The new Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem will receive $2 million to expand the temporary housing program.
U.S. Representative Susan Wilde announced federal funding during a roundtable discussion Wednesday with New Bethany residents, staff and Bethlehem officials, which convened to discuss the area’s housing crisis and the city’s next steps to create affordable housing and understand the needs of non-residential residents.
“New Bethany has put in a great application for this funding and they are doing such a great service to the community that many out-of-home people have a place they call home with a roof over their heads while they organize their lives,” said Wilde, a Democrat who represents Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district.
New Bethany CEO Mark Rittle said the funding will be earmarked for the purchase and renovation of a nearby apartment building, as well as the expansion of temporary accommodation units for families and residents of the foundation. It won’t name the expansion site right away.
“We now have 12 units in our transitional family shelter, and that’s not enough. We’re talking about doubling that and more,” Rittle said.
He said single dwellers usually live in group with one another, sharing bathrooms and kitchens that don’t provide the privacy or security they need.
“We heard today that some people — LGBTQ-plus — would rather sleep in their cars or in a tent than go to an emergency shelter or even a transitional shelter, especially in a place of worship,” Rittle said. “We want to build that safe space for people.”
Rittle said New Bethany is renting out a temporary shelter to residents for a year or two. The lack of sustainable and affordable housing has become one of the most pressing issues in the region, making the transition to long-term housing more difficult for residents than in years past. He added that the new ministries of Bethany would complete the homes of 90 families.
Twelve families currently live in the New Bethany transitional shelter; 47 people without children live in a single room in its southern units; 20 individuals live in Kublai; Seven live in Allentown. Others live in subsidized permanent housing, according to Rittle.
“If you can’t get someone out of transitional housing into permanent, affordable housing, that creates a cycle,” said Sarah Satolo, deputy director of community development at Bethlehe.
She noted that the city’s Homelessness Solutions team learned during an August assessment that half of the homeless people she spoke to claimed that the lack of affordable housing in the area was the reason they lived on the street.
Satullo said an affordable housing strategy study being prepared by the city is expected to be completed in October.
Mayor J. William Reynolds, including studies of affordable housing and homelessness, the city also has plans to create a permanent homeless shelter.
“When Rep. Wilde went to Congress and passed the American Rescue (Plan Act) money, what they did would still be felt structurally for decades to come,” Reynolds said.
New Bethany resident Lisa Chuck reminded those who gathered on Wednesday to think of even the smallest of gestures as they continue to negotiate solutions to the housing crisis.
“(My future home) doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal. I can make anywhere the Taj Mahal,” she said. “What someone like me needs is manpower, even if it’s just helping to tidy my room or my pantry runs out of my things.”
Chuck said her goal is to buy her home someday — a dream she said is far-reaching, but achievable with help.
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Glenn Epps can be reached at email@example.com or glen_yebs_ on Twitter.