This headline caught my eye. Norristown. So shady and in decline it might be the Montgomery County version of Chester in Delaware County. Can we say the love of decades of issues, possibly corruption shows?
I don’t know who this guy is I never heard of him before today (I rarely follow Montgomery County politics these days, and I certainly don’t know much about Norristown, other than its downtrodden), but this is despicable. And can we say this is one hell of a nasty political stunt? And it’s also obvious that he is targeting a woman (Stephanie Sena ) who advocates for homeless people and isn’t that a little disturbing?
And above all else, this guy seems to have an enormous chip on his shoulder about the different sides of Montgomery County. Norristown and Villanova are polar opposites. And the Norristown side of Montgomery County has always historically hated Lower Merion Township. And now this hatred is taking another form and using homeless people like others are using immigrants. I can’t escape the notion that this is more about politics than the actual homeless encampments but who knows?
The homeless population is real in suburbia, and it has been for years. And Norristown is a cesspool of issues and has been for years and it’s the Montgomery County seat. But this guy is essentially talking about treating the homeless population inhumanely, and the fact that this is coming from Norristown doesn’t surprise me in the least.
I can’t decide if Norristown is better or worse under Democrat control. Because it certainly wasn’t better under Republican control. Norristown was once a thriving metropolis, now it’s a place most people want to drive through as quickly as possible. And is that the fault of the homeless people and the homeless people seem like they are like being moved around like pawns on a chessboard? Before I get to today’s article, here’s one from a few days ago:
“They’re moving us around like dirt,” said a resident of one of 20 encampments in the borough. Local, state, and national homeless advocates are gearing up for a fight with municipal officials.
by Alfred Lubrano
Updated on May 28, 2023, 5:00 a.m. ET
About 20 homeless encampments in Norristown will be cleared in the coming weeks, with no plans to store people’s confiscated property, according to advocates for individuals living homeless in the borough.
Officially, borough officials have neither confirmed nor denied what advocates call a potential “sweep” of an estimated 160 people living mostly in tents in various parts of the municipality, many in public parks.
A spokesperson for Peco, however, said that individuals living in tents on 3,000 feet of land owned by the utility along the Schuylkill River Trail in Norristown “will need to relocate” at an unspecified time so “hazardous waste and trash” can be removed from the site. Advocates say about 12 people live there.
Homelessness is a fraught issue in Norristown, where residents, advocates, and those experiencing homelessness exist in a tense environment. It plays out in a county of great wealth but few beds for those who sleep outside. These days, when a person who loses a home calls Montgomery County for help, there’s little more advocates can do than issue tents.
Norristown officials have said they’ll time a full-borough sweep to coincide with Peco’s clear-out, according to Stephanie Sena, a homelessness expert and anti-poverty professor at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law. She also runs a homeless shelter in Upper Darby.
Thomas Lepera, Norristown’s president/councilman at-large, was asked multiple times in an interview whether the municipality will be clearing out people living homeless within its borders. He declined to answer, repeating the phrase, “We’ll be cleaning sites of hazardous materials where people are living” in encampments. He acknowledged that the eradication of what he described as “feces, needles, and God-knows-what-else in barrels” will coincide with Peco’s efforts. No date is set.
So this Stephanie Sena spoke out in her capacity as a homeless advocate and now she is being targeted and so is her employer by the head of Norristown Borough Council?
There is an epidemic of homeless in the greater Philadelphia region. But how do you solve the issues when people like these politicians in Montgomery County are ratcheting up the drama? And based on the articles, I’m reading it’s like nobody wants to touch this hot potato and this guy is connected to a lot of interesting people, so are those people being judged by this company they are keeping? Including the newly minted, Democratic candidate for mayor for the City of Philadelphia? And everyone knows that the City of Philadelphia has quite a huge homeless population don’t they?
I’m just kind of appalled and disturbed by this whole thing all the way around. I don’t pretend to have any answers but surely we can all do better instead of acting like we come from Texas and Greg Abbott is our BFF?
And this Hatfields and McCoys thing going on, depending on what side of Montgomery County you are from is beyond old.
I don’t have any answers here, and I certainly don’t have a dog in this fight, but I find these articles disturbing.
Now for the article:
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Norristown official wants to bus people living homeless to Villanova University
Thomas Lepera, the municipality’s president and councilman at-large, allegedly said he wanted to be Norristown’s version of Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott.
By Alfred Lubrano
The head of Norristown’s municipal council said he plans to bus people living homeless in the borough to the Villanova University campus.
Thomas Lepera, the municipality’s president/councilman at-large, said he’ll offer $500 gift cards to everyone who boards the bus at the end of the month. The money would come from donations, Lepera has said. Norristown has no homeless shelter.
Lepera is choosing Villanova because Stephanie Sena, an anti-homelessness advocate and anti-poverty fellow at the university’s Charles Widger School of Law, has been working on behalf of an estimated 160 people experiencing homelessness in Norristown. Sena also runs a homeless shelter in Upper Darby.
Sena said that Lepera called her an “ivory tower elitist” during a brief meeting last week to discuss encampments. The meeting included Eric Tars, legal director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Homelessness Law Center.
Sena said Lepera added, “Just so you know, I’m taking buses and shipping people to Villanova.”
Tars corroborated the account, adding, “Tom told Stephanie he’s ‘going to create a clown show on the Villanova campus by throwing needles and trash’ from Norristown encampments onto the Campus Green.”
Then Lepera ended the meeting by cursing at Sena and making an obscene gesture, both Sena and Tars said.
Asked for comment, a Villanova spokesperson said in a statement, “The work being done by Stephanie Sena is part of her personal advocacy efforts; it is not being done on behalf of, or at the direction of, Villanova University.
“Villanova University has had multiple conversations with Norristown officials to clarify Ms. Sena’s role as being independent of Villanova.”
The university didn’t directly address questions about the busing.
In a brief phone call, Lepera, who is also political director of IBEW Local 98, declined to discuss the busing plan, or how serious he is about it. He denied hurling obscenities at Sena, then he cursed at a reporter and hung up.
“When you have all the social services in one area, it draws in the homeless population. When you have a pandemic and flood [from Hurricane Ida in 2021, which destroyed low-income housing], your homeless population rises. When it rises, you have stuff called encampments.
“When Stephanie reached out as a representative of Villanova, I said, ‘How perfect is this? Because Villanova, with hundreds of millions in revenue, that prides itself on Catholic values and wants to help the poor, has a school now with empty dorm rooms. …“I couldn’t see a more perfect scenario as where to move the homeless encampments.”…
…Lepera’s Facebook page includes a large Villanova logo with the phrase, “Very Much looking forward to the Villanova/Norristown partnership. More News to come shortly.” The post had garnered 131 likes and hearts as of Friday.
It accumulated comments such as, “I hope it includes busses” from Norristown Councilmember Heather Lewis.
In a text, Lewis said, “I may not 100% agree with Mr. Lepera’s plan, but I do 100% share his frustration” about the problem of homelessness that Norristown must shoulder. “Hence,” she added, “drastic times call for drastic measures.”