A Letter to Northeast Pennsylvania

Homelessness is the New Pandemic

We are living in a time that the world is not like it was. We have a virus that has affected our economy and put fear in people’s eyes. We have seen this country in a political divide where everything results in political questions. With both of these things happening, it has affected one population the homeless.

I have witnessed this, through living in a shelter for two months with those affected by homelessness and working with this vulnerable population. Northeastern Pennsylvania is not immune to this long-standing pandemic—homelessness. Homelessness is all around Northeastern Pennsylvania and this cannot be denied. I see new tents popping up every day along the river and they are NEW individuals we have not seen before.

There are many myths dealing with homelessness. First, is the myth that Keystone Mission opened on Olive St. because the homeless were here. People will say that we brought the homeless here, but the truth is we set up here to help the homeless who have already been here. Keystone Mission takes pride in the fact that we are trying to serve a population that has lost hope, doesn’t have anywhere to go, and doesn’t have anyone.

Second, is the myth that all homeless are drug addicts, criminals, and a burden to society. This is far from the truth. We are seeing a large population that is now homeless relating to the country’s issues. COVID-19 has affected individuals and families that would have never been homeless before the virus. Each and everyone who comes to Keystone Mission has a story and those stories need to be heard.  They are individuals who lost their job due to the Coronavirus and are now homeless. They are individuals who were abused by their family, ran away, and are homeless. They are individuals who seek help from agencies and were told “no” for different reasons and were treated like animals.

Thirdly, is the myth that homeless are lazy and dirty. I would agree with you that they are disheveled.  That is not the reason why they are lazy. The truth is that they want to work. But how does a person who is disheveled get through an interview? They can’t take a shower; they are turned down for an interview and the cycle continues. How do we expect someone to get a job if they can’t take a shower?  They are willing to work but don’t have the means. They don’t want to live off the system. They want to be just like us.

Fourth, is the myth that they utilize drugs and alcohol and don’t want to get better. We all replace one habit with another habit. The homeless are no different. They replace their lack of relationships with substances. This excessive use is an escape from their reality or nightmare. Imagine giving them hope, a relationship, and a place that is warm to sleep and eat. The substance use is now filled with something positive.

There are many other myths, but this is not a political issue. This is a humanity issue. The homeless do not have a voice to tell their story. Instead, they are blamed and continue to be the focus of the problem. I ask each of us, including myself, to look at ourselves. This issue doesn’t require higher taxes or votes by our elected officials. This requires the community to come together and saying that we love our fellow brothers and sisters who are hurting. Keystone Mission recognizes this and plans to work with the community, not against the community, to solve this problem. Keystone Mission plans to eliminate the red tape and show love to the homeless and hears their story. There are, no doubt, bad apples in every bunch, but a majority of the homeless are hardworking men and women like you and me, who need a chance to be productive members of society. By doing outreach and winning the lost; cleaning their mind and body at the emergency shelter, making sound decisions; and disciplining them to get them into transitional housing will solve the problem of homelessness. It’s time to admit there is an issue. Keystone Mission is here to provide the solution.

Written by Justin Behrens, LSW