Community Action, Inc. taking action in the fight against homelessness, seeking community’s help

PUNXSUTAWNEY —  What would you do if you or someone you loved suddenly became homeless? Where would you turn? Where would you go?
These are the questions that are often asked when someone becomes homeless.

The definition of an unsheltered homeless person is "one who resides in a place not meant for human habitation, such as parks, cars, sidewalks, abandoned buildings or on the street." When one thinks of someone who is homeless, he or she often pictures them as being dirty and dressed in rags. However, that isn't always the case.

Unsheltered homeless individuals are not as visible in rural areas as they are in the cities. They are often referred to as "hidden homeless," because they do not want anyone to know that they are homeless.

According to the "Unsheltered Point-in Time Survey of the Homeless," which was done by Community Action, Inc. on January 30, 2013, 13 adults and children were identified as being unsheltered and homeless.

Community Action Inc. is the Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) contact for Jefferson County.

Community Action provides a variety of services for homeless individuals, including the following: a men's shelter, transitional housing, permanent housing and a domestic violence shelter for women and children.

According to Rod Rhodes, planning director at Community Action Inc., someone who is homeless would be able to find help through the organization.

The individual would have to either contact or visit the office, where he/or she would then meet with a homeless case manager.

In order to qualify for assistance, one must go through a process.

"We have an in-take process, where we check criminal backgrounds and make sure no one is on Megan's Law," said Rhodes.

They not only screen people, but also focus on residents of the area and those who are just passing through.

"If we have space in one of our facilities, we can enroll them" said Rhodes.

Men can stay in a men's shelter for up to 30 days.

Transitional housing offers shelter for up to 24 months, while permanent housing is for homeless and disabled individuals in both Jefferson and Clarion counties and offers a permanent residence.

Women and children fleeing from an abusive environment can stay at a domestic violence shelter for up to 30 days.

During the time that someone is placed in a shelter, they are helped by a homeless case manager to get back on their feet.

Oftentimes, an individual may be unemployed or unable to hold down steady employment. The case worker can help that person by providing them with the tools to pursue a GED or classes that will help him or her improve job skills.

For someone who is disabled, the caseworker would help them apply for SSI or disability.

Shelters and transitional housing are also known as shared living arrangements. Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms are shared. These units can fit more than one homeless family.

Once someone is placed in housing, case mangers will help them obtain employment, apply for food stamps and other community services.

Rhodes said that the caseworkers do whatever they can to help the individual overcome barriers.

Jefferson County currently has only one men's shelter, but Rhodes said homeless men can find transitional housing in both Jefferson and Clarion

Women and children on the other hand are only able to stay in transitional housing based in Jefferson County. Permanent housing is available in Jefferson and Clarion counties.

Community Action is able to assist people living in that type of housing by providing rental assistance. However, one must meet certain criteria and have an income coming in.

Domestic violence shelters are available in Jefferson and Clearfield counties. The shelter offers protection and helps the individual find a safer place to live.

The organization also provides relocation, financial assistance, legal advocacy, support group options, counseling and planning.

The shelter is located in an unidentified area, which helps the individuals feel safer.

Some statistics include:

• From June 2011 through June 2012, 1,430 individuals received assistance through Crossroads project.

• Approximately 5,755 counseling and advocacy hours have been provided.

• 3,420 nights of staying in a shelter have been provided over the same time frame.

The 24-hour hotline for anyone in a domestic violence situation is 1-800-598-3998.

Shelter for a homeless family is a real issue that Community Action is currently working on.

Due to lack of space in transitional housing facilities, families are often split up with women and children being placed in one shelter and men in the other.

Right now, Community Action, Inc. is working to find a way to solve that problem.

Just recently, its members met with a local church that expressed interest in possibly housing homeless families.

However, in order to achieve that goal they will need the help and support of the entire community.

Donations and financial assistance will be needed to help with the costs of utilities. This dream could materialize if the community supports it.

"We are also trying to get a family shelter in Clarion as well, but it takes resources to get it up, started and running." said Rhodes.

Rhodes hopes that the local church will come to an agreement on whether to house the families and also hopes that the community will show its support for those in need in its midst.

If you are homeless, or you know or suspect someone is homeless, contact Community Action Inc. at 1-800-648-3381 and request to speak with a homeless case manager.