‘Wanting to see neighborhoods succeed’
The Bethlehem Area Public Library Southside Branch partnered with New Bethany Ministries to offer a program titled “Fight Hunger and Homelessness” at the library July 27. The program, part of the adult summer series “Build a Better World,” focused explicitly on the impact hunger and homelessness have on Bethlehem and the greater Lehigh Valley.
Kate Cohen, director of development and communications at New Bethany Ministries, began the presentation by introducing both the organization and the prominence of the selected issues within the community. She quizzed the audience on what they knew of current statistics related to food deserts, food insecurity, homelessness and the affordability of housing.
According to Cohen, the term “food desert” refers to an area defined by the government in which populations do not have a nutritious and cost-effective source of produce and meat and a full-service grocery within five miles of walkable distance. “Food-insecure” refers to populations who do not know where their next meal will come from.
According to Cohen, nine food deserts exist in the Lehigh Valley and four in Bethlehem alone, three of which are located on the Southside, and 62,000 food-insecure people in the Lehigh Valley. To put that last figure in perspective, she compared it to Bethlehem’s population of 75,000.
In terms of housing and homelessness, 702 individuals were documented homeless in the Lehigh Valley as of a survey conducted in January. Cohen said local homelessness is heavily influenced by a lack of affordable housing offered in the Lehigh Valley. To afford a standard two-bedroom apartment, an individual would need to earn $21 an hour.
Cohen transitioned into the initiatives New Bethany Ministries is taking to address both issues of hunger and homelessness, one of which is its Transitional Housing Program.
“It’s a three to six month program for homeless families or families at risk of being homeless,” Cohen explained. “Something that’s really novel about our program is that we’re one of the few programs in the Valley that allow both parents to stay on-site with their kids together. Most other places will take dad and put him in a different shelter and then mom and the kids in one shelter. We allow the whole family unit to stay together. We think that’s important for the growth of the family.”
Families in the program are given a single room with two sets of bunkbeds, a dresser and a refrigerator. Each floor is equipped with a common kitchen, laundry area and a playroom for kids. Since families often do not bring many belongings, New Bethany Ministries provides them with “necessity kits” containing toiletries and hygiene products, which attendees helped assemble after the presentation.
“We’re one of the only businesses … in the world that is really interested in our own ending. If New Bethany didn’t exist, it means we aren’t needed and that’s fine. … But until that happens, we want to be here,” Cohen said.