For the past several months, Coalition4Justice's monthly “Community Conversations” have dealt with the topic of the increase in the number of homeless individuals and families in Montgomery County. Our discussions have focused on the conditions that led to the development of this crisis, including:
the lack of affordable housing,
the complicated and confusing route to shelter for those who are homeless.
On a personal note, through learning about how to account for the increase, I am better prepared to advocate for changes to the state and local systems. Our conversations have also helped me to find ways to contribute to support the immediate needs of my fellow community members who are experiencing homelessness. If you haven’t already had a chance to do so, please check out Dr. Bernadine Ahonkhai’s post of Feb. 3, 2024, on our website, Housing the Homeless in Pennsylvania. Also, consider supporting, in any way you can, local food pantries and emergency shelters in your area by looking at the resources available on 211.org
How many individuals are unhoused in Montgomery County?
It is hard to get exact figures in real time to answer the question of how many people in Montgomery County lack safe and permanent housing. It is estimated that there are 680 unhoused residents in Montgomery County. The stigma and stereotypes associated with homelessness result in people seeking shelter in out of the way places. While Montgomery County is the second wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, it has not escaped the growing nationwide trend of limited affordable housing. According to Kayleigh Silver, Administrator for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Housing and Community Development: “Recent research has shown that communities where people spend more than 32% of their income on rent can expect a more rapid increase in homelessness. Here in Montgomery County, we know through our data and research that nearly half of renters are cost-burdened and costs of housing have risen in almost every municipality, in some instances 12-17 percent year over year.” Increasing awareness of the multitude of reasons that homelessness can occur is an important step to removing the stigma associated with becoming homeless.
Signs of Hope and Collaboration
Non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations and county organizations are increasingly working together to address the homelessness crisis, with input from community members throughout Montgomery County. There are encouraging signs that the problem of homelessness is being recognized as a crisis in our communities.
In December, 2023 Montgomery County announced a change in the temperature at which Code Blue shelters would open. Previously, a temperature of 20% F or less was required to open Code Blue shelters.
Montgomery County also recently announced a direct helpline at 610-278-3522 if you are sleeping outside or in your car. This number is the new Your Way Home hotline.
Representative Nancy Guenst, has put forth HB 506” An Act amending the Act of April 6, 1951 (P.L.69, No.20), known as “The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951,” providing for limitations on rent increases; and imposing penalties. This bill proposes to cap a rent increase at 6%.
The Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency, PHFA , was awarded $350 million for the administration of the program and the disbursement of funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. That federal legislation was enacted to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and the displacement of homeowners experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-related impacts. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency works to provide affordable homeownership and rental housing options for older adults, low- and moderate-income families, and people with special housing needs. See their Feb 9th progress report here.
A Call to Action:
In the coming weeks, look for a post on our website about our upcoming letter writing campaign. With the knowledge we have gained through our most recent Community Conversations, the Coalition for Justice will be sponsoring a letter writing campaign to support contacting our local and state representatives to express the need for greater support of emergency shelters, increased funding for supported housing and social service programs to transition individuals who are experiencing housing insecurity and the creation of more affordable housing in Montgomery County.
Robert Brooks, M.A
Roberta Brooks is the Steering Committee Secretary and the Community Conversations Strategist for Coalition4Justice.
She can be reached at Coalition4justiceandequity@gmail.com