Finding home

Jeanne was a typical stay at home mom until a series of events in her family’s life changed everything. Now she is homeless and trying to find her way back to a home. Through the help of a women’s shelter begun by the Methodist Church and an Episcopal program to help women get back their lives she is moving off the streets towards a home of her own.

When she wasn’t transporting Kevin to his mini-football practices where he played the defensive position of nose guard, she was running Marisa to Girl Scout meetings and helping sell cookies every year or taking her youngest child, Daniel, to his Head Start classes.

But, that was a lifetime ago.

Jeanne now lives in a homeless shelter – one of tens of thousands of women across the nation seeking shelter on a nightly basis.

During a January 2007 count conducted by Reach, Inc., 188 people in Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) were classified as homeless. These are the most recent numbers available.

The exact numbers of homeless women locally is not known because some stay at Ruth’s Place in downtown Wilkes-Barre for a few days. Others stay for weeks at a time. On the coldest nights of the year, as many as 30 women seek a warm spot to sleep at the shelter. Other times there might be only a few women looking for a place to sleep.

But, one thing’s for sure, say advocates for the homeless: The number of women using the shelter has steadily increased by 50 percent annually.

Every woman living on the streets has a different story, but many of those are similar to Jeanne’s.

Stefanie Wolownik, director of Reach, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, says that,

People don’t just decide to become homeless one day, she said. Usually, it is a series of traumatic events, mental illness or drug abuse, which eventually results in people losing their homes and being out on the streets.

“Life on the street is hard,” she said. “Women have a commodity that men typically don’t have. So they make terrible decisions, both morally and legally in order to keep a roof over their head.”

The worsening economy and housing shortage deepens this problem across the U.S.

Transitional housing allows people to live in a facility with their own private room for up to two years as they attempt to obtain their own apartment.

Emergency shelters offer women or men, depending on the facility, a place to sleep in a dormitory-style environment.

98 percent of homeless women in the Wyoming Valley are from Luzerne County – Stefanie Wolownik, executive director of Reach.

During the Jan. 25, 2007, count of homeless people, local advocates found:

Families with children: Nine families with a total of 24 people were in emergency shelters, 19 families with a total of 46 people were in transitional housing.

Families without children: 53 families with a total of 73 people were in emergency shelters, 22 individuals were in transitional housing, 23 individuals were sleeping on the streets.

A total of 188 people were classified as homeless during the one night of this study.

Of the homeless adults: 16 were chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been without a permanent home for more than a year; 25 suffered from severe mental illnesses; 44 suffered from substance abuse issues, 14 were veterans and 27 were victims of domestic violence.

“In no state does a full-time minimum wage job cover the costs of a one-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent, and in 45 states and the District of Columbia, families would need to earn at least double the minimum wage in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent.” – Out of Reach: Can America Pay the Rent?, via the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“It is estimated that 760,000 people are homeless on any given night, and 1.2 (million) to 2 million people experience homelessness during one year.”- National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, via the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 15 to 20 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.” – The National Coalition for the Homeless.

A quarter to 50 percent of homeless women have suffered from physical, mental or psychological abuse, NCH Executive Director Michael Stoops said.

Single women with no children account for 10 percent of the total homeless population, Stoops said.

Read it all here at the northeast Pennsylvania Times-Leader.

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