Updated: Jul 12, 2022
“People experiencing homelessness are as much a part of our community as those who are housed.”
Montgomery County, PA is experiencing a housing and homelessness crisis. We believe that everyone belongs in our community, and that the solutions to address the needs of those of us living outside lie within the community itself.
- #WEBELONG Community Page on Facebook
#WEBELONG is a group in Montgomery County based on a simple premise; people experiencing homelessness are as much a part of our community as those who are housed. The group is striving to collaborate in direct action to resolve the growing crisis of homelessness in Montgomery County while knowing that every single community has someone living unhoused.
According to Mark Boorse, the administrator of the Facebook page and coordinator of the movement, the group banded together at the onset of the Pandemic to support people living outside and to assist others who were housed and living on low incomes, in keeping their homes.
And now, the only permanent shelter in the county, the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC) is being forced to move from its longtime location on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital by July 1, as the land is being transferred to the Borough of Norristown.
“We are reaching a housing crisis in Montgomery County,” Boorse said. “You have this perfect storm of more people experiencing homelessness.”
While a new location is being sought for CHOC, there will be a gap in services and people who are homeless will have nowhere else to go except the street. Complicating the housing situation is the cost of rent which has been going up double digits and the rental assistance that individuals received during the Pandemic is coming to an end, Boorse said.
Another problem is the county has no legal, safe space for people to be. People have to hide and count on not being found which skews the numbers when providers are trying to provide accurate numbers of people living without housing. This also means that people are living without sanitation, running water, electricity, trash removal, recourse to the law. Eventually, they are discovered and told to move on.
The #WEBELONG movement has a three-part plan: 1) Did you know? Giving information about the scope of homelessness in Montgomery County; 2) Come and See. Interviewing individuals who are homeless or have been homeless and sharing their stories with the community; and 3) You can help. Asking people in the community to find space and/or offer space for people until CHOC can reopen.
Boorse said the group envisions the space or shelter as a church, organization or business that has extra space not being used. Providing space doesn’t mean also providing services. Others could provide the services that people need while living there. And, the group has pallet shelters - a 10 ft. by 10 ft. square pallet with a vinyl and metal framed pack that can be opened and closed and moved to different locations. The pallet shelters are weather impervious and can hold two beds and have electricity, heat and air conditioning. The shelters, which cost $5,000 each, have a door and a lock. Bathhouses and toilets can be purchased separately.
Boorse said 20 to 25 shelters could be placed at one spot or dispersed among the community with two or three on a property.
“They’re not invasive, not permanent and can be moved around,” Boorse said. “We’re not asking somebody to commit to permanent space.”
Boorse said the group is inviting everyone to join into the discussion about how this might be done in Montgomery County to address the growing need. To learn more about pallet shelters, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAzn0x2m7pE
Meanwhile, #WEBELONG is thinking of the next step: creating affordable housing at the community level. The way housing works now is through subsidies which are really paying for unaffordable housing, Boorse said.
So what’s affordable housing look like? Boorse said the next step could be tiny homes.
The group includes communities of faith, mental health and addiction services, community health and dental services from the Pottstown, Lansdale and Norristown areas.
If you are interested in learning more or have questions about the movement, contact Mark Boorse at firstname.lastname@example.org.