By Dan Clark
NORRISTOWN — Only a few months ago, Harper and her children were homeless. She packed up, took the children and left a man who abused her because not having a home was better than being beaten. Now, because of a private-public partnership called Your Way Home, she and her children have an apartment in Schwenksville, and she is working to be able to maintain that apartment on her own.
Harper entered into the relationship with her abuser in 2000 and stayed for seven years before leaving him the first time. She and her children were then bounced from house to house and eventually ended up in the Salvation Army shelter in Norristown. The shelter offered “transit housing,” but that was not properly explained to her, which worried her, she said.
“I went back to my abuser for seven more years and with the grace of God I was able to leave again,” Harper said.
The goal of Your Way Home is to ultimately put an end to homelessness in Montgomery County.
“Suburban homelessness is on the rise, and Montgomery County is no exception,” Montgomery County commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro said at Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting. “What we recognized is that there were lots of different programs that existed, but no one was harnessing them together and making sure there were opportunities for those who were homeless to be able to find, not just a shelter for an evening, but secure home for them and their families for ideally a lifetime.” .
In January, the county created Your Way Home, a program Shapiro describes as “a single front door for anyone who is homeless.”
People who are experiencing homelessness can access all of the different programs the county has to offer and the different private programs that can be found in Montgomery County by calling an 877 number, Shapiro said.
Before the creation of Your Way Home, Shapiro said, the county would find homes for an average of 15 people a month.
“Under Your Way Home, we have been able to not just help 15 people get out of homelessness, but we’re now up to 55 people a month getting out of homelessness and into stable housing,” he said. “This isn’t someone going from the street and into a shelter . This is someone going into stable housing.”
The goal of the organization is to decrease homelessness by 50 percent over the next five years, he said.
Harper said that in March, she went to a shelter and learned about the program. This time, however, she understood how the program worked and wasn’t apprehensive about going into it. By the beginning of May, her family was placed in an apartment and on their way towards a stable future, she said.
“I’m not even sure if they fully understand what benefit it has given to me and my family,” Harper said.
Harper has no complaints about the apartment and said she enjoys a view of Perkiomen Creek. She doesn’t have cable, she said, but she finds other ways to keep busy.
“We don’t need. We’re just very appreciative of this time,” she said.
Looking forward, Harper hopes her children will be able to have friends come over during sometime soon. She also said she will soon be looking for full-time work so by next year, she will be able to afford the apartment by herself. For now, however, with summer coming up, she just wants to spend as much time with her children as possible and is grateful for the opportunity to be able to do that.
“If I could be a help to Your Way Home at all, I would,” she said.
The toll-free number for Your Way Home Montgomery County is 1-877-646-6306.
Photo of Ivy Harper by Tamela Luce.