ABOVE PHOTO: Dr. Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. (Photos/montcopa.org)
NORRISTOWN, Pa. – During their board meeting on September 15, the Montgomery County Commissioners took action to allocate an additional $1.2 million dollars in funding to support the county’s unhoused population through increased street outreach and emergency hoteling services.
Rising rents, the lack of affordable housing, the impacts of Hurricane Ida, and the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19 have all contributed to worsening housing instability and homelessness in Montgomery County.
“These expanded services will help our most vulnerable residents as we continue to tackle the housing and homeless crisis in our County,” said Dr. Valerie A. Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. “This immediate support is a short-term strategy to help us manage through the crisis. It supplements existing County funding we have allocated to build affordable housing units and implement supportive programs to address the root causes of housing insecurity.”
Data presented during the board meeting showed the urgent need to serve people experiencing homelessness across Montgomery County. Currently, there are over 70 families with children on the waitlist to get into a shelter, a number that has more than doubled since last year. Street outreach teams are serving almost 600 people countywide who are living in a place not meant for habitation, representing a 32% increase from last year. Finally, calls to 2-1-1 from people seeking emergency housing help have more than doubled from last year.
“We know that our Black and Brown neighbors disproportionately bear the burden of homelessness and housing insecurity,” said Kenneth E. Lawrence, Jr., vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. “This help in the immediate term joins other medium and long-term investments being made by the County, but we cannot do it alone. We are calling on all levels of government and other partners to join us in our efforts to support our residents experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”
The $1.2M investment will expand the Your Way Home Street Outreach services adding three more staff to the homeless street outreach team. This will offer more comprehensive 24/7 crisis coverage to respond to people experiencing homelessness throughout Montgomery County.
This investment also includes funding to provide lifesaving, emergency hoteling to vulnerable people living outside. This includes serving children who are sleeping outside, pregnant people, people with medical or behavioral health conditions that put them at risk, and people who are outside during weather emergencies, such as Code Blue.
“What really ends homelessness are upstream efforts and systems change that address housing affordability and homeless prevention,” said Kayleigh Silver, administrator for the Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community Development. “We must invest our time and money in a both/and approach: responding to the current crisis to provide relief, while also investing time and money into long-term, effective solutions towards full recovery and the solution to ending homelessness.”
During the meeting, officials reiterated that homelessness is a countywide problem that will take an all-hands-on-deck approach. Actions can be taken by individuals, community leaders, and elected officials to support solutions to address the root causes of housing instability and homelessness, including:
Individuals: Support housing development in your community; call your local elected officials; and consider donating or volunteering with Your Way Home
Landlords: Become a Your Way Home landlord; participate in eviction prevention and mediation services; be a champion for providing safe, accessible housing
Community & Faith Leaders: Consider providing emergency housing support; engage with your local elected officials; advocate for local solutions for local neighbors
Municipalities: Provide emergency, missing middle, and affordable housing for your constituents; perform an analysis of local housing needs; review local zoning regulations for consistency and inclusivity; allow for Accessory Dwelling Units
State Legislature: Amend Act 137 to allow for more flexible funding for affordable housing; support initiatives to remove the cap from PHARE funding; increase funding to the Homeless Assistance Program out of the Human Services Block Grant
Federal Government: Expand Housing Choice Vouchers; support the creation of a permanent rental assistance fund via the Eviction Crisis Act; increase funding for HUD’s homeless assistance programs
The $1.2M investment in street outreach services will help address the housing crisis in the immediate term, joining other long-term affordable housing investments already made by the County. During their August 18, 2022, meeting the Commissioners approved $32.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for affordable housing. This will build 325 new affordable housing units, fund two new temporary housing facilities, preserve existing affordable units, and create a foundation for future affordable housing.