Pandemic continues to hit families hard, housing and employment issues put extra pressure on area shelters

Local News

ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — Homelessness. It’s a serious problem that’s growing because of the Coronavirus pandemic, putting shelters across the country and in our region in a tough position.

The Executive Director of Family Services Inc. in Altoona said in the last fiscal year, the shelter saw 202 people total. Now, just in the past six months, the shelter has seen nearly 200 people already, and expects that number to continue to rise as colder weather comes in.

Family Services is trying to fix that problem with a new 35-bed family shelter, but even though they have about 75% of the funding, renovations are delayed because of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to ask people for money when they haven’t been employed, so we want to make sure that we’re being sensitive to that, and that we’re moving in an appropriate manner,” Family Services Director Lisa Hann said.

The old Drenning Truck Company building on 23rd Street and Branch Avenue will be transformed into a new 35-bed shelter, with six two-bedroom apartments on the second floor, a change Hann said is necessary to help everyone who needs it.

“People don’t choose to be homeless. They didn’t put themselves in that situation on purpose, but we also want people to have some dignity, and we want them to make their own path and be able to move forward,” she said.

Those struggling to find housing can also call 211, which directs them to the county’s homeless assistance programs.

“It gets the person screened and on a waiting list for the shelter. The 16-bed shelter is most often full, but we move people through there very quickly, and also it gets them on the list of folks for Blair Community Action to assist,” Hann said.

The Family Services office on Broad Avenue also has necessary supplies, like hygiene products, for anyone that comes in looking for help.

“We put things out in our lobby. We’ll be getting gloves, mittens, and hats, so there’s always things that you can access easily, and you can talk with our staff when you come in about what the resources are that are out there,” Hann said.

Hann suggested folks keep a little kit in their cars if they see someone who might need a hand up, not a hand out, something like a pair of warm socks, a five dollar bill, some snacks, and try and give the person an opportunity to call 211.

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