The Lehigh County Conference of Churches (LCCC) and the board of the Allentown/ Lehigh County 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness used art to spread awareness of local homelessness issues at their public exhibit at Sacred Heart Hospital on Wednesday night.
Rev. Dr. Christine Nelson, executive director of LCCC, showcased her photography of the homeless and their living circumstances. A collection of poems by Russell Valentini, homeless education liaison with the Allentown School District, was also displayed alongside the photography at the exhibit.
“My job feels like I’ve walked into some other world I never thought could exist in the United States,” said Valentini. “But now we have students going to college, we’ve had quarterbacks, we even had a class president a few years back.”
Attendees were invited to hear various speakers after the exhibit who highlighted the realities of homelessness locally. According to the 10 Year Plan, the average wait time at a shelter in Allentown is four months. They also note that in a point in time count, 756 sheltered and unsheltered homeless were reported in a single night in a twelve county area including Lehigh County.
Nelson spoke about the progress the board of the 10 Year Plan and LCCC have made with their goals. Those goals include streamlining the process of intake, and housing and aiding the health of 150 chronically homeless persons while decreasing community costs. The groups also say they endeavor to “walk alongside the homeless, rather than above, below or around them.”
According to the Housing and Urban Development Department, chronic homelessness is when an individual has been continuously homeless for a year or at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
While steps towards achievement of these goals have been taken, improvements still need to be made with the homelessness issue in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley.
“We need to take care of our homeless and get them off the streets, especially women and children,” said Nathan Kline, a board member of the 10 Year Plan. “People can volunteer with community churches and try to gain awareness of what’s really going on in their city.”
Kline’s comments reflected the overarching theme of the evening, mainly that homelessness is more prevalent in the Lehigh Valley than most citizens are aware of and that community involvement is still needed to overcome this issue.
“We can’t afford to have disposable people,” said Valentini. “Everyone is worth it.”
The 10 Year Plan committee is currently working on a “Street to Home Project” that is still in need of volunteers and donations.