todaySpin - Jan. 22, 2009
todaySpin - Jan. 23, 2009

Still No Room For the Homeless in Bethlehem

The following conversation, slightly edited, took place on "Bethlehem of Pa," our diocesan internet list, between Tuesday, January 13, and Monday, January 19, mostly between Jan. 13-16. It resulted in several Episcopal churches in the Lehigh Valley opening their doors during the day and overnight to shelter people from the cold. The subject line: Still No Room For the Homeless in Bethlehem. David Howell of Trinity Bethlehem, a free lance writer, has agreed to write a story for Diocesan Life based on this lengthy source material and interviews he will arrange.

[Updated February 14. Find updates here.]

Tuesday, Jan 13, 8:32 pm
From Laura Howell
, rector, Trinity Bethlehem
Friends, we have a problem. It's cold out and getting colder.  By Friday night, it will be zero degrees.  And there is no place for the homeless here except on the streets of Bethlehem.  All the shelters in the Lehigh Valley are already full.  Where are people to sleep?

At Trinity Bethlehem, we have been spending hours calling everyone we can think of--sometimes more than once--to get help.  But the mayor of Bethlehem is too busy to talk with us.  Northampton County officials suggest we have a meeting in the spring to deal with the crisis.  The police won't consider letting the homeless sleep in the parking garage to get out of the worst of the weather.  The Red Cross suggests warm grates and doorways.

One of our guests who will be on the street tomorrow has a very painful form of cancer and is on medication.  Others are newly homeless and, as Deacon Liz says, are in the deer-in-the-headlights state and haven't a clue about what to do or where to go.  We have begun creating survival packs with tarps, sleeping bags and metal coffee tins.  Did you know that a candle in a coffee tin becomes a mini-heater for someone in a makeshift tent? 

And lest you think this is an exaggeration, let me tell you that we have been in the Soup Kitchen business for 25 years, and we have a social worker on the case as well.

How long before the headlines read: Frozen on the Street in the Christmas City? 

I expect that the situation is just as bad in other parts of the House of Bread.  What are we going to do about it?

The Fooles are TrinityBeth are furiously tilting at windmills.  Anyone care to join us or make suggestions?

(The Rev.) Laura Thomas Howell, Obl.S.B.
[email protected]
Trinity Episcopal Church

Tuesday, Jan 13, 9:02 pm
From Laura Howell
, rector, Trinity Bethlehem
We are collecting adult-size sleeping bags, tarps and empty coffee cans with lids for people.  If anyone has spares.  And prayers, lots of prayers.

Tuesday, Jan 13, 9:12 pm
From Ed Erb,
rector, Grace Honesdale
Coffee cans with lids? Curious minds want to know...

Tuesday, Jan 13, 9:17 pm
From Laura Howell
, rector, Trinity Bethlehem
Put a candle in a metal coffee can and it can help provide a modicum of heat when you have created a little cocoon-tent with a tarp.  A tiny bit of light.  And if you're lucky enough to have it, the ability to warm a can of something.  You are also less likely to set yourself on fire than with an open, unshielded candle.  If you have a lid on it, you can carry candle, matches and something else and not have them fall out.  (Or am I the only girl scout that cooked on a coffee can?)

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 9:34 pm
From Jenifer Gamber

Laura: Our family will bring a few new sleeping bags suitable for freezing weather tomorrow to Trinity. What size tarps will you need? How about sleeping pads? Would folks use them? Our experience camping during the winter in NH is that these pads make a huge difference keeping one warm. THe ground just sucks the heat out of one's body.  If you know of any places that will set up temporary homeless shelters, please let us know. We would like to help. [Jenifer and the entire Gamber family]

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 9:42 pm
From Andrew Gerns,
rector, Trinity Easton
Dear Laura and Croutons, This is a very important subject, glad you brought it up. Here in Easton, the churches of downtown Easton (via the resusitated Downtown Covenant Council of Churches) started talking about this last fall. We set up a system that works like this: When dangerously cold weather is predicted, the agency that normally handles needs for the homeless begins to take in intakes. The Salvation Army, on behalf of the Churches, does the intakes and staffs the extra beds. The reason for this is that many of the homeless fall outside the guidelines that govern the funding of Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor will take the folks (under Salvation Army supervision) up to five beds. Over that, the Salvation Army opens an emergency shelter in their facility on Northampton Street for up 25 plus. If they get clobbered with more than that, which we don't anticipate, then the Downtown Churches are called and asked to open up with cots and staffing provided by the Salvation Army. (They train the volunteers and supervise them under their guidelines which means they solve all insurance and policy issues and we don't have to invent new ones.)

It appears that this week will be our first test of the new system. We also worked with ProJeCt of Easton and Safe Harbor as well as the Easton Police Department, who sent their Weed'n'Seed officer to assist in the planning because they can help us get the word out. (Both Safe Harbor and ProJeCt were started years ago by a consortium of the same churches that make up the Covenant Council today plus other congregations in the area.) The Downtown Covenant Council consists of Trinity Episcopal, St. John's Lutheran, First United Methodist, First Presbyterian Church, First United Church of Christ and The Salvation Army, Easton Corps all of downtown Easton.

The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns
Trinity Episcopal Church
234 Spring Garden Street
Easton, PA 18042
610/253-0792 fax: 610-253-4808

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 9:53 pm
From Char Horst
Thank you, Laura, for alerting us to this crisis. Do you happen to know if any hotel/motel rooms in the area are available?  Might we be able to contribute toward shelter space there? I know that emergency housing is handled this way in other places. Thank you and your good Fooles for all that you are doing.

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 10:12 pm
From Scott Allen,
priest-in-charge, St Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem
I have asked my vestry to open our parish hall Friday night---but looking at the weather forecasts  we will have several nights in a row which will be dangerously cold--as opposed to brutally cold--- The Predicted Lows:  Thurs--2; Friday--0; Saturday--12; Sunday---18; Monday--16; Tuesday -- 10  Wednesday goes to 20.....

If we could perhaps get each a cluster of parishes to be the "open Church" that evening and enlist community support for transport, it could work as a stop gap. We have empty heated buildings those nights which seems unconscionable to keep locked up...  I guess when I read Laura's post, what immediately came to mind was the narrative leading up to the feeding of the 5000 (or whatever number is used in the one you want to use) The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowd away and he said "You feed them..."

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 10:12 pm
From Laura Howell,
rector, Trinity Bethlehem
Hi Char, We do this from time to time on rare occasions for a night or two.  But this is too big.  The cost would quickly exhaust anyone's budget.  There are many weeks of cold ahead, and everyone is of the opinion that the number of people in crisis will quickly be worsening.  The church and the community must work together.  I just hope we can keep people alive, until slow-moving bureaucracies respond.  And I hope that the people of the community will speak up loud and clear to insist that they respond.

Tuesday, Jan. 13, 10:32 pm
From Connie Fegley
Oh Laura, this makes my heart ache to read. What a horrible situation. Two things occur to me, even
though I fear neither one may be practical enough or doable. Is it possible for any churches to open their doors overnight during the coldest days? Trying to cope with that, though, has a nightmare scenario quality to it, but so does being outdoors all night.

Would there be any money -- anywhere -- to house folks in lower cost motels or hotels, again for these
coldest nights? Is there emergency money -- anywhere -- to do this? I would be willing to send you a donation to help you, if this would help, even though it can't be much. Would other people be willing to do this? God bless you all at Trinity!  May God strengthen you as you try so hard to sort this out.

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 10:27 am
From Scott Allen,
priest-in-charge, St. Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem
[The following news release was sent to local media] Due to the predicted lethally cold weather predicted for the weekend, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church will be opening their parish hall from 8pm until 9am on Friday night into Saturday morning for those who have no access to shelter or who may have no heat in their homes. The low Friday evening is predicted to be 0 degrees. Pets are also welcome to come with their owners.

This is an emergency measure as the availability for emergency shelter in the area could possibly be over burdened or not available for many who may need this temporary measure. The predicted cold snap is expected to span into next week and we invite other places of worship to take other nights for this purpose.

St. Andrew’s would welcome food, transportation or volunteers to and from our Church as well. We are located at 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue between Bethlehem and Allentown in Hanover Township (just off of Catasaqua Road). For more information contact The Rev. Scott Allen at the Church 610-865-3603.

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 10:40 am
From Bill Lewellis
, Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem
I urge those who are advocating for and/or have made a corporate decision to do something to care for those without shelter during the coming cold crisis to be in touch with Michael Duck at The Morning Call and/or John Zukowski at The Express-Times.

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 12:12 pm
From Tony Pompa,
dean and rector, Cathedral Bethlehem
I have forwarded to the vestry of the Cathedral this email [see Tony's next note] to ask of them how  God may be calling us to respond. I have asked Canon Atkinson to discuss with New Bethany any way we might be able to respond specifically on the Southside. Given the wonderful framework of coordination and cooperation Andy Gerns have shared, surely we can forge ahead with some sort of coordinated effort for the future! I know in my time in Richmond, Virginia, there was a wonderfully coordinated and ecumenical response to the cold months with various churches taking turns to be host shelter for a specific period of time.

BUT, in the immediate, how can we contribute to a coordinated response? Two immediate responses I see are: St. Andrew’s is opening the parish hall there for Friday night. It seems needs might be, blankets, pillows, staffing for overnight? Transportation clearly. Do we have a sense if folks wanted to help with Transportation how to get the word out, where to be to transport, what times of transport.

Trinity, we can get the word out re: candles, coffee cans, sleeping bags, etc. etc.

I may know more this afternoon about response needs on the southside, and will share ideas/responses, including wether or not Sayre Hall becomes a temporary shelter.  It seems important we try to coordinate efforts in some way, given the immediacy of things, I recognize this is a challenge. God Be with us! [Tony ... The Very Rev. Anthony R. Pompa, The Cathedral Church of the Nativity]

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 12:17 pm
From Tony Pompa,
dean and rector, Cathedral Bethlehem
Dear Vestry, I am forwarding to you a conversation that has begun on Bethlehem of PA, particularly as it pertains to the homeless population in Bethlehem.

There are more and more homeless folk on the street and the Lehigh Valley has never been rich in shelters. Surely the Cathedral has a response to such need. I will be asking Canon Atkinson to coordinate with New Bethany Ministries to try to identify what emergency needs for shelter may exist. I will be responding to our brothers and sisters at Trinity at St. Andrew’s to see what immediately we can do to respond.

In the fall, I began an initiative with Central Moravian church to try to create an ecumenical conversation to help our congregations identify and respond to gaps in issues of justice and service so that our congregations can better prepare and respond. So, far, after a few gatherings, there has been much conversation, but this has not led to action at this point.

It seems the need is at our doorstep. I have often wondered why it is the churches in Bethlehem have not partnered to set up a network of rotating shelter. This is done in many cities and was the case in Richmond Virginia during cold months. This was an extremely well coordinated effort and far beyond what we could pull off in the immediate. However, the immediate is here. I would like to be able to respond to our brothers and sisters by offering space and/or blankets, etc. Volunteers? I cannot imagine sleeping outside on such a cold cold night.  I would love to hear from you all with ideas/ prayers/ offerings? Your prayers and ideas very much appreciated! Blessings! --Tony

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 12:42 pm
From Elizabeth Miller,
deacon, soup kitchen coordinator, Trinity Bethlehem
Thanks Tony!  We are pushing forward with the street survival bags.  However, in this cold the answer is to get people out of the elements. I am trying to get the Mayor to allow folks to come into the city parking garage to escape the brunt of the cold but no luck so far.  Any news from New Bethany?    The rescue Mission in Allentown will take men with no wants or warrants as long as they can get them in the door.  I can give them a single ride bus pass to get there. I am getting ready to call the Mayors office again and then I will touch base with Andy and Scott. --Deacon Liz

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 12:42 pm
From Scott Allen,
priest-in-charge, St Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem
Well, this is coming together like a replay of "Stone Soup". We have four people who have volunteered from our parish to spend the night. A family will make a pot of stew for Friday night and another parishioner has offered to make breakfast Saturday morning. A parishioner who works at Easton Housing Authority has offered LANTA passes as well. I have not been too concerned about finding cots etc. as I figure a folding chair and table to rest your head on in a warm and safe room with friendly and welcoming folks around, a pot of coffee and a little food would be enough. That doesn't mean if people want to drop off comfort items such as blankets and pillows etc it would be refused. 

I guess I am more concerned about where they go tomorrow night and Saturday night and beyond? I mean we could potentially be the "Friday Refuge" if other congregations would take other days of the week. I have contacted the police of Allentown, Bethlehem and State Police to let them know of our resource for Friday-Saturday. I also let the Rescue Mission know. Since we have the happy situation of being right on the edge (and accessible to) West Bethlehem and East Allentown we are prepared to welcome both. I guess what's missing is a central place to go where transport could be offered to those without means or ability to get far away.

I think coordination of these efforts would be good, and I believe the simpler we can make this the better. Thanks to the Cathedral and Trinity (Tony and Laura) for your efforts as well.  Peace, --Scott

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 1:57 pm
From Elizabeth Miller,
deacon, soup kitchen coordinator, Trinity Bethlehem
Hi, Scott.  Thank you for your willingness to open St.Andrews for Friday night.  I wanted to update you on what's happening at Trinity.  The Mayor has still not been available to speak with us and the Bethlehem Police will not allow citizens to come in out of the cold at the city parking garage.  We are gathering street survival kits, but for this extreme cold the only solution is to get inside somewhere.  Even my street  veterans know this.  What we will have for distribution is a regular cold weather kit. (List to follow) I will be happy to help with your needs at St. Andrews and will be transporting some folks from here to you on Friday. Unfortunately, Terry and I are going to a MacMillan Family gathering and leaving in the wee early hours of Saturday morning.  Are you on a bus route? Marcie is talking with Steve Samuelsons office now and we will update you as things develop. Liz

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 3:57 pm
From Tony Pompa,
dean and rector, Cathedral Bethlehem
Liz, Scott, et al. The Cathedral will open the Welcome Place tomorrow night (Thursday) at 7:00 pm. and folks will be asked to depart no later than 8:00 a.m.. Guests can enter through the south entrance (side door) of Sayre Hall. (I’ll get some signage out there) We will provide soup on Thursday night and Cereal on Friday morning. We will also look into getting some rides for folks to St. Andrew’s on Friday night.

Perhaps moving forward we can find a number of parishes or city space to take a turn? Canon Atkinson is getting the word out through New Bethany, etc. God Be with us. --Tony

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 5:07 pm
From Jenifer Gamber
Friends: Two Sundays ago my EfM online group reflected on the attached sculpture "No Room at the Inn Still."  When I thought of homelessness I thought of  NYC or Washington, DC. Little could I imagine that here in Christmas City, the situation would become so dire and government hospitality lacking. I'm sharing this image. The words engraved on the crib say "Third World America." James Earl Reid sculpted this in the 1970s for Washington, D.C.'s annual Christmastime Pageant of Peace. It depicts a homeless couple huddled over a steam grate. The item behind the woman is a grocery cart. --Jenifer Gamber
Still no room ..

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 5:17 pm
Elizabeth House,
senior warden, Grace Allentown
Here is the press release just sent by Grace Church, Allentown ... Grace Episcopal Church, located at the corner of 5th and Linden Streets in downtown Allentown, will open its doors to anyone seeking shelter starting tomorrow morning, Thursday, January 15th, from 8 am to 8 pm. The church is responding to reports of forthcoming severely cold weather and an apparent need for warm accommodations for those who may be able to find emergency shelter at night but are unable to do so during the day.

In speaking with a representative of the Allentown Rescue Mission, located just a few blocks away, the church has been informed that the mission usually takes people in for the night, from 8 pm until 8 am. The church will then be open for anyone who wishes to find comfort from the cold before and after the mission as well as other places providing beds, cots, and shelter for the night are closed. The senior warden of the church has told the Rescue Mission they should direct anyone who cannot stay on with them during the daylight hours to make the short journey to the church’s front doors.

Father Patrick Malloy, rector of the church, will be on hand tomorrow morning to welcome persons who may wish to enter the church for their health, comfort, and safety.

The Rev. Bill Kuntze of New Bethany Ministries has stated their facilities and most other homeless shelters in the area are filled to capacity. Many places that can accommodate people at night are not able to do so during the day. So this offer of sanctuary during the mornings and afternoons should fill an unmet need.

Grace Church is also exploring opening a room in its administrative wing, on an emergency basis, to people who need a place to spend the night, towards the end of this week when temperatures are expected to further plummet. More information on that will follow.

For additional information, contact: Elizabeth H. House, Senior Warden, Grace Episcopal Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania. (610) 291-9260

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 6:05 pm
From Scott Allen, priest-in-charge, St Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem
Great news Libby---a needed harbor of safety and warmth!  Once again, Grace Church steps up to the plate!

Wednesday, Jan. 14, 6:20 pm
Elizabeth House,
senior warden, Grace Allentown
Thanks to you, Scott, and all the folks at St. Andrews; Trinity, Bethlehem; and the Cathedral for taking action. Bill Lewellis has reminded us of Mother Crafton's charge that we should always be grateful, as we slide between the sheets, for the great gift of a warm bed to sleep in and remember those who have none. And so we should. --Libby House

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 7:52 pm
From Laura Howell,
rector, Trinity Bethlehem
Thank you to the people of the Cathedral and Grace, who have joined St. Andrews!  And to others who have jumped in with offers of assistance.  A reminder yet again that we are not alone and that God's people are there when we need them.

We finally heard from the office of the Mayor of Bethlehem, although not from His Honor.  Apparently there are too many valuable things in the parking garage to allow the homeless to get out of the weather there.  However, up to four of them would be allowed to sleep in the cells in the Police Department.  No comment.

Let's keep going, so that when we get past this immediate crisis, we can put together a rapid response to the similar crisis which will, no doubt, arise again.

Prayers of thanksgiving for you all... Peace, --Laura

Wednesday, January 14, 9:17 pm
Howard Stringfellow,
archdeacon, Diocese of Bethlehem
I want to tell this story and express my thanks.  Mother Laura's first note with this subject came to me and to Bill Lewellis, and he suggested that she revise it slightly (he's an editor, after all) and post it to Bethlehem of PA. But he made a fine suggestion for the destination of her plea, and something significant is happening among us.

The responses to her note, especially those from St. Andrew's, the Cathedral, and Grace, and those from many individuals who are finding a way to lend a hand or some water or something else much needed signify the deep commitment to ministry that we are privileged to have been given. We have that commitment even in more temperate temperatures, and it is this wretched cold that gives us the 
opportunity to use that gift in ministry with people very close to the Savior's heart.

And I am grateful to see that gift so willingly spent and so eagerly given away for so important a purpose.

Thursday, January 15, 8:25 am
Maria Tjeltveit,
rector, Church of the Mediator, Allentown
Friends, I'm not normally on Bethelehem of PA but Jo Trepagnier forwarded your correspondence about finding places for homeless people to stay. I am the Chairperson of the Support Committee for the Homeless Supportive Services (HSS) of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches and so I talked with Tom Walker who is the HSS director about all this. It looks like Allentown is better organized than Bethlehem and has a "cold weather alert" where they go out to the homeless camps and where other homeless people are to encourage them to use the resources that are available.

Tom checked with the Allentown Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army and they are prepared to take overflow people in their facilities. He thinks that it's OK if they come from Bethlehem. Normally the Rescue Mission makes people leave during the day but in the very cold weather they don't kick people out.

So it looks like, in addition to Scott graciously opening up St. Andrew's on Friday night, that some of the people that Trinity serves can stay at the Rescue Mission (all men) or the Salvation Army (which accepts women). They may be staying in the lobby but it will be out of the cold.

If you want to talk with Tom Walker more about this, his number at HSS is 484-664-7320. The number for the Rescue Mission (355 W. Hamilton St.) is 610-740-5500. The number for the Salvation Army is 610-432-0129 (144 N. 8th Street).  I hope that helps.

Also, the Support Committee I mentioned is meeting next Wednesday, January 21, at 12:15 p.m. at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, at the corner of 8th and Walnut Streets. If there are some people who would like to come and talk about developing a better system for helping the homeless in the bitter cold, we would welcome your participation. Even though the Lehigh County Conference of Churches really deals with Lehigh and not Northampton County, we might be a resource to help think through a good approach, and work cooperatively.  Tom suggested this, and I concur, so let us know if anyone is interested.

Thanks to all those who are reaching out to help people who are homeless. I just put Claude Leymeister, the chronically homeless person that a number of us know, up in a motel for two nights and gave him directions for St. Andrew's. But it would be better to have a longer term solution.

Thursday, Jan. 15, 8:57 am
From Bill Lewellis
, Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem

The following story was published in today's Express-Times

Bethlehem church leaders urge help for homeless during cold snap
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Express-Times

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.

Grim forecast

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 protected].

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

St. 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.

Thursday, January 15, 1:42 pm
Maria Tjeltveit,
rector, Church of the Mediator, Allentown
This is a note I got from Tom Walker: Men requiring shelter must first get a voucher from the Allentown Police. The voucher ensures there is not an arrest warrant. The police department's phone number is 610-437-7751. A printable version/ resource guide of Allentown-based emergency Services for homeless persons as well as steps and accomplishments the City of Allentown have taken with the initiative to end chronic homelessness may be found on the Lehigh County Conference of Churches.

Also, at breakfast with the Bethlehem clergy this morning, it seemed like there was some interest in meeting with the Homeless Supportive Services of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches.  If people can come next Wednesday, at 12:15 p.m. to St. Paul's Lutheran at 8th and Walnut, we can make this a primary topic of the agenda. Please let me know so we can plan accordingly. --Maria

Friday, Jan. 16, 8:34 am
From Scott Allen, priest-in-charge, St Andrew's Allentown/Bethlehem
Thanks for that note, Howard.   All seems to be in place for tonight at St. Andrew's.  Although I made the rounds last evening taking some extra cheese we had from Second Harvest to Liz at Trinity where I also ran into MoLaura. Then stopped by the Cathedral just to see the response they got (the men were eating when I arrived).  I had a good conversation with Joel Atkinson and Meg Van Velsor's daughter who was working in the kitchen making food for them. There was a good Spirit in all the places, yet we are all asking "What happens Saturday and Sunday and on into next week?"  This cold snap is supposed to be somewhat stationary well into next week---I would guess that St. Andrew's would be willing to take another night soon, but will wait and see how we fare tonight.  Now if we could find 5 more churches who are willing to have their doors open all night.....

Friday, Jan. 16, 8:49 am
From Tony Pompa,
dean and rector, Cathedral Bethlehem
Note #35023 from [email protected] to BETHLEHEM OF PA:

Good Morning. Sorry I missed you lastnight Scott, I was upstairs in a Camp meeting! We had 8 Guests lastnight, folks served soup, we watched some movies, served breakfast this morning. We will run a van tonight at 8 from the Cathedral Parking lot to get folks over to St. Andrews.

I had a voicemail this morning from Deacon Liz that the Unitarian church on Market is considering opening. I assume she'll get the word out. We also are on stand-by and can take another night. We'll keep our eyes up and open. Blessings! --Tony

Friday, Jan. 16, 1:01 pm
From Bill Lewellis
, Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem
Years ago –– it may have been the late 80s/early 90s, the years do run together –– Scott Allen and I were colleagues on diocesan staff. Scott's advocacy and action, evident to many during these past few days on the "Still No Room for the Homeless in Bethlehem" thread of our "Bethlehem of Pa" online conversation, has had me remembering how effectively zealous for the poor and the marginalized Scott was then as diocesan social missioner, in terms of service, justice and grantwriting ... and continues to be in whatever situation he finds himself. Sports fans know about home field advantage. My take on Scott has been that gospel imperatives are his home field. Welcome home, Scott.  --Bill

Friday, Jan. 16, 1:01 pm
From Bill Lewellis
, Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem
Nick Knisely posted our story about this on the national Episcopal Cafe site. See Episcopal churches create shelter from the cold here.

Saturday, Jan. 17, 6:27 pm
From Bill Lewellis
, Communication Minister, Diocese of Bethlehem
Here's a segment about St. Andrew's from WFMZ-TV/69.

Sunday, Jan. 18, 3:12 pm
From Jo Trepagnier
, parish administrator, Mediator Allentown
Once you have some experience with how these efforts should work on a 'regular' basis, think about getting funding from New Hope. Seems like this would make a great project for Bethlehem.

Monday, Jan. 19, 5:27 pm
From Laura Howell,
rector, Trinity Bethlehem
No room in the stable either

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I wrote the following letter for the people of Trinity Bethlehem yesterday, and now offer it for your continued prayer.  I am happy to say that the number of churches which are serving as shelters is growing.  But still no assistance or response from the City of Bethlehem.  This is a very temporary solution.  What are we going to do?

After many fruitless attempts to talk with the Mayor of the City of Bethlehem, I posted this note on the Diocese of Bethlehem's list earlier this week.

Friends, we have a problem. 

It's cold out and getting colder.  By Friday night, it will be zero degrees.  And there is no place for the homeless here except on the streets of Bethlehem.  All the shelters in the Lehigh Valley are already full.  Where are people to sleep?

At Trinity Bethlehem, we have been spending hours calling everyone we can think of--sometimes more than once--to get help.  But the mayor of Bethlehem is too busy to talk with us.  Northampton County officials suggest we have a meeting in the spring to deal with the crisis.  The police won't consider letting the homeless sleep in the parking garage to get out of the worst of the weather.  The Red Cross suggests warm grates and doorways.

One of our guests who will be on the street tomorrow has a very painful form of cancer and is on medication.  Others are newly homeless and, as Deacon Liz says, are in the deer-in-the-headlights state and haven't a clue about what to do or where to go.  We have begun creating survival packs with tarps, sleeping bags and metal coffee tins.  Did you know that a candle in a coffee tin becomes a mini-heater for someone in a makeshift tent? 

And lest you think this is an exaggeration, let me tell you that we have been in the Soup Kitchen business for 25 years, and we have a social worker on the case as well.

How long before the headlines read: Frozen on the Street in the Christmas City? 

I expect that the situation is just as bad in other parts of the House of Bread.  What are we going to do about it?


Immediately, the other Episcopal Churches responded with assistance.  Both St. Andrews and the Cathedral offered to open up as emergency shelters.  Grace Church will assist during the daytime.  The Unitarian Church has now joined our ranks, and we are contacting other Bethlehem churches.  TrinityBeth is expanding our hours from 8:00-3:00 M-F during this weather crisis to provide a warm daytime shelter, as well as providing the lunch as we have for the last 25 years.  Sleeping bags, sleeping pads, blankets, and warm clothing is arriving.

But, Brothers and Sisters, the City of Bethlehem has officially turned its back on the poor and homeless.  The simple, short-term solution to the crisis—allowing people on the streets to take the warm sleeping bags we can provide, and sleep in the enclosed parking garage, away from the worst of the weather—was met with the response that there were too many valuable things in the parking garage.  In an unsecured garage, what could be so valuable that it would be more important than someone's life?  As Marcie Lightwood, our Soup Kitchen social worker wrote in her letter to the editor of the Morning Call,

In refusing to help us, city officials from Bethlehem cited liability issues as a reason to shirk their responsibilities. My question is - who will be liable when dead people are found in the hiding places throughout Bethlehem? Will the fact that these people are the least of these - unclean, drug-dependent, perhaps with criminal histories and very likely to be suffering from mental illness - absolve our elected officials from sentencing them to possible death?

In effect, there no room for the homeless in Bethlehem, and there is not even any room in the Christmas City's stable.

Through the kindness and compassion of our churches and other local people, we hope to get through this period of cold without any headlines about people freezing to death.  But what will happen during the next cold snap?   We need to begin planning for a solution.  The issue of how to care for those who cannot care for themselves needs to be addressed in an organized fashion.  The problem of people without homes is growing and will continue to grow, as jobs and houses are lost.  We will certainly continue to do what we can to assist.  But the people that we have elected to govern us have a responsibility to work with us to craft a solution, if they do not have one of their own.  Refusing to acknowledge that people risk dying from exposure and refusing to speak with those who are trying to help is shocking.

Christ said that what we do for the poor, the sick, the prisoners, is what we do for him.  Please help us to ensure that Christ does not freeze on the streets of Bethlehem.  And please let City Hall know that you are a voter, and you are actively watching.

With prayers for compassion,
(The Rev.) Laura Thomas Howell, Obl.S.B.

Monday, Jan. 19, 5:32 pm
From Laura Howell,
rector, Trinity Bethlehem
Letter to the Editor

Greetings, Friends!  This is the letter to the Editor of the Morning Call which Marcie Lightwood, our Soup Kitchen social worker, drafted.  It has not yet been published as far as we know.

To the editor,
We are grateful to the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, St. Andrew's Episcopal church and others for their generous response to the cold weather crisis for the homeless. I work at the Trinity Soup kitchen in Bethlehem, where we have been serving lunch five days a week, 52 weeks a year for 25 years. We have been seeing growing needs we are stretched thin to meet. Those needs we see today will dwarf what we see incoming months. Your stories made it sound like we've solved a problem, when what we have done is akin to putting a band-aid on a fresh amputation.

Here is what we are currently facing in the Lehigh Valley. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the past six months. When this happens, renters (and some homeowners) have two or three months, depending on their situation, before they get evicted. Then they may have another month or two of having shelter by living in a vehicle if they have one, or sofa surfing with friends and relatives. If they had foresight, they got on one of the waiting lists for one of the shelters, which are all full. But who ever believes that their fall from the middle or working class will land them in a homeless shelter? Many of the homeless we see daily are still stunned to find themselves in this position. Many others are fast approaching homelessness.

We also have the chronically homeless - people whose income will never allow them to pay rent, who may have had mental illnesses, substance abuse or criminal histories that make them ineligible for many aid programs. Some, for reasons known only to themselves, choose to live with minimal possessions and obligations, and street survival makes them part of an invisible subculture here in the Valley.

For about 350 days of the year, a destitute person can survive with a tarp, a sleeping bag, lots of warm clothes and a few basic necessities, and many do. But once the temperature plummets, there is a distinct danger that once one falls asleep, he will not wake up.

We need an emergency shelter for those days when outdoor survival is precarious. While Mayor Callahan asserts that he has been talking with those of us in churches concerned about the issue, the fact is, he has dodged all such calls. I sat outside his office Wednesday in hopes of seeing him between meetings. But when the time came that he was to pass by where I was seated, I was escorted to another city office where Tony Hanna gave me a generous ten minutes of his time and lots of concern. I believe Mr. Hanna is, as he kindly told me, still thinking about solutions for us, but I also believe I was sent to him to avoid having the mayor see me face to face.

We have asked that the City of Bethlehem open up the parking garage under City Hall for those sub-freezing nights when outdoor sleeping is most perilous. That has been refused. We asked to use the holding cells in the police station. No.

In our calls to the Red Cross, other churches, Northampton County and many other agencies, we were given lists of shelters, and when we told them we had already exhausted those resources, they uniformly asked us if there weren't any churches available.

Well, in the end, that is what happened this time, as it has in the past. Churches were the ones who banded together to establish Victory House and New Bethany ministries. We support them with volunteers, drives for personal items and lots of money from our outreach budgets. Churches and houses or worship are suffering from these hard economic times, too, and it is a heartless response from government officials to expect that we can adequately and endlessly respond to every human need. This week is the tip of the iceberg. Emergency shelter will be an ongoing need until the economy improves, and is an urgent need in cold weather.

In refusing to help us, city officials from Bethlehem cited liability issues as a reason to shirk their responsibilities. My question is - who will be liable when dead people are found in the hiding places throughout Bethlehem? Will the fact that these people are the least of these - unclean, drug-dependent, perhaps with criminal histories and very likely to be suffering from mental illness - absolve our elected officials from sentencing them to possible death?

The generosity of individual citizens in meeting these needs has been astounding. Trinity has become a repository for warm clothes, sleeping bags and other survival gear. But it would be irresponsible of us to send anyone out, even with everything we could give them, into this kind of weather. A permanent solution is urgently needed. This might not be our last cold snap this winter. Please call Mayor Callahan's office with your thoughts.

[Marcie Lightwood 434 Second Avenue Bethlehem, PA 18018 484-767-2908 [email protected] Providing Group Facilitation and Parenting Education]


(The Rev.) Alexander C. Zabriskie

As a former rector of Trinity, Bethlehem, I am delighted to see the Gospel of Jesus taken to the steps of City Hall. The pastoral ministry to the homeless becomes the prophetic ministry to the City and those in authority.

Janice Mitchell

Perhaps we, the parishioners who reside within Bethlehem's city limits, could launch our own letter-writing campaign to the mayor and others in charge regarding the lack of facilities to house the homeless during bitterly cold weather.

It is comparatively easy to ignore one or two letters on the subject. However when more than a few voters repeat the same complaint, then, (I believe) those in charge are more likely to take notice and may even take steps to DO something about the shelter problem.

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