Lehigh Valley programs help those who are
If you’ve been looking for a home or apartment in the Lehigh Valley recently, you may have noticed the high prices. These costs might not be an issue for your family, but housing costs place a high financial burden on low-income families residing in the Valley.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “Out of Reach” 2017 report, the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area is the fourth most expensive area in Pennsylvania in terms of housing costs. The report states the average monthly price of a two-bedroom apartment in the Lehigh Valley is $1,038 and that in order to afford it, an individual would need an annual income of $41,520 or 2.8 full-time jobs at minimum wage.
Because of the high housing costs and the tolls they take on families and individuals, several Lehigh Valley organizations are doing what they can to help. The Allentown Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise, Sixth Street Shelter, The Beall and Linny Fowler Hospitality House for Women and Children and RoofOver for Women and Children all operate in Allentown. Safe Harbor Easton, RoofOver Transitional Shelter and Third Street Alliance for Women & Children Women and Children’s Shelter operate in Easton and New Bethany Ministries and Victory House of Lehigh Valley help families and individuals in Bethlehem.
The Bethlehem Housing Authority (BHA) also offers housing assistance programs to those in need. BHA subsidizes those with low- and moderate-incomes with either vouchers or public housing units, although the waiting list for public housing units is currently several years long.
“We have 1,400 apartments. About 800 of them are for family residences and 500 for housing for the elderly and handicapped in the high-rise buildings,” said BHA Executive Director Eugene Gonzalez.
Gonzalez described the difference between the duty of shelters and the work of the BHA as involving multiple levels of urgency, stating that the BHA’s job is primarily aimed toward those who already have a residence, rather than those in emergency conditions who need shelter more immediately.
“[People] have a difficult time finding housing that they can afford in this area and that either pushes them out of the area, or if they’re able to make it on our list, they can get housing from us. Now, bare in mind that we have a waiting list and we give criteria waiting for different sectors of the population,” Gonzalez said.
Applicants who have lived in Bethlehem for a minimum of six months are given preference by the Housing Authority, according to Gonzalez, regardless of whether those months were spent in a private housing facility or a shelter. Additionally, handicapped residents in need of housing are given priority.
New Bethany Ministries is one Bethlehem organization created out of necessity and continues to function out of necessity.
“This is really a grassroots organization that was born out of Southside need and it continues to remain at its heart that kind of grassroots organization that changes and develops because of the needs,” said Kate Cohen, director of development and communications at New Bethany Ministries.
In addition to food- and wellness-focused programs run out of its Fourth Street Mollard Hospitality Center, New Bethany Ministries offers several affordable housing programs. Unlike many programs designed to aid the homeless which often separate fathers from the mother and children, New Bethany Ministries is relatively unique in the way it refuses to separate families in any of their programs.
The Transitional Housing Program is a three- to six-month temporary housing program for homeless families referred through Lehigh or Northampton county agencies. During the family’s time in the program, a case manager helps its members identify the factors that led to their homelessness and helps them secure permanent housing.
“They work for three months to make an action plan to get out of their situation, to change what they need to change, to save, and after three months, they are evaluated by [their case manager] and the county that referred them,” Cohen said. “If they’re making great action steps, that earns them another three months’ stay and, if not, unfortunately, they have to move on because these programs are crazy crowded.”
According to New Bethany Ministries’ 2016 Impact Report, the Transitional Housing Program helped 34 families comprised of 48 adults and 76 children in 2016, providing over 13,706 nights of shelter. By the end of 2016, 12 families stayed in the program and 14 families found secure permanent housing.
The Single Room Occupancy Program provides 42 rooms in three locations: 14 rooms and one efficiency apartment in South Bethlehem; 20 rooms and one apartment in Copay; and six rooms for the chronically homeless in Allentown. In 2016, the program helped 42 low-income men and women, according to the Impact Report.
“It’s for adults who can live on their own but might need just a little extra support,” Cohen said. “For instance, we have some vets with PTSD, we have some folks that maybe came from a group home situation or would have been in that kind of situation when the funding wasn’t cut so much.
“We have some folks who work all the time and just don’t have a support network to be able to live in a different situation,” Cohen said. “It’s a huge variance of need.”
Several participants from the Transitional Housing and Single Room Occupancy programs now reside in the Wyandotte Street Apartments, which accommodate families and individuals in seven affordable housing units subsidized by the Bethlehem Housing Authority. Due to the lack of affordable housing, rooms do not open frequently at this location.
The final New Bethany Ministries’ housing programs is the Restoration House Program, which focuses on furthering the education of its participants. That program, however, was defunded in October due to a decision made by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I think we all have the same objectives - to uplift people out of homelessness, not to create homelessness,” said Restoration House Case Manager Pamela Lewis of New Bethany Ministries’ several housing programs. “I believe it gives people a change in their self-concept, or self-esteem. It changes people tremendously in the way they view them]selves, and the way you view yourself is the way you can view the world.”
According to both Cohen and Lewis, the programs not only have the same objectives, but often see similarities in the people they strive to help, including young mothers, those who have struggled with medical situations, abandonment by a parent or partner, domestic violence and a lack of support, among others.
“Lack of support, I think that’s number one. I think with support, you can conquer a lot of things. But with a lack of support, meaning a mother, a father, somebody who guided you, nurtured you, showed you the way, that is the biggest thing our individuals come in here for. Not for drugs or alcohol,” Lewis said. “They’re not on drugs or alcohol; they’re often young children who are lost and thrown away in our society.”
Lewis said she believes compassion is an important part of fighting homelessness and helping individuals change their circumstances, a quality New Bethany Ministries employees are quick to show.
“Most of the people who come in here are broken or hopeless, helpless,” she said. “And over the time of them doing some really hard work and working with their case manager … we’ve had really good results of people who wanted to change their life and circumstances.”
NEXT WEEK: Success stories from the Restoration House program.