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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Homelessness Task Force Debates ‘Fair Share’ of Services Between Norristown, Pottstown & Others

Since the spring, a large panel of elected officials and other stakeholders have met virtually to delineate “actionable” projects to address rising homelessness and runaway housing costs in Montgomery County.

These numbers tell a story of desperation....

The group, chaired by Commissioner Ken Lawrence, has met three times in private. However, the Montco 30% Project filed an open records request for the group’s Zoom recordings, which the county provided. A summary is below, along with a link and password to watch the entire 1.5 hour recording from May 26.

Tent encampment: “Not residents of my community.”

One point of contention during the May 26 meeting was pinpointing where people living in the Norristown and Pottstown tent encampments are originally from.

Rep. Greg Scott, who represents Norristown in Harrisburg, said: “They are not residents of my community, " adding that it “doesn’t mean that we remove the empathy and it doesn’t mean we still don’t provide services.”

(Approximately 33-minute mark in video)

During the fall of 2022, Norristown completed a month-long survey of encampments and found that 78 percent of people were not from Norristown. As their report notes, people were from other areas of Montgomery County, including Ardmore, Royersford, and Collegeville, as well as Philadelphia and as far away as Florida.

One of Scott’s Democratic colleagues, Rep. Joe Ciresi, represents the Borough of Pottstown. It is his contention that homeless individuals are drawn to Pottstown, as well as Norristown, because that is where social services are offered, such as meals, showers, recovery assistance, counseling, and more. Lawrence agreed with Scott and Ciresi.

Pottstown was in the news this past year for challenging the warming center run by Beacon of Hope, issuing code violations and forcing the staff to consider alternatives to help the unsheltered.

(Full disclosure: The author, Mike Hays, works in Rep. Ciresi’s district office)

“It’s very simplistic to say, ‘They’re not from here,’” responded Mark Boorse, director of program development for Access Services. His organization has a contract with Montgomery County and provides street outreach services to vulnerable populations.

Boorse said homelessness looks different throughout the county, with people more likely to sleep in cars (not tents) in places like Lansdale and Souderton. Localized responses – based on community needs – are what is needed, he added.

(Approximately 40-minute mark in video)

According to Norristown Council President Thomas Lepera, the encampments are simply born out of those two communities being a “dumping ground” for social services – services that “rich, white people” do not want in their communities.

Lepera implored all Montgomery County municipalities to take on at least 10 beds to help solve this crisis. His comments came in response to Dottie Miller, who questioned the feasibility of calculating what the “fair share” would look like for each municipality.

“That’s not a heavy lift for anybody. We’re asking you to find 10 beds,” Lepera responded.

Scope & Next Steps

County Human Services Director Tamara Williams has been leading the virtual discussions of the Homelessness Task Force, which is scheduled to issue a report around November of this year. During the first meeting on April 24, she said the main goals include identifying projects where progress can be made within six to eight months.

Solutions and policy prescriptions were put to an informal vote of the 46 members. By the end of the second meeting, the group had discussed the first four topics. They fell into the categories below:

  • Prevention

  • Localizing Homeless Response

  • Multi-focus wraparound programs

  • Single-focus programs (eg: "Pallet" homes, tiny homes, zoning issues, affordability)

  • Building partnerships & models of success

  • Awareness and public participation

  • Population specific approaches

Members also weighed in on each solution with a designation of “high, medium, or low” in three areas: 1). Barriers to implementation 2). Cost 3). Efficacy

Montgomery County published the PowerPoint slides from its April, May, and June meetings on its website. Minutes are posted when they are approved (but not recordings). The next meeting is scheduled for July 28. We hope to provide updates from the June 30 and July 28 meetings in the near future via additional open records requests.

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