Housing crisis

Montco’s only 24/7 single adult shelter is experiencing a housing crisis

The advantage of finding a new space is that CHOC can reinvent a new type of shelter. He plans to find a building large enough for each individual to have an “efficient apartment” type space, with their own bedroom and bathroom – compared to a large room with 50 beds, for example.

These private rooms give people more “dignity and respect,” Camuso said.

According to Camuso and Silver, the biggest obstacles to finding this new space for CHOC are the “NIMBY-ism” associated with the stigmatization of homeless people.

Silver said the county cannot decide where to place a shelter without buy-in from the community and local government. And right now, they just don’t see enough of it.

Even if a nonprofit or a singular building escalates, “the community needs to escalate,” Silver said. “We may receive responses from non-profit organizations or churches. But this is only one step in a multi-step process. You need services, you need zoning, you need local community approval for it to be there.

A housing crisis already exists in Montgomery County, exacerbated by Hurricane Ida, the pandemic and rising rental costs, especially in low-income towns such as Norristown, Pottstown and Lansdale.

Colleen MacNamara, director of housing services for Access Services, said her street team currently serves 150 single adults and around 75 of them would like to enter shelter. SHOCK is at capacity, and there are always people waiting to get in year-round, according to its director, Christina Jordan.

Rents in Norristown are up nearly 4% from 2019, Silver said. According to a county housing affordability study released in May 2021, approximately more than half of Montco renters pay more than 30% of their monthly income for rent.

In September, the remnants of Hurricane Ida wiped out 124 affordable homes in Norristown, a blow to a county that was already short of them. The hurricane also left 142 households, 316 people, in 157 county-provided emergency hotel rooms.

Mark Boorse, director of program development at Access Services, which serves homeless people in several eastern Pennsylvania counties, is concerned about the shelter’s move away from Norristown. This could come at the cost of removing people from their support networks that exist outside, such as their “social connections,” Boorse said.

People from Norristown may also have a harder time reaching the shelter. Silver said they anticipate the “likely need” for additional transportation services, however, and will support RHD and Access Services in those efforts.