A lot of times I ignore the posts which appear on the social media app NextDoor. But recently one kind of stopped me in my tracks because it was talking about a growing homeless encampment along the Schuylkill Valley Trail which so many people in our area use.
This post was from someone who am I guessing is a cyclist or a runner who uses the Schuylkill Valley Trail. And then I wondered where did this encampment come from? I have been aware of the ones that come and go in the Pottstown area along the river.
So I called up a friend of mine who runs a food bank in Montgomery County and asked her what was going on. And she said things have gotten so bad that even her food bank on the Main Line has waiting lists to take new people. Between average every day Americans having the ability to get decent jobs and landlords who jack the rents whenever possible and then just evict people, she said there’s a growing crisis for the unhoused everywhere. And in Montgomery County it’s a real crisis and it’s pretty damn big.
My friend told me a story of a homeless person at a Main Line train station. He actually had a job, but he was trying to save enough money so he could find a permanent place to live and insure his car. Thanks to my friend finding out about this guy from another mutual friend, a very nice pastor from a church nearby was able to give this man a hand up and get him off the street.
But that’s just one person helped. And in areas like densely populated urban areas, homelessness is at such a crisis point that it’s overflowing into everyone’s communities. And then in our suburban communities, including Chester County to a degree, homelessness exists and food banks and food pantries are being stretched unbelievably hard. There are a lot of people in need right now. My own personal belief is people were barely getting by before Covid hit, and Covid has quite simply decimated so many peoples’ lives in some way or another.
Back to this encampment on the Schuylkill Valley Trail on the Montgomery County side. It has been caused by the city of Norristown and Montgomery County.
An activist named Bill England said in June:
With the closing of the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center – CHOC – Montgomery County no longer has a year-round shelter for single adults. A new facility could take up to 2 years until opening. A temporary shelter needs to be opened now to provide a safe place for those in need of housing.
The Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center was on the grounds of Norristown State Hospital. Their lease there ended at the end of July.
According to The Reporter Online:
A land transfer agreement for the 68 acres was initially reached back in 2017, according to Norristown Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones. An agreement of sale was unanimously approved by council members five years later during a work session in February.
While the land is slated to be conveyed to the municipality, the actual agreement was listed between the state and Montgomery County‘s Redevelopment Authority.~ Rachel Ravina, The Reporter online 6/2/22
So this is quite literally Montgomery County and Norristown‘s fault. So where is Val Arkoosh the great bungler of things COVID in Montgomery County and Chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners?
Where is Congresswoman Madeline Dean who has a district office in Norristown at 101 E. Main Street? The Congresswoman literally has a rather large homeless population that’s outside her office within a stones throw pretty much all the time now. And I know for a fact that people have gone to that office trying to ask them would they please do something to help the homeless that are right in front of them. It’s kind of political crickets all the way around.
And then there is this other thing that literally happened a couple of days ago. Norristown as in the borough of (because it’s a city but it’s actually a borough) passed some ordinance keeping people out of borough parks and other places from Dusk until Dawn. This means they’re further abdicating responsibility for their homeless population, and basically pushing them out to other communities and even the Schuylkill Valley Trail because they have no housing, and they seek no solutions. Norristown probably won’t like that opinion but I’m entitled to have it.
Very few media outlets talk about this homeless crisis in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. And there’s not only Norristown, there’s the Montgomery County side of Pottstown. There have been homeless encampments along the river off and on for years.
WHYY is one media outlet which put out a rather in depth article recently:
Advocates say there’s ‘no place’ for unhoused people in Norristown, where it may soon be illegal to stay in parks past dusk
By Emily Rizzo Aug. 9, 2022 11:19 am
Each time Tony Morano and Anne Douglass find a new place to pitch their tents, they face the threat of being forced to pack up their homes — and leave.
Recently, they say, a borough officer told them to get out of Riverfront Park, in Norristown, Montgomery County. When they moved to a spot along the Norristown bike path in late July, a park ranger ordered them to vacate.
Without vehicles, each removal — which they say feels like an eviction — means hauling their belongings by foot, and if they don’t, they risk getting their things thrown out.
Now, Norristown Borough, one of the poorest municipalities in Montgomery County, is considering a new “dawn-to-dusk” ordinance, which would make it officially illegal to sleep overnight in the borough’s parks. The ordinance comes during an affordable housing crisis in the county, and homelessness is 118% higher in Norristown than this time last year.
“I’m tired of us feeling like we’re at the bottom of the food chain, that we don’t exist and we don’t have feelings,” said Morano, who has been in Norristown for 10 years. He has a disability and has struggled to find stable, affordable housing. Douglass has lived in Norristown for two years with her daughter, who has a job in the area that she commutes to via public transportation…..When asked about the lack of shelter in Norristown for unhoused people, Lepera said, “There’s 53 municipalities, townships, and boroughs in Montgomery County. Why does it have to be in Norristown?”
“There is no place to be…They’re going to be outside for the foreseeable future. That’s the reality in Montgomery County,” said Boorse.
And unhoused people tend to “stay close to their roots,” Boorse and other housing advocates said. Many people have been in Norristown long enough to have a network of support that they rely on, are connected to necessary services, and basic needs like transportation.~ WHYY 8/9/22
My research has indicated that most assistance to these homeless people is coming from churches and other bon-government organizations. My research also indicates that most elected officials are just literally looking the other way. Especially in Montgomery County.
Why am I writing a post? Because when I saw the thing about a homeless encampment on the Schuylkill Valley Trail I just wondered where this all came from. And now that I know I figure I’ll put a post out there because PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running for governor and he’s from Montgomery County and he is a former Montgomery County Commissioner. He needs to give a damn about this and now not at some vague point in the future. He and Leslie Richards used Montgomery County as a steppingstone to State careers and other opportunities. She went from PennDOT to SEPTA. He became Attorney General and is running for governor.
The homeless population within the City of Philadelphia is off the hook too, but I can’t even begin to cover that because the City of Philadelphia is so corrupt that nothing is going to happen there anyway unless there is some sort of crisis Jim Kenny can’t wiggle his way out of before he lame ducks his way out of office.
I remember years ago they would bus homeless people from the city out to Bryn Mawr and they would let them off right by the A+ gas station across from Ludington Library in Lower Merion. I am told it still happens? I don’t know if it’s by bus or by train but it still happens as per my sources.
But now, suburbia has its own homeless crisis. And at present Montgomery County is abdicating its responsibility for its homeless crisis and sooner or later they’re going to start moving into other counties as well. We are seeing that as the homeless start to move into the Schuylkill Valley Trail.
I am not saying any of this to be some NIMBY person, but we’ve had issues in Chester County and I remember when I first moved to Chester County there was a shell of an old restaurant on route 30 in East Whiteland that was eventually demolished that used to have homeless people that would break into it and live there. These people need a place to go. These people need some sort of government assistance no matter how you feel about that.
If you look at this in other ways, there’s also not very much affordable housing in a lot of places. You can count Chester County among those places. There’s lots of development, however. But that development pushes up real estate prices and rental prices and it pushes people out of their communities, sometimes making them homeless.
And then there is just the lovely economy. Superbly painful amounts of inflation, and a global pandemic have put us in a pickle. And nobody wants to say recession but as it may be worse than a recession at this point? And this did not start with the current administration, either. It is simply a big, nasty can kicked down the road.
I don’t have the answers, I wish I did. But friends in Montgomery County when I spoke to them about this asked me if I would write a post because Montgomery County and the various municipalities like Norristown dealing with homelessness are very petty towards people who speak out. And apparently Congresswoman Madeline Dean doesn’t want to deal with it either although her office literally looks at the Norristown homeless/unhoused pretty much every day? Nice job, Madeline.
So here I am, just putting out a curtain raiser. I really wish the rest of the media would look at this and I thank WHYY for looking at this. And Josh Shapiro? Tag you are it, you really shouldn’t ignore this.
And one last thing. Republicans and Democrats alike like to espouse they look after all of their constituents, only they don’t seem to see certain sectors of the population. Montgomery County and Norristown with their burgeoning in homeless/unhoused issue are a glaring example of this. Also the Pottstown area, where there are also significant homeless issues, and there is social media chatter about the Borough of Pottstown (Montgomery County) fining churches etc for feeding the homeless? And the borough council won’t allow discussion at meetings?
To readers of this post if you have photos of the Schuylkill Valley Trail unhoused encampment or the various ones that pop up around Pottstown, please message them through the blog’s Facebook page. I will publish them and you will have to tell me if you want any kind of attribution. Otherwise I will just say “submitted photo.”
Montgomery County, it’s time for you to stop abdicating responsibility.
Please consider a donation to your local food bank or similar organization.
Better Days Ahead is an excellent organization that is working to help those who lack housing…they could use your support.
Thank you, Carla !