Strickler Insurance is running a “Quotes for a Cause” campaign to raise money for LCCM. You can help LCCM by calling Strickler Insurance for a home insurance quote, an auto quote or a business insurance quote.
When you call Strickler Insurance let them know you are calling for a quote because you saw this post on our website. They will donate $10 to our organization.
Thank you for helping support us!
“Well, I’m an older-than-dirt, single father.”
That was the icebreaker FRESH Start guest Don began with during a 45-minute conversation about his journey to LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center with his son, Malachi.
“I have a 15-year-old son who I have been the sole source of everything to since he just turned four,” Don said.
And being a single father certainly came with hardships.
“We lost our house, we lost everything,” he said. “Every God-loving thing, but the shirt on my back. But, I don’t give up.”
Don once operated a construction company and had contracts in the Baltimore, Md. area where he would travel to from Lehigh County each day.
But by 2012, Don hit some stumbling blocks.
“I was pretty well out of sorts. I was a mess, I was a wreck,” he said. “I was physically a wreck, emotionally, mentally – I was just totally drained. I had nothing really more to offer, or to give or to do.”
By the next year, he no longer operated the construction company and become involved in a criminal case that resulted in jail time, at which time his son was placed in foster care.
When he was released from jail, he quickly regained custody of his son, but he struggled to rebuild.
That’s when he began attending Berks County Veteran Affairs programs. Don, an Army veteran, was pleasantly surprised by what the VA had to offer.
“A whole lot of my missions were in East Berlin (Germany),” he said. “I left with a mega case of PTSD and some other stuff that will never go away, but it’s being managed.”
Because of his experience at the VA, Don wanted to do something to help other veterans.
“I’m thinking to myself, well, if I didn’t know about this (VA programs), I can’t be the only one,” he said. “How can we make other veterans aware?”
That is when he started the Sal Santori Radio Show, devoted to veterans and veterans’ issues, which aired in Lebanon, Pittsburgh and Spartanburg, WV. Though the show is on hiatus, Don has plans to kickstart it again next year.
For now, he’s focusing on a strategy to rebuild a life for himself and his son.
After a stay with friends in Palmyra that didn’t work out, Don and Malachi briefly stayed at a hotel room in Palmyra. That’s when a Caring Cupboard employee approached him and asked if he would be willing to accept some help from LCCM’s FRESH Start shelter.
Since coming to FRESH Start in early October, Don obtained a job in Palmyra, which he said he saw “God’s hand” working in to provide him this opportunity.
Last year he worked security for a plant that was under construction in Palmyra. A few weeks ago, a temp agency that hires for that company asked if he’d be interested in working there.
“They wanted to offer me a forklift position somewhere, but it wasn’t enough money. And then they said, well, we have this other company up in Palmyra, and I said ‘what did you say!”
He started his new position in late October, and now wants to find a home in the Palmyra area so his son can continue attending Palmyra Area School District.
“I told Malachi that we have spent years on the survival plane. Now we’re going to experience the living plane,” he said. “So my picture is a much more comfortable lifestyle for him and more things that will give him a better quality life. And living in a place of our choosing.”
Long term, he wants to help his son realize his dreams.
“He wants to become a forensic chemist and forensic scientist,” he said, proudly. “I said, ‘you go, boy!’”
Don says he is thankful to everyone involved with the Fresh Start program and highly recommends single fathers to utilized this resource to get a “fresh start.”
2020 has been a year like no other. Early on, we admit the pandemic had us worried. But the community rallied around the guests at Lebanon County Christian Ministries by partnering with us to ensure no one went hungry or without shelter during what is arguably the most difficult and uncertain year of our lives.
We thank you so much for your support.
Now that it’s Christmas, we thought this would be a good time to tell you 12 ways you made a difference for guests of LCCM.
1. Food distribution
Thanks to your support, LCCM was able to distribute a total of 354,051 pounds of food in all its food programs. That includes providing 1,721 vouchers for emergency food orders to households in Lebanon County.
2. Free noon meals
Your support made it possible for LCCM to serve 51,363 free noon meals. Before the pandemic, LCCM served an average of 130 free noon meals daily. Every day since the start of the pandemic, it's been anywhere between 150 to 283 meals. Our guests include men, women and children of all ages.
The scope of volunteer involvement at LCCM is breathtaking. Our volunteers served 40,612 hours in all programs. When the pandemic began, LCCM also saw a surge in new volunteers, who worked alongside of our veteran volunteers, and all worked tirelessly to serve many people.
Your support has made it possible to provide a daily meal to people like John, who was laid off from his job at the start of the pandemic. “It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s had a very big impact.”
Vanessa used the food pantry at LCCM one time in the past, and that was after the birth of her son 15 years ago. But when she and her husband were both laid off at the start of the pandemic, she turned to LCCM again to feed her family of five. “God has been good to us,” she said. “I just feel hopeful.”
Because of you, LCCM's FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center was able to provide 4,204 nights of stay to 126 guests.
7. Hurdles to Housing fundraiser
COVID-19 changed a lot of things, including how we fundraise. Our traditional event could not be held in person, so we instead created a virtual experience called Hurdles to Housing. Between a barbecue fundraiser and the virtual fundraiser, families and church teams raised $10,000 for the shelter!
Here are 5 things you should know about homelessness in Lebanon County
8. Mindy and Jayvion
Mindy says FRESH Start helped bring order and stability to her life so that she could create a better life for her 2-year-old son. "I really didn’t have a support system growing up, so having that here was very, very special to me," she said.
9. Kelsey and AJ
Kelsey says the staff at FRESH Start provide her the compassion and accountability she needs while she secures child care, a job and housing for her and her 3-year-old son, AJ.
10. Clothing bank
Thanks to your in-kind donations, LCCM was able to provide 19,567 clothing items, including coats, hats and gloves, to 845 adults and 620 children in Lebanon County.
So many churches, businesses and organizations went above and beyond to help LCCM this year. There are too many acts of compassion to mention here, but we'll provide one example. Strickler Insurance employees who volunteered at LCCM's noon meal couldn't help but notice we didn't have a dishwasher, so they held a fundraiser and bought one!
12. YOU CHANGED LIVES
When the pandemic hit, we admit that we worried. But you showed us we had no reason to. God provided everything LCCM needed through the hands and feet in our community - you. Because of you, lives were changed.
For years, Kelsey struggled with unstable housing, couch surfing from home to home.
But when she found out she was pregnant, she knew she had to make a change.
That’s when she came to LCCM’s former shelter and resource center, HOPES, which was located on North Ninth Street in Lebanon.
She was only there for a couple of weeks before she left. She didn’t realize it then, but the shelter was about to play a prominent role in her life after the birth of her son.
Still struggling to find a stable housing environment, she sought refuge at FRESH Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center when her son AJ was just two weeks old.
'It's about my son:' Single mom credits FRESH Start with changing her life, helping to provide stability for toddler
As a new mom, Kelsey arrived during the grand opening of FRESH Start in 2017 when operations were moved from the downtown Lebanon location to the LCCM building.
When you give to LCCM, you're changing lives like Kelsey's and AJ's. Help us continue doing vital work in the community as we provide emergency services such as food and shelter, as well as guidance, support and stability to adults and children in Lebanon County. We do this always in Christ's name.
It was at FRESH Start where staff members fell in love with AJ.
“He’s like their baby,” she said.
Having been in the shelter for close to nine months, AJ experienced a lot of firsts.
“He learned how to crawl in here and everything,” she said. “Trying to get him to walk, sit up, all those little first things, he did here.”
Kelsey said staff became more like family and helped encourage her and build her confidence.
“From being here for as long as I was, we kind of formed that relationship, that bond,” she said. “They were so straightforward with me. If it weren’t for them breathing down my neck, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I had done in the amount of time that I did it!”
She got a job at Kmart as a cashier and was quickly promoted to a supervisor position. She saved money and was able to move out of the shelter in early 2018 with AJ and moved in with a family friend.
She soon found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Olivia. After the birth of her daughter, she returned to work, but was having financial difficulties and granted her mother partial custody of her daughter.
She ended up having to move again, and this time it was in the Ebenzer area, right outside of Lebanon. She had to leave her job because she couldn’t drive or find a babysitter for AJ.
They lived at this residence for about two years, but due to a change in the rental’s ownership, she and AJ had to move out.
She was welcomed back to FRESH Start with open arms in October with AJ - now a vibrant and very active 3-year-old – so she has time to rebuild her life again.
Kelsey hopes to return to retail work in Lebanon to save money and get steady housing.
Her hope for the future is that she can build a life that will allow AJ to flourish in school and lead a happy, healthy life.
'It's about my son': Single mom credits FRESH Start with changing her life, helping to provide stability for toddler
Mindy lives across the street from Lebanon County Christian Ministries, but not too long ago, she lived at LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center.
Prior to arriving at FRESH Start in August 2018 with her son, Jayvion, who at the time was just a few months old, the 27-year-old’s life involved a mix of drug use, unstable housing and unemployment.
She wanted a better life, but the baggage from her past followed her into FRESH Start and cut her time short because she was, as she describes it, “defiant.”
When she left, she slid back into old patterns of struggling to hold down a job and keeping up with rent payments.
Once homeless, FRESH Start shelter staffer how helps others get back on their feet
After a year of struggling, she knew she couldn’t do it by herself anymore. That’s when she turned to FRESH Start again.
When you give to LCCM, you're changing lives like Mindy's and Jayvion's. Help us continue doing vital work in the community as we provide emergency services such as food and shelter, as well as guidance, support and stability to adults and children in Lebanon County. We do this always in Christ's name.
“I was out of my addiction. I wasn’t getting high anymore,” she said. “This time around my son was over a year old. It was time to get myself together for my son’s sake. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about my son.”
Mindy says she grew up in foster care, group homes and spent time in residential treatment centers for youth.
“I grew up in the system,” she said. “I got taken away from my parents when I was little and I didn’t want my son to go through that. I don’t want what I went through to affect my son.”
Being homeless is stressful, she said, but as a single mother, she lived with the nagging thought that she could somehow lose Jayvion because of it.
“My biggest fear was not finding me and my son a place to live,” she said. “My biggest fear was my son getting taken away. That was my biggest fear. What if I don’t find a place?”
When Mindy and Jayvion returned to FRESH Start, it wasn’t without some bumps.
“I had my rounds with staff and difficulties, but at the end of the day, they saw the improvement I was making, taking care of my child, not doing drugs, looking for a job,” she said. “I got my child daycare. On top of that before I came back, I got accepted for Section 8 housing, but the COVID-19 situation meant I had to wait a while to try to find a place because it wasn't’ getting anywhere.”
Due to COVID-19, Mindy’s stay at FRESH Start lasted 7 months, but it may have been a blessing in disguise.
The staff at FRESH Start played a huge role in her life by offering accountability, stability and emotional support as she learned new skills in how to make it on her own.
“I really didn’t have a support system growing up, so having that here was very, very special to me,” she said. “They showed me how to apply for (day care), they taught me how to be independent and how to do things on my own. They taught me computer skills because I had to look up jobs and apartments...they taught me food shopping. I had to do all that on my own. They taught me how to save money. You have to put your money to good use when you’re on your own.”
Mindy wants to build on her independence and has a dream going to college and earning a degree in business to open her own clothing store one day. She has a dream for her son, too.
“I want him to grow up happy, grow up healthy and grow up to get an education,” she said. “I want him to be way better than I was.”
More than 60 percent of households with children have faced serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
That figure is one of many eyebrow-raising findings highlighted in a new report released by NPR and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that raises concerns about the ability of these homes to weather long-term health and financial harms.
'The Impact of Coronavirus on Households with Children" highlights serious problems reported across a wide range of areas during the pandemic, including depleting household savings, serious problems paying credit card bills and other debt, and affording medical care.
The key findings include:
And when it came to paying bills, more than one in five households with children (23%) reported missing or delaying paying any major bills to ensure everyone had enough to eat, and a majority of households (70%) reported this caused serious financial problems for them.
Meanwhile, among the 6 percent of households with children in the U.S. where someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19, adults report substantially worse problems with their finances and caring for children than households who have not had COVID-19.
Most (94%) of households with children where someone was diagnosed with COVID-19 reported facing serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak.
When asked to describe her role at Lebanon County Christian Ministries, Amanda Zearfoss used the phrase “emotional rollercoaster.”
As a support services coordinator at FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, Amanda has a vital role when it comes to helping families and individuals experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.
Many guests who enter FRESH Start have jobs, but they live paycheck to paycheck. They can pay bills, but if just one thing goes wrong, such as a vehicle breaking down, it starts a slippery financial slope that can lead to evictions, to not being able to pay other bills, to losing child care or transportation and other crucial foundations needed to maintain sustainability.
5 things you should know about homelessness in Lebanon County
Many times, guests also have emotional and relationship struggles in addition to the economic ones, which can lead to difficulty in breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
Amanda’s ability to identify with guests was not developed in the classroom – it was formed by life experience.
Amanda knows the difficulty to break free from the grips of homelessness and poverty because she was once in their shoes. As it happens, Amanda began her career at FRESH Start homeless.
Her story begins in childhood. She moved around a lot due to her father being in the military. When she was around 9 years old, her parents got divorced and her mother worked two jobs to support her two children.
“We hit rock bottom, we lived in low-income housing, she applied for food stamps for the first time in her life,” she said. “Everything kind of decreased and it went downhill so to speak, so we were living in poverty.”
When she was 15, she moved in with her father and returned to Lebanon when she was 18.
“During that time, I learned the street life,” she said. “I learned to hustle.”
When she gave birth to her daughter in 2008, she wanted to change her lifestyle.
“I didn’t want to be in the streets. I didn’t want to make the fast money, I wanted to be somebody my daughter could look up to,” she said. “So, one day she could say, ‘mom, you know what, you fell a few times, you went down the wrong path, but you made a right turn.’”
A few years later she had her second child, but in less than a year, Amanda says she and the children’s father split up.
“During that time, I was homeless,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom for so many years, I had nothing to fall back on. I had no work ethic, no nothing. I had to move back with my dad,” she said.
Amanda became pregnant again, but tragically lost her child through stillbirth.
“After the burial, I fought depression really bad. I fought it to the point where there were days I didn’t want to wake up, but my children kept me going,” she said.
She returned to Lebanon and spent close to a year couch surfing - that is, moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another – among four households. She tried to provide some stability for her children when they came to visit by only having the children stay with her one of the households so they could have some stability.
A friend eventually offered to let her stay at their home where she ended up living for three years. During this time, Amanda acquired her GED, went to college and earned her degree. When she became pregnant with her fourth child, she was put on bed rest.
“I could not work, I could not do anything,’ she said. “It was devastating. I had (state) cash assistance, and it helps you to a point, but it’s nothing sustainable. You can’t live off of it. I would say for my family of five I was getting $408 a month.”
It was at this time when she was receiving state cash assistance that she went through a program through Community Action Partnership that helps mothers entering the workforce. She saw two job openings at Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Amanda had heard about LCCM before, and her first experience with the organization was utilizing its programs to receive diapers and clothing.
Amanda decided to apply for one of the jobs but did not receive it. But, as Amanda puts it, a “very special someone” at LCCM saw her potential and advocated for her to be offered the other position. That special someone is Wenda DiNatale, LCCM’s client support manager.
When Amanda started at LCCM, she was still technically homeless since she was still living with a friend.
Through encouragement from Wenda, she accepted the job because she was reaching a turning point in her life, achieving personal goals, developing a support network and, most importantly, accepting Jesus Christ into her life. Now she was being given an opportunity in her walk with God to walk alongside of others who are struggling with homelessness.
“I learned that swallowing my pride and letting the Lord back into my life and guiding me in the proper direction – I got the help that I needed,” she said. “I wish someone would have walked alongside of me and given me that nudge to say ‘hey no, you’re not doing this right, you’re walking down the wrong path. You have to think of this and think of that.’”
But Amanda’s story took another tragic ironic twist when, a year into her position helping those struggling with homelessness, she became homeless again when her neighbor’s house caught fire and her home was condemned.
“I was completely homeless,” she said. “I had nowhere to go.”
That’s when another door opened. Her family was a candidate for transitional housing, which provided stability and allowed her family to save money.
“I was able to save up,” she said. “And a year ago to this day, I officially signed a lease with my name on it, with my children, and I did not look back.”
For years, John watched as people walked to the free noon meal site at Lebanon County Christian Ministries.
As LCCM’s next door neighbor, John met a lot of people who have walked by his home to get a free meal that helps them save money and feed their families.
John, a native of Lebanon, has worked in Lebanon County for 37 years doing all kinds of work.
“I worked in restaurants, made yard in a yarn factory, worked with saw blades and sharpened them in shops,” he said. “I worked at so many places around Lebanon that I can’t even remember them all.”
Most recently, he worked in a restaurant. But, like a lot of people, he was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
That’s when he decided to walk across the street and get meals for the first time.
“I’m on welfare for food and my health insurance, but I lost my food card due to the fact that I got unemployment, so I was making too much money,” he said. “I had to come up with food.”
The noon meal provides food for both him and his mother.
“It’s helped me tremendously,” he said. “We just split the noon meal now and the food is all prepared in a way where she can have it because she’s on a special diabetic diet.”
John anticipates he’ll be receiving unemployment through the end of the year but hopes to return to work. Until then, he will continue to rely on the noon meal to help him save money and eat a nutritious lunch.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s had a very big impact.”
I tried to feed my family of four on just $40 in 48 hours, and I quickly realized that when I'm not mindful of how much I'm spending, it can add up quickly.
Why did I do this? I was trying to fill a space on my bingo card.
Let me explain.
I’m participating in LCCM's Hurdles to Housing challenge, a fundraiser designed to transform perspectives of homelessness in Lebanon County and raise at least $5,000 for LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center.
The fundraiser ends Friday. You can help us reach our goal!
The challenge is a 30-day event that encourages fundraisers and their families or teams to experience just some of the real-life issues that go along with families and individuals experiencing homelessness or who are on the verge of homelessness.
The challenges range from living in cramped living spaces, to going without your vehicle for a day, and finding somewhere other than your own home to sleep for a night.
The challenge that my family and I completed - well, tried to complete - was living for 48 hours on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is also used as the basis for benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
According to the plan, my family of four, which consists of my husband and I, our 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, would need to spend the bare minimum of about $600 per month on groceries, which averages out to about $20 a day.
A report by the United Way points out some potential flaws with the methodology used to calculate that cost.
According to the United Way ALICE report (asset limited, income-constrained, employed), the cost of food
increased in Pennsylvania by 18 percent from 2007 to 2017.
The original US federal poverty level (FPL) was based on the premise that food accounts for one-third of a household budget, so that a total household budget was the cost of food multiplied by three. Yet with the large increases in the cost of other parts of the household budget, food now accounts for only 12 percent of the bare minimum budget for a family or a single adult in Pennsylvania, according to the report.
The report notes that because the methodology of the FPL has not evolved in tandem with changing lifestyles and work demands, the FPL significantly underestimates the cost of even the most minimal household budget today.
I'm inclined to believe this because I had to wait until the weekend to attempt this challenge. There was no way I’d be able to stay within budget during the week, as both my husband and I not only work full-time (I work 40 hours per week, and he works 50 hours and travels throughout eastern Pennsylvania), but we are also involved in ministry during the week and sometimes weekends.
What I’m saying is that we order take-out from restaurants - a lot.
We began this challenge Saturday morning and ended Sunday evening. Just finding two whole days to do this was challenging because we weren't home the entire time. My kids also spent the day with their grandparents on Sunday, so they ate lunch and dinner there. My husband had band practice Saturday morning, and played in the band at church on Sunday morning.
This meant that there would be a reduction in the amount of food being prepared for those meals.
I also had some food items that didn't cost anything, as well as some items that were meant for earlier in the week, but our busy schedule during the week meant bumping those meals to the weekend. Eating it during the week just didn't pan out (no pun intended).
Below, I list out the meals prepared over the weekend. I broke the cost down by package, not by portion used. I do realize that this may not provide the most accurate picture, or could determine whether I could stay within the $600 monthly budget, but the goal was to just be mindful of living within a relatively strict budget.
Here’s a breakdown:
Maier’s Italian Bread ($2.48)
Provolone cheese ($2.68)
1 quart of milk ($1.73) (only my daughter drinks the milk)
Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal ($2.50)
Me and kids: Chicken (FREE) LCCM had some leftover chicken at the end of the day Friday, and we didn't want it going to waste).
Cucumbers in vinegar (free from garden)
Husband: Ramen and two hot dogs ($3) He had band practice and came home later in the afternoon
La Croix: ($3.38) *note: We had this left over from a meeting from the previous week
Club crackers - ($2.52)
Cream cheese - $1.62
Rotini noodles ($1.28)
Tomato sauce: FREE (from garden)
Parmesan cheese: ($2.36)
(cost noted in Saturday’s breakfast)
Chicken wings ($8.99) (we had these thawing from earlier in the week)
Ham: FREE gift from a friend
Tuna steak ($5) (was thawing from earlier in the week because we weren’t home to eat it)
Cucumbers in vinegar
Club crackers and cream cheese
Animal crackers (tub for $3.98)
(Cost noted in Saturday’s meal)
Total cost = $45.02
Not included in this budget:
Caribou coffee k-cups - $12.89 for 24-count bought in July. My husband and I consumed four cups of coffee over the weekend.
What I learned
I went over budget, but I could have stayed within budget had we planned better. However, there were some wild cards thrown into the mix, too.
We had received some free items from LCCM, from our garden and from a friend who gifted us a ham.
The items that really hurt us were the chicken wings and the tuna steak.
Both items were supposed to get cooked earlier that week, but we were busy so it got bumped to the weekend.
In my experience this weekend, however, the Thrifty Food Plan does not seem to take into account the activity in people's lives. I feel that, with careful planning, I could live within this budget - and I did at one time when we weren't involved in any activities and we only had our son - but it seems to assume a mother and/or father has ample time to cook and prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for four people seven days a week and that everyone is home all the time to eat it.
My husband, for example, travels throughout Pennsylvania, and he doesn't really know when he'll have a chance to eat or what his options will be that day in different counties. He doesn't exactly have a set schedule.
We are both active in ministry, which doesn't always fall on days that are convenient when we have less going on. This tends to fall during the week, and is a critical piece of our lives. This means one or both of us eat take-out two nights a week.
And sometimes other things just come up and we can't all make it home for dinner that night.
One day, my son and daughter will be involved in after-school activities and we'll be on the go then, too.
Additionally, the plan doesn't take into account personal care items such as diapers, wipes, shampoo, conditioner, razors, soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper and Lysol (If you can find it. Thanks, COVID!)
I used to be good at budgeting meals, as my husband and I had to live within a fairly tight budget for years, especially when our son was born.
Things had gotten better financially over the last five years, and we just stopped being so mindful of our spending. And with more going on, it's a trade off for convenience.
In the past when things weren't so good financially, I would calculate the cost of each meal in my head, projecting how long each item would last. I would look at a bag of apples and think things like ‘If I eat an apple each day, it will last for a week, but if I eat one every other day, I can make it last two weeks.’
That was how I had to think all the time. It made me resourceful, but it was limiting and exhausting. I spent so much time and energy trying to figure out how to make do with what we had that it became this all-consuming quest.
For years, I’d ration, use coupons, find free food when I could, buy in bulk, shop at discount stores requiring multiple trips to different stores, grow vegetables and herbs, and just tell myself that I can't have my favorite foods very often (seafood is my weakness!)
We may have only gone out to eat a few times a month. Sometimes, not at all.
This weekend really got me thinking back to those lean times, and I never realized the mental gymnastics that were required to stretch groceries and, ultimately, money.
I started thinking about how others may be struggling now, not just in this area, but all areas of life.
2020 has been the most collectively challenging year for all of us.
When an opportunity presents itself, let's help to lighten each other's loads.
Andrea Gillhoolley is the Director of Development and Marketing for Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (717) 272 4400 ext. 211.
What does homelessness look like in Lebanon County? What are the causes of homelessness? What are some local organizations doing to alleviate the issue?
Bryan Smith, LCCM’s executive director, recently asked two local nonprofit leaders these questions and more during Facebook Live chats to get a sense of the issue on the local level.
Homelessness is defined in a number of different ways. There are two federal definitions coined by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) At its core, homelessness is defined as an individual or family lacking a fixed, regular, and nighttime residence.
The first video is Smith's discussion with Mike Ritter, co-chair of the Lebanon County Coalition to End Homelessness, who explained the big picture of local homelessness as part of LCCM's Hurdles to Housing challenge. The second is with Sue Blouch, executive director of the Lebanon Rescue Mission about the mission's role in the community, its men's and women's shelters, the different causes of homelessness between men and women, and the Lebanon Free Clinic.
Here are 5 things we learned.
1. Homelessness is hard to spot in Lebanon County
When people think of homelessness, what often comes to mind are people who living unsheltered on the streets in big cities such as Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. In Lebanon County, it is not quite as apparent as in big cities.
“Commonly what we see in our communities is what’s considered doubling up…where a family doesn’t have their own place to stay, so they’re doubling up and staying in someone else’s house or apartment,” said Mike Ritter, co-chair of the Lebanon County Coalition to End Homelessness.
How 60 days at FRESH Start helped one man save money, secure a full-time job
FRESH Start a safe haven for mom, 3 kids
With rental units, doubling up is often a violation of lease agreements. In those cases, people may instead “couch surf,” that is, moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another. “They’ll stay with a buddy for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks even and then hop around to another person – a family member – and they’ll just kind of go through this rotation trying to keep their helps from getting in trouble or evicted from their rental places,” Ritter said.
Ritter added that individuals experiencing homelessness in Lebanon County may sleep in abandoned buildings, storage units, cars and hotels.
2. State education data give most detailed picture of homelessness in Lebanon County
A precise picture of homelessness in Lebanon County is difficult to obtain due to a lack of sufficient data collection.
The most detailed data comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 2017-18 Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness report.
In Lebanon County, 716 students were identified as being homeless in some capacity – 542 alone were identified within the Lebanon School District.
“We have to keep in mind those are 700 individual students who are also often times connected to a family, parents or other household members who are also likely homeless and struggling as well,” Ritter said.
At LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, 126 guests were served in the 2019-20 year. Half the guests at FRESH Start at any given time are children.
3. Major causes of homelessness are varied
Some of the common, “big players” include low wages or insufficient incomes, Ritter said.
“That includes people who are employed, but not to the level or degree where they can really be self sustaining or self sufficient,” he said. In addition, unemployment is a factor, and may be more so now during the pandemic.
The unemployment rate is 11.8 percent in Lebanon County, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a decrease from a high of 13.7 percent in April. In February, the unemployment rate for the county was 4.5 percent.
These factors, Ritter says, often go together with a lack of affordable housing, which is both a national and local issue.
Over one-quarter of Lebanon County - 28.2 percent of residents - live in unaffordable housing situations, according to a 2017 United Way Needs Assessment report. Unaffordable housing is defined as households where monthly costs for housing exceed 30 percent of the monthly income. Roughly 39 percent of Lebanon City residents are living in unaffordable housing situations and nearly one-fifth of survey respondents reported that affordable housing was an unmet need (18.6 percent).
The poorest renter households outpaces the number of potential affordable housing units available in Lebanon County, according to a 2015 housing study by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
According to the report, there are 3,305 renter households living at or below 30 percent of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development adjusted median family income level. The supply of affordable housing units for renter households in this income level is just 2,100 units.
For families with greater incomes, but who also rent, more affordable housing options are available, which means they have more options and will have an easier time finding a new rental unit. But for those rental households with the lowest income levels, who are most at-risk for eviction or losing stable housing, they will have much greater market competition, Ritter said, adding there are many other ramifications that go along with this scenario.
A virtual housing summit was held Aug 11-12 to discuss local innovative housing programs, Ritter said, adding that a funding request for a local comprehensive housing market study in the works. “We want to get a baseline of post-COVID impact and then be able to track that going forward as it relates to housing,” he said.
4. Causes of homelessness tend to differ between men and women
Aside from financial and housing instability issues, there are other factors that tend to be distinctive between men and women at the local level, at least from the vantage point of Sue Blouch, executive director of the Lebanon Rescue Mission.
A cycle of relationship breakdowns often comes into play for many of the women who reside at the mission’s Agape Family Shelter. “The women at Agape just seem to young today and so they’re in insecure relationships so when those relationships break down, they’re on their own,” she said. “Now it’s them and their children, sometimes very small children. They start by going to family and living with family, which is great and works out for a short period of time and then becomes problematic for a lot of reasons."
For a high percentage of men at the mission’s Men’s Shelter, drug addiction and alcoholism are common culprits, and in many instances relate back to unaddressed childhood trauma.
“Alcoholism is rampant in our community,” Blouch said.
“The other thing, sadly is that trauma piece – coming from a childhood of chaos and then all of a sudden ending up on the street by themselves because the chaotic environment they were growing up in was either so volatile they couldn’t stay or they just get through out and the trauma creates these behavioral issues, which creates this cycle.”
Blouch noted that the men on their programs are getting younger – the youngest currently is 20 years old and the oldest men are in their 60s. “We have both ends of those spectrum's, but what’s beautiful about that picture is the older men in their 60s who spent a lifetime on the street, in and out of addictions, really spend some quality time with the young men and say ‘learn from my mistakes, do not wait until you’re 60 years old to get a handle on your life."
5. Faith-based organizations across US are at the forefront of homelessness program innovation
Almost 60 percent of emergency shelter beds, what many consider the ‘safety net of all safety nets’ for the homeless, are provided through faith-based organizations (FBOs), according to a Baylor University report that analyzed faith-based organizations in 11 U.S. cities. Other key findings include:
Blouch said that encounter broke her heart.
“So, imagine what that does to someone and the level of trauma and dysfunction that this alone brings into someone’s life.”
Written by Andrea Gillhoolley, Director of Development and Marketing, Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Contact her at email@example.com or call (717) 272 4400 ext. 211 to find out how you can become a supporter of LCCM to help change lives in Lebanon County.