Posted: Saturday, 05/08/10 12:01 am
Updated: Monday, 05/14/12 08:30 am
Original Full Story
Journal Register News Service
The number of homeless people in Montgomery County has risen with the bad economy, and demand for temporary housing is robust, according to county officials and advocates for the homeless.
In 2009, 445 individuals were served by the adult homeless center at Norristown State Hospital. The unofficial total tabulated in February this year was about 749 people, said Genny O’Donnell, director of the facility. About 40 people are added to the homeless roster every week.
“Many of them have never been homeless,” she said. “We have people who have spent up their 401(k)s trying to save themselves.”
In 2007, there were 244 homeless people served in the county; in 2008 there were 407.
The Montgomery County Homeless Prevention Center’s hot line was jammed with calls when it debuted in February. O’Donnell said the system “went live” on Feb. 15 and by the end of the month 88 people were added to the list. Those people were either homeless, in danger of being evicted or behind on rent or utility payments.
Hot line callers are offered information about family or singles’ shelters that have openings, funding they may be eligible for, debt relief information, credit counseling and available food banks.
Once a year, advocates count the number of people without homes. This includes not only people on the streets and in shelters, but those who live with relatives or friends whom officials categorize as “precariously housed.”
“We know there are people jumping from couch to couch,” O’Donnell said.
Of the center’s callers, 45 percent were individuals and 55 percent were families in jeopardy.
Too often, people wait until they’re about to be evicted before calling for help, said Kathy Phifer, director of the county’s Housing and Community Development.
“I think it’s human nature for people to call when they’re in a crisis,” she said. “At the 11th hour, phone calls will come in.”
Phifer’s department manages state and federal funding that goes to aid low-income and homeless people. Rental assistance, subsidies to pay utility bills or money to cover a hotel stay is available for those who qualify.
About a third of the calls came from the central part of the county, which includes Norristown, Conshohocken, Bridgeport, Plymouth, East Norriton and West Norriton.
About 16 percent of the calls come from Pottstown, East Greenville, Red Hill and the Limerick area; 13 percent from Abington, Willow Grove, Elkins Park and Hatboro; and 12 percent from the North Penn area — Colmar, Lansdale, Souderton, Ambler, Blue Bell and Hatfield.
Typically, demand for temporary shelter rises when temperatures plummet or snow is in the forecast.
Single adults age 18 and older can seek emergency shelter at the County Homeless Outreach Center in Building 53 on the grounds of the state hospital. If needed, transportation will be provided.
The CHOC is a 50-bed shelter for single residents only. The facility’s phone number is 610-292-9244.
The Salvation Army, located at 533 Swede St., has 28 beds and accepts families only. A family can be as few as two people, but larger families can usually be accommodated, according to a Rob Fecho, the organization’s Norristown shelter director. The number there is 610-275-9225.
The Pottstown Salvation Army, at 137 King St., can be reached at 610- 326-1621.
Most homeless people at Norristown’s Salvation Army facility stay for short periods of time; however, some remain there for as long as six weeks in an effort to gain permanent housing, employment or seek substance abuse treatment.
“Otherwise, it will turn into a hotel,” Fecho said.
The county and church groups also offer shelters in Ambler, Lansdale, Lower Merion, Pottstown and Souderton.
“Each case is completely different,” the shelter director said. “We have a lot of domestic violence issues. Most of the kids coming here have dealt with a lot of trauma.”
Abused women are frequently referred to Laurel House in Norristown. Housing locations are kept confidential.
Occasionally during the cold weather, good Samaritans pay for homeless people to stay in hotels, Fecho said.
Interfaith Hospitality Network offers shelters in churches for families in Ambler, 215-628-4009; Lower Merion, 610-277-0977; and the North Penn-Souderton area, 215-721-1299.
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1000 West Main St., in Lansdale, houses single men only during Code Blue emergencies.
Missionary Sisters of Charity provides shelter for women and children in Norristown at 610-277-5962.
Single adults in Pottstown can also find shelter at Main Street Ministries Church Based Shelter. Transportation is available at Pottstown Consumer Center at 10 p.m. For more information, contact Still Waters Ministry Pastor Kork Moyer at 610-970-2444. A winter shelter run by Main Street Ministries will close at the end of April.
The Montgomery County Homeless Center hotline number is 877-646-6306. The call-in center operates from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also, check the county’s Web site at www.montcopa.org for a list of shelters and resources. On the home page, click “Contact Directory” to find Housing and Community Development.