CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. —The average person seeking services from the Franklin County (Pa.) Shelter for the Homeless is younger than the those who sought assistance several years ago, the shelter coordinator said Sunday.
The shelter is most often serving people who are about 24 years old, Trudy Wesley said. It also is serving more people with special needs or significant medical problems, she said.
Of the 119 families served in 2011, many had parents who are the “working poor,” making minimum wage in temporary jobs, Wesley said.
“The poor are becoming poorer,” she said.
Wesley served as this month’s featured speaker for Chambersburg’s Trinity Episcopal Church’s coffee night. Held the third Sunday of every month in the church’s parish hall, the coffee night includes a speaker addressing varied topics.
Next month, the guest speaker from Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy will discuss mindfulness, the Rev. Patrick A. Pierce said.
The speaker scheduled after that is the chaplain from Wilson College, he said.
Wesley talked about the governmental and societal influences in homelessness. She said homelessness spiked in the 1980s during a recession when the income gap widened.
“In the ’70s, you didn’t have to worry about having a job. You had one,” Wesley said.
Statistics indicate that on any given night in the late 1980s, 500,000 people were homeless across the country, she said.
The Franklin County Shelter for the Homeless is operated by South-Central Community Action Programs, or SCCAP, a human-services agency that relies on private and public funding.
“We don’t enable,” Wesley said. “We help them help themselves.”
Programs for shelter clients include budgeting, résumé writing, mental health assistance, computer skill building and becoming a prepared renter.
“We have a lot of rules,” Wesley said.
The shelter, which has 18 beds, works with other shelters and agencies across Franklin County. Funding guidelines allow for clients to stay up to 30 days once each year.
The homeless commit fewer violent crimes than individuals with housing, Wesley said. They are homeless for diverse lengths of time, 25 percent have mental health problems and subsidized housing programs have waiting lists, she said.
Recently, the shelter discharged a 71-year-old woman.
“Most Americans without substantial savings are two paychecks away from being homeless. ... These are just basic needs that people aren’t getting,” Wesley said.