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Homelessness not declining in the Lehigh Valley

Published On: Nov 29 2013 05:06:41 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 29 2013 07:54:11 PM EST

There are thousands of people across the region who don't have a place to call home.

There are thousands of people across the region who don't have a place to call home. While homelessness is down nationally, that's not the case in Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. It said on a given night in January 2013, there were more than 600,000 homeless people. The report stated homelessness declined by almost four percent between 2012 and 2013 and it went down by nine percent since 2007.

Pennsylvania, however, was one of 21 states that had an increase in homeless people between 2012 and 2013.

"The reality is there's no sign of it getting any better," said Alan Jennings, the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV). "We don't see any sign of a decline in homelessness in the Lehigh Valley."

"It's not going down because the fair market rent for a two bedroom is over $900," said Jennings. "At 30 percent of your income, that $920 a month apartment is going to cost you two and half minimum wage jobs in order to afford that."

CACLV runs the Sixth Street Shelter in Allentown, which is preparing to open a new addition to the shelter to house even more homeless families.

"The Sixth Street Shelter, which we opened in 1984 and we've expanded now four times, houses 25 families at a time. They're able to stay with us for two months at a time," said Jennings. "It's very difficult to put a number on homelessness largely because most people who are homeless are doubling up with family and friends."

One number Jennings could share is 2,500, which is how many people are in shelters in Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Thirty-five percent of them are children, he said.

The executive director of Safe Harbor Easton, Tyler Rogers, said they are seeing the amount of people they help go up.

"I think employment is probably the most important thing. With all the resources that have disappeared over the years, that's something that we've centered on at Safe Harbor," he said. "It's not that there aren't jobs available, it's that the jobs that are available do not pay what people need to survive out there."

"We have 33 beds in the shelter and we're at capacity every night," said Rogers. He said there are ways people can show support.

"We could always use the help, donations are also appreciated," he said.

It's a similar situation in Berks County.

"It's definitely on the increase. We're seeing more and more men than we have seen in years past," said Peter March at Hope Rescue Mission in Reading. "Our capacity is 170 and we're very close to that and we try to accommodate the men who just don't have a place to go."

March added, "If there were more jobs available that would definitely help the homeless situation here in Reading."