On the night of January 24 from 9:00 PM to 12:00 AM, I volunteered with my fellow Commissioner, Val Arkoosh, and forty others for the Point-In-Time Count led by Your Way Home. This annual exercise provides important information on how homelessness impacts the county and how it can be ended. Groups of volunteers searched for homeless individuals and families in areas of the county including; Abington/Willow Grove/Cheltenham, Ardmore/Lower Merion, Lansdale/Souderton, Norristown/Bridgeport and Pottstown/Royersford. I was on the Norristown/Bridgeport team.
I was not sure what to expect. I knew that there were homeless citizens in Montgomery County. I have visited the county shelter many times, including monthly meals and holiday dinners led by my church. I have worked with great non-profit organizations that provide emergency and transitional housing throughout the county. Occasionally, I will encounter individuals around the Courthouse or at the Norristown Transportation Center asking for money who may be homeless. However, to see people at night, on the street, under bridges and on playgrounds was powerful and disturbing.
Our group was led by Joel who works for the Salvation Army. He explained that some people did not want to be counted or surveyed for various reasons. We went to spots along the railroad tracks where we could tell people had been living. There might be a couch or a lean-too and some empty cans but no people. Our first encounter was at the DeKalb Street Bridge. A woman was sleeping underneath it and came out when she heard us to receive the supplies we had. It was like we had knocked on her front door! It was a mild night but drizzling, unlike some of the frigid nights earlier in the week and she said, “It wasn’t too bad”.
We went to the Crawford Park. It has a playground underneath the Schuylkill River Trail that I have run or ridden past many times. I’ve always seen it during the day and there are always children playing basketball on the court and using the playground.
That night, there were at least two people in sleeping bags on the court and the playground. We did not approach them because they seemed to be asleep but they were “counted”
Upon reflection, it’s more upsetting to think of those we didn’t count because they didn’t want to be seen. They are quite literally “living in the shadows.” There are many reasons why people become homeless in our society and county. But whatever the reason, we need to end homelessness in our county. No one should be sleeping under a bridge or in a park.
I am proud of the progress we have made but there is much more to be done. I am glad that I had the opportunity to see it firsthand and I thank the volunteers from around the county who participated. Your Way Home also has wonderful partners who work on this issue daily and I am grateful for their efforts. However, we all need to do more so the Point-In-Time Count is not necessary.
Commissioner Ken Lawrence