BY THE NUMBERS
Homelessness in Wayne & Pike

65- individuals in Wayne County identified during 2017
36- “homeless” individuals in 2017 called Help Line in Pike (PCHOH)
59- individuals served in 2017 at Tri-State Warming Station (Port Jervis)
60- individuals given shelter in 2017 through PCHOH

WHY THIS IS A MUST-READ:
This story is meant to raise awareness of the very real problem of homelessness in the local area. Learn about what in part is being done, how homelessness can occur, why there remains hope and what you can do to help.

WHY THIS IS A MUST-READ:
This story is meant to raise awareness of the very real problem of homelessness in the local area. Learn about what in part is being done, how homelessness can occur, why there remains hope and what you can do to help.

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WAYNE & PIKE - Homelessness doesn’t always fit the stereotype you may get from TV. They’re not necessarily addicts. Their situation doesn’t necessarily imply what some may judge about them. They may not be in a cardboard box or under a bridge. They might not be ONLY in the city. In fact, homelessness is here, in rural Wayne and Pike counties of Pennsylvania.

Agencies and nonprofit groups that attend to the situation attest to the fact that there are certain numbers of people, for any one of a wide range of reasons, who for at least the short term, might have no permanent address. They may have “no where to hang their hat.”

Every winter, a survey is done in each county of the current state of homelessness. Referred to as the Point-In-Time (PIT) Count, county human service agencies in Pennsylvania conduct them utilizing volunteers. They fan out in teams on a designated night, at least two in a team. Going by leads they may get from various sources and experience of where to look, persons that they find are offered assistance. The census data assists the counties in successfully applying for limited Federal and State resources used to address homeless issues in local communities.

This year’s count is scheduled Wednesday night, January 24.

Both counties

In Wayne County, they are going out from 4:30 to 10 p.m.
Helen Kelly, Wayne County Human Services, said that in 2017, over 65 individuals, including children, were identified overall as homeless and assisted in obtaining permanent housing using these resources in Wayne County. Two or three families or households are identified every month. They rarely discover a new homeless individual the night of the count, she said.
In 2017 they had between 40 and 50 volunteers, and identified about 10 homeless individuals. Drivers are available that night if they are needed to transport people to a shelter.

About half of the homeless the county has encountered are families- sometimes a single mom or dad, with children living in a car.

Aside from writing grants, she said the count is a “great way” for the community to come together. She has been coordinated the count for three years, and served as a volunteer before that.

Jim Pierce is the president of Pike County Hands of Hope (PCHOH), a faith-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to the plight of the homeless and near-homeless in their communities. Their organization is providing volunteers for the PIT Count in Pike County. Teams will be starting the count at 10:30 p.m.

Like in Wayne County, Pierce said that they will offer “care packages” with gift voucher cards, toiletries, blankets and so on.

Robert Ruiz, director of Pike County Human Development, coordinates the count.

PCHOH has collected several years of data on homelessness in Pike. Pierce said that in 2017, they had 167 calls to their “Help Line”; 22% were “new” people who identified themselves as homeless (about 36).

“Consistently, 20 to 25% say they are homeless. Another  8 to 10% say they are staying with friends, etcetera,” Pierce said. “18 to 20% say they are in a rental eviction process.” In 2016, there were 184 rental evictions, he added, “That’s three or four a week.”

Where are they?

Where are they found? Homeless might be located setting up camp in the woods, she said. If it is winter, that is a sign they may not be camping by choice. They might also be in their vehicle, parked overnight at a shopping mall where a store stays open 24 hours a day.

Others may find shelter in a barn, or perhaps a local church or other agency has paid for them to stay in a motel that night. Any leads are checked, and must be verified to be included in the count.

“We have rural homelessness, different than in the city,” Kelly said. During 2017, there was a case of a man who was sleeping in the bandstand in Bingham Park, Hawley. The man received help, and the case was resolved, she said.

What help the county can offer a person depends on funding levels. It could mean purchasing a bus ticket so the person can go to relatives, or rental assistance.

Barriers that are keeping a person from safe, affordable housing must be addressed.

There is little funding, however, to aid someone who is “couch surfing,” she said, a person who goes between homes of friends, but nevertheless is finding a roof over their heads.

Persons they locate must be willing to accept the help, Kelly noted. “Some just want money, but that’s not what it’s about,” she said. Case management is assigned to follow up with a person. In some cases they might need referrals to the county mental health agency or to the Drug & Alcohol Commission. They may need vocational training, employment services or help from the County Assistance Office.

She said that while the homeless count has increased in recent years, she feels that is more a matter of getting more efficient at counting rather than more people being homeless. In the past, Wayne County did not have a staff person focusing on the issue.

Shelters

There are no general homeless shelters in Wayne or Pike counties.

Persons need to be directed to shelters in neighboring cities, including Carbondale, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Stroudsburg and Port Jervis.

Wayne County Victim’s Intervention Program in Honesdale has a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and Catholic Social Services has a home where they can take one family at a time, Kelly said.

Safe Haven of Pike County, based in Milford, also provides an emergency shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

Grace Episcopal Church in Honesdale operated an emergency “Warmth in the Night” shelter during the winters of 2012-2015.

Fr. Edward Erb said that Grace Church’s parish hall provided a good, heated place for a shelter. They received good community support, with donations and they always had volunteers ready in case they had a call in the middle of the night. Depending on circumstances, they would normally shelter one or two people for a few nights. Some weeks they had none.

Starting a shelter, he said, requires having the volunteers and community support, as well as insurance, anti-abuse training and criminal background checks. They decided to close the shelter out of concern for having enough police coverage.

Jim Pierce said that PCHOH focuses on getting someone into temporary shelter, whether it is a motel or hotel, or to a shelter. They also try to assist the homeless with paying the security deposit on an apartment. With permission from the homeless person, PCHOH will reach out the appropriate social service agencies in the county.

Last year, PCHOH found shelter for approximately 60 people. Ten were referred to apartments.

Pike County Hand of Hope works closely wit the Tri-State Warming Shelter, hosted by St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 31 W. Main St., Port Jervis, NY. The shelter is run at night from December 1 through March 31. They attract persons in need from the tri-state area.

Zachary Pearce coordinates the shelter. There was a prior warning shelter that was run from a storefront, but closed for lack of volunteers and funding, he said. An elder at the Deerpark Reformed Church, Pearce shared that he had felt burden on his heart to start a prayer service for the homeless and to see a warming station open in Port Jervis. He said he did not know where it would lead. Five churches became involved, with about 40 to 50 people attending the first prayer meeting. His pastor, Rev. Aaron Baughman, was supportive.

The informal group organized as the “Tri-State Interfaith Council.” They started in October 2016 without any funds for a warming shelter. In three weeks, over $13,000 in donations came in, Pearce said.

The new shelter opened on December 1, 2016, in the fellowship hall at the Lutheran Church.

They are designed for only adults. They come for the night (9 p.m.- 7 a.m.) and receive a hot meal. They also installed a shower. In 2017, he said, they served 59 different people. They have over 60 volunteers. There are two staff, who receive a stipend; Chris Kidney is the shelter manager. They have insurance and policies in place, and a good relationship with the Port Jervis Police. He said there have been “relatively few incidents.”

This winter has been very cold, and they have been open every night, Pearce said. They have been averaging four to 10 people a night. So far, they have seen 16 different individuals. Their shelter has a cap of 15 people that can stay any one night, but Pearce said that by God’s grace they have never reached that limit.

While limited by storage space, they have some winter clothing items to offer people. They also work with the Salvation Army.

Aside from the truly “homeless,” the warming station may serve senior citizens or anyone on a frigid night, if their hearing system at home fails and they have no other place to go. They can only serve those age 18 years and older.

“The goal is that maybe the shelter won’t be needed one day,” Pearce said.

Personal experiences

The public was invited to share their personal stories about homelessness. The offer was made not to identify them in the story without their approval.
A woman from the Hawley area, whose Facebook “intro” says she went to the “school of hard knocks” in Brooklyn, described her experience with homelessness.

“I was living in Pike County being abused by my separated husband emotionally, mentally, physically, verbally,” she said.

Expressing her dissatisfaction with the courts and initial police response, she said that she ended up filling out the PFA papers three times for the judge to finally grant her a PFA.

“ I got a PFA against my ex not knowing he had not paid the rent in six months imagine my surprise when the courts called me and I had no knowledge,” she said. “I slept on friends’ couches [in their] homes, my truck, [and] had friends watch my cats so I could survive.”

She stated that her doctor was able to help her after three years on the housing list. “I finally got a home to live in and that I feel somewhat safe in,” she said.

Asked how this experience affected her, she replied, “All I will say is that I won't let it happen again, and besides wanting to open up a business in Pike/ Wayne counties. I help others who are in the same boat, who get $71 a month food stamps.” She drives people to places like food pantries and the Assistance Office.

The woman offered the following advice, based on what happened to her. “The police need not laugh when ANYONE is getting verbally threatened; they need to step up to the plate - local and state - although I give the state credit. They KNEW I was scared and didn't laugh,” she said. “We need more programs to help people who are harmed by abuses done to them. I don't want to say victims because that's not the right word. We need more homes for the homeless.”

She added, “We need someone to be an advocate for us because we too are people as well; [we’re]  just not in your same financial stature.”

Another case

A woman from outside the area who is now a reverend, shared her experience: “I have been homeless a total of four times in my life. This last time over two and a half years. Why? Low-wages, exorbitant rents and greedy landlords. A serious housing shortage also plays a large part. Child support has been an issue for  me for 40 years, an agency's non-enforcement and collections. There isn't the help out there that the government wants you to think there is.

“Forget shelters, politically run NOT humanitarian-ally run,” the reverend advised. “If you have a caring husband and a dog or cat you will be separated for who knows how long. FAITH is ALL that can and will keep you safe and alive. I'm not chronically homeless, it has been situational.

“This last time around the cause was domestic violence...he abandoned us in March of 2015. I was his care-giver of all things and we are still married,“ she said. I also am up against a rotten Family Law Judge who believed all his lies and not my truth. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't use illegal drugs. I AM a chronic pain patient and I have two wonderful little dogs God gave me that I wouldn't give up for anything. It's a test of faith and I know this.

“Being homeless has given me an edge,” she said. “When others say something is hard I can ask, ‘have you been forced to sleep in the dirt outside for over a year with your dogs in the middle of a cold rainstorm?’ If not, you don't know hardship.”

Could be anyone

“It could happen to anyone,” Helen Kelly, Wayne County Human Services stated. “A woman might be fleeing an abusive husband. Anyone living paycheck to paycheck and the landlord outs them out.”

Some even have a part time job but can’t afford to rent an apartment.
A lot of the homeless had a medical emergency and lost their job; their circumstances just spiraled downward, she said.

“Not all are drug addicts,” Kelly said.

In Pike County, Pierce. “Of our callers, 30% are employed. Others are receiving Disability or child support payments, but are on the edge of a bad situation.”

“There can be any number of reasons why someone is homeless,” Jim Pierce of PCHOH said. It may be economic; family issues often are a factor. “Things just happen.”

“It has been gratifying if we can help them,” Kelly affirmed. “It is absolutely rewarding.” She said that the vast majority of the homeless they encounter achieve stability in their lives. Many have even come back to offer to volunteer with the PIT Count. Thank you notes are received after receiving help.

The County of Wayne has been able to hire several former homeless people.
Zachary Pearce commented that it has been a blessing to be able to help people, and has “seen faith equip us.” He said that he has reflected on how blessed he is to have a warm house. “Homelessness,” Pearce said, “can happen so easily. It may be an addiction, you lose your job…”

Jim Pierce of PCHOH said that working in a homeless ministry is challenging, has awkward situations, but affirmed that “it is rewarding, making a difference for another individual.”

Concerning the numbers of people who are found to be homeless in the area, Pierce commented, “It’s a small number in the scheme of things, but is huge for the people who are affected.”

How to help

Volunteers are needed by PCHOH. “We provide very personal service, front line, one of one helping people,” Pierce said. PCHOH does their own screening and provides training. Most of what they do at Pike County Hands of Hope is over the phone. “We are very strict on confidentiality of our callers and for our volunteers,” he said.

Volunteers, he said, should be good with interpersonal skills, be comfortable at listening, as well as being empathetic, compassionate and non-judgmental.
• PCHOH relies on donations, which are given by both individuals and several organizations. United Way of Pike County assists PCHOH.

For information or to donate to Pike County Hands of Hope, visit pikecountyhoh.org; email info@pikecountyhoh.org or telephone 570-296-HOPE (4673) or toll-free, 855-296-HOPE (4673). PCHOH, P.O. Box 654, Milford, PA 18337.

• Tri-State Warming Shelter also relies on donations. Checks may be made payable to DRC-Interfaith Council and mailed to: Deerpark Reformed Church, Attn: Interfaith Council, 30 E. Main St., Port Jervis, NY 12771. They may also be made online.

For information visit www.youcaring.com/WarmingStation/Mission or visit Facebook (www.facebook.com/Tri-State-Interfaith-Council-278540769240788). Email zkpearce@live.com. Warming Station Manager Chris Kidney may be reached at elovelace30@gmail.com or 845-672-5453.