Allentown
52° F
Overcast
Overcast

Mixed signals on helping Allentown's homeless

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 24 2014 04:33:36 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 24 2014 06:41:27 PM CST
Homeless deal with cold

WISH

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Responses by local government to appeals to help homeless people in Allentown survive winter's cold can be confusing.

Last week, Robert Smith, president of the Allentown School Board, offered immediate help to the homeless.

But now Allentown School District officials are saying they will help "if asked."

As homeless advocates made a case before Allentown City Council on Jan. 15 that more shelters are needed in the city, the school board president stood to tell council: “I don’t see why we can’t do something with this homeless issue immediately.”

Smith told council he would speak with Dr. Russell Mayo, superintendent of the Allentown School District, “to see what we can do” by opening school buildings.

At Thursday night's school board meeting, Mayo announced the district will open school buildings as emergency shelters if asked.

District spokeswoman Kimberly Golden Benner confirmed the district's position. She said  it's something ASD has done in the past, but the district needs "to be made aware there's an issue" before it can respond.

City Hall's stand on the issue also has been confusing.

In a memo to City Council released Tuesday, city managing director Francis Dougherty indicated Allentown has enough emergency housing to protect the homeless.

But on Wednesday, it was announced  that through a partnership with the city and Lehigh County,  the Allentown YMCA-YWCA would be opening as a temporary shelter on nights when the temperature is expected to drop below 32 degrees.

While grateful for the help from the Y, homeless advocate Diane Teti said opening city schools might be a better option because people probably would not have to leave schools at 5 a.m.

On Friday, the Lehigh County Conference of Churches announced it will open the gymnasium of Alliance Hall at 245 N. 6th St. in Allentown  as an emergency "warming center" for the homeless.

It will be used only when Lehigh County declares a Code Blue emergency because of extreme weather conditions.

"Funding for this initiative is not guaranteed," said a spokesman for the conference of churches.  It is asking its 140 member churches for help.

"We need volunteer chaperones to pull shifts or stay all night in the gym when a Code Blue is called. Training will be mandatory and at least initially professional supervision will be on site."

The news from the conference did not say how soon Alliance Hall might open.