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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hays

Outbursts and a Call for Compassion in Lower Prov

Updated: Apr 8

Lower Providence has become a fault-line in the ongoing debate about how Montgomery County municipalities should respond to rising homelessness. 

Half the speakers urged compassion and extending a helping hand to those who are experiencing housing insecurity, while the other half – many wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with #Spoiled – questioned the risk-level of the individuals who may soon be living at Genny’s Place in Eagleville. On the agenda Thursday night was a public hearing related to a zoning change necessary to allow a 60-bed supportive housing community, which would be operated by Resources for Human Development (RHD). 

Janelle Krais, a retired pastor, reminded the audience during public comment that not everybody is fortunate enough to have family or friends to turn to during hard times. She was just one of several faith leaders who spoke in favor of Genny’s Place. 

Joe Ferrarro, of Audubon, said the community should not reject an organization that desires to open its doors to those in need. 

“I believe in the words of the Beatitudes and the ‘Golden Rule’,” he said, referencing the Bible’s call to help the poor and hungry. 

It was a night of outbursts and cat-calls from opponents. For example, Mr. Ferraro was told to “shut the (expletive) up,” as he returned to his seat by a township resident. Another resident interrupted several speakers with boos and comments from the back row, despite the township solicitor and Board President Janine Darby urging decorum and the importance of giving everyone a chance to speak. 

Another resident yelled from the podium that he was tired of the middle class supporting everyone else. 

“They don’t work!!” someone in a black #Spoiled shirt shouted. (The shirts are a reference to a comment allegedly made by the project’s attorney, Mark Jonas, during a previous meeting.) 

Who are you? 

Many opponents of the RHD proposal for supportive housing questioned what kinds of people will be living there. 

“Who are these people? Are they Lower Providence residents, are they coming from Philadelphia, Pottstown?” Tom Pagnotti asked. 

Other speakers referenced child molesters, immigrants and “migrants” (several times), and Norristown. 

“I don’t want you bringing Norristown to Lower Providence,” Don Ketchem said. 

Sophia Pham, a township resident and board member of the Norristown Hospitality Center, said she supports the proposal. Fear hinders people from making decisions based on facts, she said. Pham pointed out that Norristown’s leaders have been saying that they are tired of other municipalities not providing space and resources for the unhoused. Pham urged the audience to remember the common struggles people everywhere face. 

“When it rains, all of us get wet,” she said. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Peter MacFarland pointed out that legitimate land uses – under the state municipal code – must be zoned for in every township in specific zoning districts. Otherwise, the applicant can apply to put it anywhere they choose. 

At a Feb. 28 township Planning Commission meeting, Mark Jonas, the attorney representing RHD, said supportive housing is a “legitimate land use.” The text amendment is needed because supportive housing – defined as short-term housing with wraparound social services – is not listed as a permissible use in the township’s Institutional Overlay District. 

The public hearing, which lasted about two hours, was recessed for about 10 minutes when resident Kathie Eskie refused to sit down after her three minutes of public comment expired. The board appeared to negotiate with her and allowed her to speak again once everyone else had spoken. 

The Board of Supervisors is expected to issue a ruling at its April 18 meeting. 

Over 1,000 single adults in Montgomery County experienced homelessness last year, according to RHD, which is the only year-round, short-term housing resource in our county. Their staff offers supportive, 24/7 services. Genny’s Place would not be a night-time shelter. Instead, the facility would offer comprehensive services to shorten periods of homelessness. Those services include financial literacy education, life coaching, benefits counseling, job support, behavioral health, and more, according to RHD. 

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1 commento

29 apr

I am pretty confident that Lower Providence has compassion. However that does not mean blind faith that Genny’s Place will be managed appropriately. Bullying residents is not a successful plan.

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