Family Service staff share the sad reality of a homeless camp in Bucks County
MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> Homelessness is an unimaginable experience for most people, but one of the many hard lessons taught by COVID-19 is that in certain unexpected circumstances it can victimize anyone.
When this happens in Bucks County, Family Service is ready to help, through the Bucks County Emergency Homeless Shelter in Levittown and caring staff members like Marcus Brown, director of operations at the shelter and his colleague Lisa Mangiola, nurse at the shelter.
Since March 2020, the shelter has seen its numbers increase dramatically, from an average of 75 residents per day to around 100. Fortunately, the peak in demand for residence has been met by Family Service, thanks to “pivots » innovations, such as a contractual agreement with a nearby hotel and the addition of two subsidized modular homes on the shelter property.
As Brown and Mangiola explain, despite these developments, there is still a large group of people who, for various reasons, continue to reside in the elements outside. The two said Family Service is doing its best to care for this population by regularly delivering meals and resources, as well as working with partner agencies and their Street Outreach Team to ensure effective coordination of services for people without shelter.
Additionally, the use of a federally established system known as PIT (Point-in-Time) counting raises awareness of the problem of homelessness.
The PIT is a tally of housed and non-housed people experiencing homelessness on a single January night that HUD requires every Continuum of Care (CoC) nationwide to conduct annually. Family Service is an active member of the Bucks County Housing Continuum of Care and participates in the annual PIT count. Once a PIT count is completed, immediate action is taken for those in imminent danger and shared with the appropriate entities with the aim of further supporting those in need.
The two colleagues recently volunteered to help with the PIT count between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. on January 25, a night when the thermometer dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a scary but rewarding experience on many levels, according to Brown and Mangiola.
“I was completely blind to the conditions our homeless people were living in throughout Bucks County,” Brown said. “We know they sleep outside, but I didn’t know what a homeless camp looked like. In my work, I am part of the admissions process (to the shelter) and their journey to stability. However, I never get to see the “before the shelter” picture per se. This experience opened my eyes to their means of survival.
In her position, Mangiola often performs wellness checks at encampments during the day, but she found that being there after dark was an entirely different experience.
“At some point during the night, I remember thinking to myself that I just wanted to be in my nice warm bed, and knowing that that wasn’t an option for these people really opened my eyes,” says Mangiola. “Walking through the woods with the light in your head, if you turn around, behind you it’s dark, scary and you can get disoriented.”
Brown was also alarmed by the living conditions that exist outside. “The wind was fierce and brutal at times, as it hit the exposed area of my face,” Brown said. “Although I was bundled up in a thick coat, vest, long sleeves and gloves, walking through the icy woods was not a regular trail hike and I was freezing.”
Despite the freezing conditions, Brown said everyone he met was upbeat, pleasant and grateful to see them. “The people we met in the woods all had a positive attitude towards the resources we offered, the food we gave and the hand warmers we could provide.
Mangiola believes that her career as a nurse plays an important role in how she is received among the homeless on the streets.
“I am available to shelter clients to discuss their medical needs, assess them when they are not feeling well, and schedule appointments as needed,” says Mangiola. “For the homeless population that has no shelter, these simple tasks become difficult, so I wanted to have the opportunity to see what medical issues some of the population are facing, or more importantly, untreated. “
Both Brown and Mangiola believe this was a unique and humbling opportunity, for which they gained a previously unrealized perspective.
Said Brown, “I’m happy to be part of this journey, as we help and continue to lead individuals to a better place physically and mentally.”
Mangiola adds, “I want these people to see my face and see that I’m ready to come to them. “I want them to know they have someone they can trust and turn to if they have a medical problem.”
Housing Services Director Murielle Kelly agrees with this approach. “People experiencing homelessness want society to see them as people, not as stigma or a problem,” Kelly said. “These are people going through a difficult time and they need our support.”
Family Service Association of Bucks County is a non-profit social service organization located throughout Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It is Family Service’s mission to listen, heal and help. Everyday. Since 1953, Family Service has been improving the lives of individuals, children and families, doing whatever it takes to help them overcome obstacles and reach their full potential. Visit www.fsabc.org to donate, volunteer, or learn more about how Family Service helped nearly 40,000 children, teens, and adults last year.