania Avenue in Bethlehem, which hopes to shelter at least 100 people Friday.
"The economy means new folks are newly homeless or newly on the edge or have not paid their oil bill. This is the kind of newly unemployed that might need the most help," he said.
The Safe Harbor homeless shelter on Bushkill Street in Easton has already filled its 27 beds, said Tyson Sprandel, the executive director. He said the shelter arranges for the Salvation Army to provide extra cots but says they're rarely requested.
The Allentown Rescue Mission said it would provide shelter but only to men who have vouchers from police, which Miller thought would be a disincentive to homeless with ticks on their criminal record.
Prayers for the poor
Tony Pompa, a reverend at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity on Third Street in Bethlehem, which is to provide shelter for as many as 50 people today, didn't know what the cold weather and bad economy would bring.
"I guess we're going to find out," he said
Pompa didn't have complaints for the city but hopes government, churches and volunteers would work better together when temperatures become lethally cold.
"Certainly as a community whether it's government or the church sector, it has always amazed me that we don't have some kind of coordinated effort for emergency shelter," Pompa said. "I'm very much hoping this (cold snap) brings a discussion that leads to into the future in a coordinated way."
The Lehigh County Conference of Churches walk streets offering shelter and blankets to the city's homeless, said Alan Jennings, director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
But he said Northampton County makes no comparable effort.
Managing Editor Jim Deegan and reporter Lynn Olanoff contributed to this report.
Reporter Douglas B. Brill can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Thursday, Jan. 15, 9:07 am
From Bill Lewellis, Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem
The following story was published in today's Morning Call.
Lehigh Valley churches, agencies provide shelter for homeless
Bitter cold temperatures prompt open doors
By William J. Ford
Of The Morning Call
January 15, 2009
Andrew's Episcopal Church in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, has never
opened its doors for people in need of shelter during the winter.
''We are a suburban church and there really isn't anyone around here that is in dire need,'' the Rev. Scott Allen said Wednesday. ''[Now] we are in a brave new world and people can use the help in staying warm.''
With low temperatures expected to be in the single digits tonight and Friday night, the 53-year-old church at 1900 Pennsylvania Ave. will open its doors at 8 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Saturday to accommodate those who are homeless and without heat.
Allen said about 100 people can eat and sleep inside the church's warm building.
''We are being intentionally naive in doing this,'' he said. ''We don't know what to expect, but our primary mission is to get people out of the exposure to the cold for one night. This is our job in being Christians.''
Meteorologist Bill Christ of the National Weather Service's regional office in Mount Holly, N.J., said the cold air from Canada will bring an inch or less of snow this weekend.
"It's a little bit colder than usual, but not unheard of during the wintertime," he said. "[The extreme cold] should last probably a week. Then temperatures should start moderating into the 30s again."
To protect children from the cold, the Child Advocacy Center of Lehigh County will deliver 275 handmade blue scarves for students and staff at Allentown's McKinley Elementary School at 10 a.m. today.
Meanwhile, only a handful of shelters throughout the Lehigh Valley have available space.
Although the 26 beds at Easton's Safe Harbor are occupied, it will accept up to five people to stay for one day if necessary, shelter director Tyson Sprandel said.
Officials at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem are discussing sheltering folks tonight into Friday morning.
"Most of the shelters in the city are full. The biggest thing is making sure people don't die in the cold," said the Rev. Elizabeth Miller, the church's soup kitchen coordinator where 120 people are fed daily.
Two shelters in Allentown -- the Rescue Mission for men and Salvation Army serving women and children -- will house homeless and others in need of warmth.
When temperatures are extreme, the Rescue Mission allows up to 48 men to reside there for a week.
"We will keep men inside as long as they are minimally cooperative," Executive Director Gary Millspaugh said. "We know when the cold weather comes, it is dangerous for them to be out there."
The cold weather even forced Allentown police to check on a possible homeless man at Mountainville Memorial Park.
Officers were called at 3:30 p.m. and saw a man asleep in the baseball dugout. Assistant Police Chief Ron Manescu said the man refused medical treatment and walked away.
Manescu said neighbors have called about the same man hanging out at the park.
Christine Nelson, executive director of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches, estimates 150 chronically homeless people live in the Valley.
"It is frustrating that anyone in our affluent country isn't able to have the means with a roof over their head," she said. "But in the meantime, we want to make sure people who need assistance have a place at night to sleep."
Area shelters and churches offering housing during extreme cold:
Grace Episcopal Church: 108 N. Fifth St., Allentown. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. toda y.
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church : 1900 Pennsylvania Ave., Hanover Township, Lehigh County . 8 p.m. Friday to 9 a.m. Saturday. Trinity Episcopal Church: 44 E. Market St., Bethlehem. Time undetermined .
Allentown Rescue Mission: 355 Hamilton St. Serving men anytime.
Allentown Salvation Army: 144 N. Eighth St. Time undetermined . Serving women and children.