By Andrew Scott
Pocono Record Writer
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at 7:00 AM
STROUDSBURG — On nights when the windchill drives temperatures down into the single digits or below zero, a nice, warm house with a bed is nothing to take for granted.
Because not everybody has one.
On one night in January 2015, there were at least 162 people homeless in Monroe County, according to that year’s annual Point In Time winter homeless count conducted for the federal government. That number didn’t include the homeless who weren’t tallied in unknown parts of the county.
The numbers of homeless in both known and unknown areas likely have grown since then.
“It’s unconscionable for anyone to be sleeping outdoors when it’s this cold because they’ve lost their home and have nowhere else to go,” Pocono Family YMCA Executive Director Jodi Perry-Petrozak said when recently discussing plans with the Borough Council to open the YMCA as a Code Blue nighttime shelter for the homeless.
Communities in other Pennsylvania counties declare Code Blue emergencies on nights when outdoor temperatures are below certain levels considered too dangerous for the homeless.
Monroe County has shelters where specific segments of the homeless population can sleep at night.
The East Stroudsburg Salvation Army has a 30-day transitional housing shelter. An organization called Family Promise partners with local churches and arranges for displaced families to sleep at those churches until the families can find housing again.
Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church, located on North Fifth Street in Stroud Township, has a shelter open 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night between Nov. 1 and March 31. It’s the county’s only overnight shelter exclusively for cold weather and the county’s only Code Blue shelter.
The shelter is in the church gym, which houses up to 18 people. On nights when the temperature outdoors is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, church co-lead pastor Lynda Keefer declares a Code Blue, opening the shelter to more people.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Keefer said.
This is the Stroudsburg Wesleyan shelter’s fifth consecutive winter in operation. The homeless are referred there by the Salvation Army and Street2Feet, a Stroudsburg-based daytime outreach center where the homeless can look for jobs and housing.
Community volunteers, including members from two other local churches, staff the shelter. The church has a warming station where, from 8 to 10 p.m. every night, the homeless can have cooked/baked meals and hot drinks, prepared by volunteers, before entering the gym area to sleep.
When leaving the shelter at 6 a.m. the next day, the homeless walk over the Veterans Memorial Bridge to the Salvation Army, on Washington Street in East Stroudsburg Borough, which serves breakfast at 7 a.m.
After breakfast, they walk back over the bridge to Street2Feet, on First Street in Stroudsburg Borough, which opens from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There, they can search the employment and rental housing ads and get help writing resumes and preparing for job interviews.
After that, they have dinner at one of the local fast-food eateries, if happening to have any money, or a free community meal at one of the local churches. Then, it’s back to the Stroudsburg Wesleyan warming station and shelter at night.
Between the two boroughs, everything is within walking distance, which benefits the able-bodied homeless with no access to personal or public transportation or anyone who can give them rides.
“Still, imagine having to do all that walking outdoors in these temperatures,” Keefer said.
Stroudsburg Wesleyan started its shelter when realizing some of its members are homeless people who, at the time, had been living under the bridge between the two boroughs.
“After our Sunday worship service, we would give these people hugs, tell them, ‘God loves you and so do we,’ and then send them on their way to head back under the bridge,” Keefer said. “It just wasn’t right.”
The Point In Time count
Communities across America conduct annual Point In Time counts, tallying the number of local homeless at given points in time. These numbers are submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses those figures to determine how much funding to allocate to local community efforts helping the homeless.
In Monroe County, Street2Feet conducts annual winter and summer Point In Time counts. These counts are done overnight.
Street2Feet staff, members of other local organizations (such as VALOR, which works with homeless U.S. military veterans) and community volunteers go throughout the county, visiting areas where the homeless are known to be. Counters provide the homeless with information on how and where to access services.
This year’s winter Point In Time count is scheduled for the night of Wednesday, Jan. 24, into Thursday, Jan. 25, said Leslie Perryman, director of Crossroads Community Services which oversees Street2Feet. Volunteer training for the count is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, at a location to be determined.
Residents wishing to volunteer to help with the count can email Leslie.Perryman@rhd.org.
Perryman and Keefer both agree Monroe County needs more cold-weather and Code Blue emergency shelters overnight for the homeless.
“There’s a large number of homeless in our area beyond what our shelter can accommodate,” Keefer said.
Residents wishing to volunteer at Stroudsburg Wesleyan’s shelter can do so by contacting the church at 570-421-0750.