When I introduced myself to my first class as a new teacher in Reading a few years ago, I showed them an illustration of the Schuylkill River and pointed out the different places I had lived and worked along its winding course: Spring City, Phoenixville, Pottstown.
My propensity for discovery in new environs – by choice – led me down a path of unique opportunities. By contrast, people living outside in the elements near the Schuylkill River will soon be forced, against their will yet again, to find a new temporary home while battling increasingly harsh temperatures.
Their government, in this case Pottstown, is telling them to vacate borough-owned property out of concern for their “safety.” The very same town that challenged the legality of warming centers in churches last year is once again putting on its Scrooge costume just-in-time for the holiday season. Between 20 and 30 homeless individuals are expected to be displaced.
And just like in Norristown, we will resist.
In an article published over the weekend in the Times-Herald, Pottstown Borough Manager Justin Keller explained why this action is being taken.
Keller said in a statement to MediaNews Group that “a number of tents, structures and other items of the unhoused” were found on borough-owned property “within the floodway near Keystone Boulevard.”
Keller maintained borough officials have “taken steps to proactively address these concerns with a focus on compassion and understanding,” and cited “safety reasons” for the move.
Keller stressed “this unified effort will be conducted as promptly and efficiently as possible but still providing for dignity, respect, and compassion for the unhoused needing to be relocated.”
“The safety of individuals located in this area, as well as the well-being of the general public, has prompted the Borough’s decision to initiate a comprehensive effort,” he said. “This undertaking includes ample notice, outreach and engagement, relocation of affected individuals, the removal of structures, and the cleanup of any refuse and debris within the floodway zone.”
In the same article, Access Services Director of Program Services Mark Boorse gave his viewpoints of shuffling people from one location to another outside.
“Telling people they can’t be where they are creates a hardship, and the question is how will they fare if they have to move to another spot, and how long will that be viable before they’re told again to leave?” Boorse said, adding that “it’s not resolving anything. It just moves people around.”
Boorse has learned that some people have been there at least a year, while others settled in more recently, having relocated from other areas where sweeps were conducted.
While Boorse previously said the process in Norristown was “handled in a respectful way,” the (current) situation occurring along the same trail is different.
“This is far more than that. So 20 or 25 people is just significantly a larger number of people to … help,” Boorse said, adding “this is larger than what we’ve seen in the last couple years.”
“Usually, what’s happened in the past is it’s been smaller. It’s been half-a-dozen or maybe 10 people, and it’s because of a circumstance or incident,” Boorse said.
Boorse recalled an instance where a portion of woods behind a park in Pottstown had to be sprayed for mosquitos, prompting the need for people to leave.
“This … is larger and … it’s a broader response to the issue of homelessness. There’s not a specific thing that is requiring this to happen,” Boorse said.
Council’s next two meetings are a Nov. 8 “Committee of the Whole” (work session) and a Nov. 13 regular Council meeting (both at 7 p.m.). Virtual participation is offered.
Since last November, the local press has reported extensively about a zoning violation issued to Beacon of Hope Church and both the legal and human services fall-out from that action. It has created a tragic situation where willing volunteers and churches potentially cannot provide life-saving services during the winter months.
You can read the backstory in these two articles in the Mercury:
Beacon of Hope indicated it would rotate among St. Paul’s, Bethel Community Church of Pottstown, St. James Lutheran Church and Christ Episcopal Church over the six-month period from Nov. 1 to May 1. According to the Mercury, over the past three years, the organization has provided shelter and warmth to those in need, filling beds more than 12,500 times and serving more than 18,000 meals. Additionally, the team has assisted nearly 100 individuals in transition into stable housing.