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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Norristown Police Sought Names of Homeless

The Norristown Police Department tried to obtain names of the unhoused from Montgomery County more than two months before news broke that Norristown and Peco were in communication to clear a homeless encampment along the Schuylkill River Trail.

According to emails obtained by the Montco 30% Project, Norristown municipal officials were also positioning themselves for a public relations skirmish surrounding the issue of rising encampments. This coming Thursday, Sept. 21, is the deadline for campers to vacate the Peco-owned property, parallel to the SRT.

On March 3 of this year, more than two months before the Peco story broke in the press, Acting Police Chief Michael Bishop emailed Rossy Calderon, community liaison with Norristown PD:

“Please send me the names of all the homeless that were engaged during the most recent PIT (point-in-time) count. We need to cross-reference our database to come up with some type of number for (Administrator) Crandall (Jones).”

Calderon responded, “The information you are requesting is not available. The PIT recollected data was gathered by participants and compiled in the private software of Your Way Home, Montgomery County Health and Human Services. Although we are on the board, the information hasn’t been shared. Not making the information public has been typical in the past.”

To which Bishop responded: “This is not for the public, it is for us. Please get the information for me.”

Then there is a back-and-forth, including a commitment to ask for the data again. It is unclear whether or not the NPD were able to obtain the personal information of homeless individuals. Your Way Home is Montgomery County’s single-point-of-entry for those experiencing housing insecurity to receive services. For some time now, Your Way Home service providers — including Access Services – have been providing the homeless with tents, due to the fact that our county lacks a year-round shelter.

Friction with Your Way Home

In May, Norristown’s Administrator (city manager) Jones wrote to a Peco government affairs official: “Let’s have a quick discussion on this, as I think the County (via the Trail Rangers) should have some part in ensuring things don’t get off the rails. After all, they gave out all the tents to help facilitate the encampments….”

Going back to last year, Jones asked to speak to Calderon of the police department after she was appointed to the Your Way Home Board of Directors. Jones wrote: “Congratulations on being offered the opportunity to serve on the YWH board. I’d like to speak with you about it so you are clear on the Municipal Council’s position on both the YWH program and their methodology for service delivery.”

Based on emails provided in response to the Right to Know request, it is not clear what Council’s “position” on Your Way Home entails. However, it is clear that around August 2022, Norristown municipal officials began to prepare for a public relations push surrounding the growing challenge of unhoused people.

Lisa Bobyock, assistant to Jones, wrote to public relations specialist Kevin Feeley on Aug. 11: “Also, I will reach out to our Police, Fire, EMT and Public Works departments to see if we can get an estimate on the cost to Norristown, due to the homeless population encampments. Have a great rest of the day Kevin and we look forward to your assistance with talking points and factoids.”

A “teams survey” was conducted around this time among Norristown officials. The results were not shared.

Also in the news this week, Councilor Tiffani Hendley faces charges in an elder care fraud case in which she is accused of two counts of receiving stolen property, theft by unlawful taking, criminal conspiracy to commit theft by unlawful taking, misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions, and criminal conspiracy to misapply entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions.

Norristown Council’s next public meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are currently being held at the MCIU building, 2 W. Lafayette Street.

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