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Allentown homelessness advocates seek more housing options

By Meghan Packer, Reporter, MPacker@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 08 2014 05:02:43 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 09 2014 04:42:30 AM CST

The recent bitterly cold weather has put the issue of homelessness in the spotlight

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The recent bitterly cold weather has put the issue of homelessness in the spotlight.

Advocates said there aren't enough places for people to seek shelter in Allentown, and they want elected officials to do something about it.

"The problem is a lot bigger than most of us are willing to admit," said Rev. Richard Baumann, pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, which opens its doors to homeless people at night. "We have more people at Safe Haven than we're able to accommodate."

A group of advocates met Wednesday morning to discuss options for people who don't have a place to go.

"We're looking to get other emergency space opened so that people can be in safety," said Dale Smith, with Allentown's Commission to End Chronic Homelessness.

"We need to look to our public officials and we need to ask them for help," said Diane Teti, one of the advocates at the meeting.

"The lobby of city hall, the lobby of the county administration building, there are other buildings like that that could be opened up to get people out of the cold," Smith added.

"Once the city of Allentown recognizes this is an issue, then we need to turn to solutions, said Allentown Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald, adding that she is open to the idea of using city buildings. "City Hall is a huge building. The heat is on 24/7. I think that if good minds, if people willing to solve the problem sit together, we can find a way to use City Hall or other city government buildings in a crisis such as this."

The people who met Wednesday said there needs to be a year-round solution for emergency shelter and they're confident it's a problem the community can solve together.

"It's not acceptable to me that somebody sleeps on the street any night of the year regardless of the temperature," Teti said.

"Four years ago, I experienced four people dying out in the cold. I did the memorial service for two of them," Baumann said. This is not acceptable in our community. We can do better than that in Allentown, but we're not."

For people who want to help, Smith said, "Volunteer your time to help mentor and guide and coach the homeless to help them in their need and also donate money so that we can do some further outreach and planning."

Read more here about a benefit for the homeless Thursday.