The challenge of seeking shelter in Allentown

Getting shelter starts with 211

By Tom Hiller

Lehigh County is ranked first in Pennsylvania counties requesting housing & shelter services under PA 211. The city of Allentown is a major contributor to this ranking, data collected has shown an estimated 54.7 percent of renters in Allentown pay more than 30 percent of their income towards paying rent. From 2000 to 2019, Median monthly rent costs have risen from $541 to $1,004, 85% increase, while median family income has increased by only $37,356 to $44,755, a 19.8% increase.

These numbers describe a city that is getting more expensive to live in, and more difficult for Allentownians to find affordable housing. If a family, renting an apartment, were to lose out on critical income, what would happen? Would they be kicked out of their apartment? Where would they go? What resources do they have available to them? Their best bet is to call 211.

PA 211 is a resource hub that directs its callers to a wide range of local services within their region–PA 211 East covers Allentown. There have been over 14,000 calls directed from Lehigh County the past year, over 9,000 of them have been requests for aid relating to housing & shelters.

Let’s give our hypothetical family a name, the Jones family, and they have a husband, wife, and three children. So, if this Jones family were in danger of being evicted, the first step should be dialing 211 because 211 is the only way to get a referral to a shelter. The Jones family would need to find a shelter that is able to accomodate a family, that allows both men as well as women and children to reside together.

After Dialing 211, the first prompt will ask you if you want to continue the rest of the call in English, or in Spanish. Next, you will need to type in your current zip code so that the call will be sent to PA 211 East. From there, the call will direct you to two options: for housing issues press nine, and for any other issues press two. The Jones family would press nine, and they would be sent to the next set of screening questions to help the operator to understand the specifics of their situation. Screening questions include whether you need help with issues paying rent, whether you are currently living on the streets, in a car, or any place not comfortably suitable for a person, if you are fleeing domestic abuse, if you are a veteran or if you need help with utility issues. Since the Jones family is having a problem with eviction, they will press one. They may have to wait on hold, but at some point an operator will take down their information and get back to them when a shelter is available that meets their needs.

The only issue is this is unfortunately a long-term solution for a short-term problem. While the operator can direct their callers to services and information that can provide some assistance, for those looking for housing & shelter relief, it is a long and difficult process. Almost all shelters do not allow walk-ins except for emergency temporary shelters, which means a person and/or family must be waitlisted for an unclear amount of time. Eligibility is another issue. Shelters fall into distinct categories: families only, women and children only, men only, and adults only. The harsh reality is that the Jones family might have to choose between splitting up to get into shelters or staying together as a family. And because there are more people in Allentown who need shelter than there are available beds, after the call to 211 is complete, the wait will have to begin.

For families, shelter could be out of reach

By Vicki Zandier

Allentown offers several resources to help unhoused individuals get back on their feet. But families often get overlooked. Many shelters accept only women and children and some accept only men. This is primarily for safety reasons. “Men’s and women’s shelters cannot be run the same,” explains Stephanie Appel with Allentown Rescue Mission. ”One huge reason is that women typically have children with them. The children need apartment-style housing to keep them safe.” If children are in a shelter that also houses adults the children need to be kept safe which require private rooms with a lock. “We currently have dormitory-style housing for the men in the emergency shelter,” explains Appel. “Also, there is the problem of school districts and visitation from fathers. Another big factor is the safety of the women from spouses, boyfriends, and pimps. We would need much more security. All of this requires licensing and capital.” For example, when women escape domestic violence they need not only shelter but protection from their abusers.

There are only two shelters that accept families and they face the same problem that all shelters in Allentown do. They are full. This unfortunate reality leads to families becoming separated if they are able to gain shelter. “Being homeless is difficult enough on children,” explains Roslyn Kuba of Family Promise, an organization that provides shelter and resources to entire families in order to help them succeed. “That should not be a reason to split up a family. Two income families can still be one paycheck away from homelessness. If the family was together before the crisis and will remain together after the crisis then they should be together as they go through the crisis. It is not only men who are separated but in the past and still many shelters will not take boys over the age of 12. Our belief is that the family unit needs to stay intact. A teenager should not be separated from his siblings or parent because there is no place for them to go together.” Family Promise sees themselves as mentors– as a hand up, not a hand out.

Salvation Army allows only women and children but no men. Allentown Rescue Mission accepts only men. This leads to families becoming separated if they are able to secure a spot in one of these shelters. They want to accept women and offer assistance to families but they do not see it as feasible. Sixth Street Shelter has the same mindset regarding unhoused families. “Keeping families together in a safe space is important because children being removed from their families can be extremely traumatic,” says Robbie Matthews of Sixth Street Shelter. “Children being separated from their families can be psychologically stressful and create other barriers.” Protecting the physical and mental health of children is important to all of the workers. They provide nutrition, medical support, mental health support, wellness workshops, and fun activities outside of the shelter to raise the children’s spirits. They are expanding their clientele to accept first time pregnant mothers and foster care individuals who have aged out of the system.

Who can go where?

By Dana Bonner

The city of Allentown has a myriad of shelter options for those in need of housing from emergency shelters to prevention, rehabilitation, and domestic abuse services. However, even with the existing options, there are still many in Allentown in need of housing and may struggle to get placed into a shelter due to restrictions. Some of the typical restrictions include:

  • ID is required
  • Limited operation hours
  • Only one stay allowed
  • Must have verifiable income
  • Age restrictions
  • Required sobriety through drug screening and required substance abuse counseling
  • Shelters can often be too full to let new people in

Allentown Rescue Mission

(610) 740-5500

355 Hamilton St., Allentown, PA. 18101

Serves: Men 18 or older

Hours: Open 24 hours, 7 days a week

Funding: private donations

Mission: To rescue, rehabilitate, and restore homeless men through faith-centered programs based on accountability and compassion.

Includes the Emergency Shelter, Transformation Program, the Clean Team Workforce which where participants earn wages performing real work in the community and learning valuable life skills, the DeSales Free Medical Clinic which offers free medical services to the clients of the Allentown Rescue Mission, and Books to the Rescue where the men in the Transformation Program collect, catalogue, and organize donated books. The books are then distributed to local elementary schools.

The Sixth Street Shelter

(610) 435-1490

219 N. 6th St, #4111, Allentown, PA 18102

Serves: families

Hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM weekdays

Funding: private donations

Mission: Sixth Street Shelter assists families experiencing homelessness secure safe housing through family-centered services, in-house programming, and referrals to community resources while advocating that affordable housing is a human right

Families must have verifiable income to be taken (TANF and child support are acceptable)

Shelters can only be accessed once, previous participants are not eligible

Salvation Army of Allentown (two locations)

(610) 432-0128

344 N 7th St, Allentown, PA 18102, 24 hours, 7 days a week

(610) 432-0129

144 N Eighth St, Allentown, PA 18101, closed on weekends, 9-4pm weekdays

Serves: “All Without Discrimination”

Hours: open 24 hours, 7 days a week and the other only 9-4pm weekdays

Includes emergency shelter, transitional shelters and housing, permanent support housing, re-entry resources, medical assistance, and assistance with addiction

Servicing All Without Discrimination policy: “In providing its programs and services to the homeless community, The Salvation Army is committed to accommodating all those in need without unlawful discrimination or harassment based on age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, disability, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other characteristic in accordance with our capacity to help.”

Family Promise

(610) 351-1368

1346 Hamilton St, Allentown, PA 18102

Serves: families

Hours: 8 AM – 4 PM weekdays

Mission: Our mission is to help families who are in need and demonstrate the ability to benefit from assistance provided by Family Promise. The mission is carried out by a network of congregations and other community resources working together to meet the immediate, basic needs of displaced families and assist them to build patterns that will bring long-term stability.

Offers the shelter, Hospitality Program, Aftercare/Stabilization Program, and Prevention Program

Victory House of Lehigh Valley

(610) 691-3373

314 Fillmore St, Bethlehem, PA 18015

Serves: Men between 18 and 65

Hours: Open 9 AM – 5 Pm weekdays, 12 PM – 4 PM weekends

Funding: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The Lehigh County and Northampton County Divisions of Drugs and Alcohol, Northampton County Mental Health, grants from cities, private foundations, churches, businesses (in-kind), private grants, and from generous individuals

Mission: Victory House is a not-for-profit organization committed to addressing the challenges faced by men and veterans in their transition from homelessness. They are provided shelter services and supportive resources to move toward independence in the community. Our work is an expression of our personal faith, hope, and compassion.

Only accepting Veteran referrals for TH/GPD at this time and evening and weekend referrals not available

Includes Emergency shelter and transitional housing

Valley Youth House: Lehigh Valley Shelter

(610) 691-1200

539 8th Ave, Bethlehem, PA 18018

Serves: ages 12 to 17

Hours: Open 24 hours, 7 days a wek

Funding: City of Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) Program funds, and fills in with more flexible foundation dollars and private donations.

Mission: Valley Youth House is the catalyst for youth to achieve their desired future through genuine relationships that support families, ensure safe places, and build community connections.

Offers transitional housing, in-school programs, LGBTQ+ services, life skills development, mentoring, permanency services, Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network services (SWAN), prevention, street outreach, substance abuse support, treatment and therapeutic services

Turning Point of Lehigh Valley, Inc

(610) 797-0530

444 E Susquehanna St, Allentown, PA 18103

Serves: victims of domestic abuse and their children

Hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM weekdays

Mission: to eliminate domestic and intimate partner abuse in the Lehigh Valley through empowerment, education, and engagement.

Offers housing program, counseling services, outreach education, and a 24 hour helpline (610-437-3369)

Can take referrals and questions 24 hours a day

YMCA Warming Station

(610) 351-9622

425 15th St, Allentown, PA 18102

Serves: single men and single women (unable to serve families)

Hours: 7:00pm to 7:00am weekdays,

Funding: various grants

Offers a winter seasonal shelter program

“Our Warming Station guests will always find themselves greeted with kindness. The Allentown Branch’s Warming Station provides a safe place to sleep and a dignified sense of community for neighbors in need.”

Requires ID for intake

Must have no open criminal warrants or sexual offender status found on background check through Meghan’s Law, Magistrate and Appellate Court.

Coming soon:

Hope Village of Allentown

(610) 351-0760

221 N 7th ST Allentown, PA 18102

Serves: anyone 18 years of age or accompanied by a parent or guardian

Funded through the CARES Act

“Hope Village of Allentown will be a community where homeless people can feel safe and secure their belongings, go to work, and live life. A place that offers addiction and mental health services to individuals who need them.”

Must be a U.S. citizen or legal currently living in Allentown P.A. or within a 3-mile radius of Allentown

After 30 days, client’s who struggle with addiction will be required to attend substance abuse counseling and will be subject to drug screenings for illicit drugs

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