Keystone Mission CEO Justin Behrens listens to and answers questions from the Scranton Zoning board and Attorney Bill Jones in Scranton City Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Jake Danna Stevens / Staff Photographer
Each day we get in our cars and travel to our destinations and focus on the task at hand.
More than 500,000 people nationally wake up every day worrying about where they will sleep that night, get their next meal, or survive the harsh elements. People think this is a significant city issue, but it happens right here in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Right here in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, you can find the homeless living under bridges, in abandoned homes or couch-surfing. Many factors drive individuals to be homeless.
The No. 1 reason people become homeless here is the high cost of housing. Rents in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties typically range from $600 to $1,000 a month, and it doesn’t include utilities. On average, utilities cost about $125 a month. Therefore, someone on Supplemental Security Income who makes an average of $700 a month has difficulty finding a place to live. The easy answer is to get a job and earn more. The challenge is a lack of training, inability to get an interview and the average initial entrance job pays about $8 an hour. At this rate, an individual brings home about $800 monthly after taxes, which places him back in the same predicament he faced before.
The next reason people become homeless is family issues — specifically abuse. Women leave their homes, rather than live in a battered situation with their spouse or boyfriend. Abuse has been a rising issue and it places women back into that predicament, unable to afford housing on their own.
Mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction also play a role in homelessness. Our country has taken a shift in mental health and addiction and only treats the behavior. The focus needs to treat the illness and ensure that those affected have the proper services and support to get better — whether that includes stronger community mental health facilities or inpatient hospitalization. Homeless individuals who don’t get treated for their illnesses become more and more chronic.
The issues of homelessness leave us with the question,”How do we fix this problem?” It is not the lack of money that makes people homeless; it is a lack of relationships. If my paychecks stopped and I couldn’t afford my mortgage or food, I have family and friends to provide support. I also have my church family and social clubs that would help me out. Therefore, to help end homelessness, we need to start building relationships.
As a community, we need to work together and build relationships that develop programs to help people with affordable housing. As a community, we need links that will help protect those who are abused and looking for comfort. As a community, we need to establish relationships and listen to those who suffer from addiction and mental illnesses. Keystone Mission is here to be the catalyst for the community to provide help and hope to the homeless, hungry, and hurting people of Northeast Pennsylvania.
Keystone Mission is in the process of developing a proposed transformation center, more commonly known as a shelter. At this center, the homeless enter our doors and establish relationships. These relationships will last them for the rest of their lives. The homeless will begin to live and use our economic system, which will teach them how to budget and save, a skill vital to get out of their predicament.
The first week each homeless person will be given a card. Those cards will hold points that they will use to provide their immediate needs that they need to survive: a roof over their head, food in their bellies and clothes on their backs. After that first week, they will need to earn points through volunteering, doing community services, job readiness, chores at the mission, or attending church. Through job readiness, training for sustainable jobs with competitive pay rates and transportation to those jobs, relationships form, income results. Then, the last step is to help them with affordable housing while continuing the relationship when they leave us to be on their own.
The outcome is that a working person lives in a house, pays taxes and gives back to the community. Best of all, these people can live the life they always wanted with the help of relationships.
By Justin Behrens, LSW | Published by The Times-Tribune on Sunday, January 12, 2020