Elizabethtown has a problem with homelessness, even though it is not as obvious as the problem in major cities.
“It happens. They’re here around us,” said Deb Jones, director of Elizabethtown Community Housing & Outreach Services, a group founded to fight the problem.
Jones said people are living in cars, in sheds and garages, sleeping behind dumpsters or in the woods. Others are living in motels for extended periods, including a family of nine that stayed in various motels for a period of 26 months before getting an apartment, Jones said.
A great many people are at risk of becoming homeless, Jones said. She said 72 percent of households in Lancaster County are “cost burdened,” meaning 50 percent or more of household income goes to pay the rent or mortgage, utilities and transportation costs.
Services for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless already existed before ECHOS started, but they required people to leave town. That’s a real problem for people who do not own cars, Jones said.
“We’re grateful for the bus route, but it isn’t frequent enough and it doesn’t go far enough,” Jones told members of the Rotary Club of Elizabethtown on Friday, Sept. 29.
Red Rose Transit Authority buses serving Elizabethtown run 10 times a day on weekdays and twice a day on Saturdays with no Sunday service. The last bus is scheduled to leave Elizabethtown at 6:20 p.m. on weekdays and gets to downtown Lancaster at 7:15 p.m.
ECHOS has Elizabethtown College as a partner; the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness, the United Way and the county government provide funding.
“We started 15 months ago and it was just me,” Jones said; it now has three full-time case managers and three part-time workers, all of whom live in town. That’s an advantage, Jones said.
“You get to know the community when you live in it and when you work in it,” Jones said.
Since July 1, 2016, the group has aided more than 300 families and housed 29 families. Housing a family means more than just securing an apartment, she said.
“We were able to provide furniture; we were able to provide donated bedsheets, cups, silverware, so many items they needed for their homes,” Jones said.
Elizabethtown has a winter shelter at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church that is to reopen for the season on Dec. 4. It takes 63 volunteers a week to operate the shelter. There is also a day center where shelter residents can be warm during the daytime. The group is seeking more volunteers to help with the night shelter and day center.