Shelter from the Storm: Bucks homeless shelters seek help as temperature drops

James Boyle, the Wire

The recent December days of T-shirt weather and walks in the park in 60-degree weather ended abruptly with the new year, when temperatures dropped dramatically and reminded everybody that yes, it is indeed the winter season.

Perhaps nobody has felt the change more intensely than the volunteers and administrators of Bucks County’s emergency homeless shelters. According to Penny Martin, president and founder of the Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need (AHTN), the shelter her organization operates in Lower Bucks County has received at least 40 people in each of the past few days, a sharp increase in numbers compared to December, which peaked at 13 people on some days.

“It’s been super busy for us recently,” said Martin. “This is an organization that would prefer to be out of business, but that will likely never happen. There will always be a need to assist the less fortunate in our community.”

AHTN is one of three organizations in Bucks County that coordinate efforts to help the homeless find warm beds and hot meals on cold nights. The Coalition to Shelter and Support the Homeless covers the central section of the county, while the Advocates for the Homeless of Upper Bucks manages the upper regions around Quakertown.

Regardless of the locations, all three organizations have the same common needs from the community to keep their missions intact: volunteers and donations. AHTN uses volunteer staff to provide bus transportation for the homeless in Lower Bucks. Those seeking shelter will be picked up at predetermined stops at approximately 6:30 p.m. and taken to the facility designated for the month.

In January, the guests are taken to Woodside Presbyterian Church in Yardley, where more volunteer workers will set each of them up with a cot, bedding and dinner. As long as AHTN has the volunteers who can work the overnight shift, the shelter will be open for those who need it.

“The first shift ends at 2:30 a.m., and the second shift takes over until 6:30 a.m.,” said Martin. “The buses take the people back to the bus stops, where they return to their tents or find a warm place to go, like the library.”

Martin says Lower Bucks is in crucial need of a facility that can accept homeless during the day. Such a center could provide Internet access for those seeking jobs, plus mental health treatment and counseling, but no such plans are in the works.

In the meantime, when new faces walk into the emergency shelter, they are invited to go through the intake process, which records their names and provides information about other services available. Martin says that the intakes are not required, and there is no involvement from state and federal agencies.

“This is an interfaith ministry, not something set up by the government,” said Martin. “Bucks County has a wonderful network of social services, and we want to make sure the needy are taking full advantage of what there is to offer. For example, we have a free laundry service that will provide them with clean clothing.”

The Bucks County Board of Commissioners recently approved $10,000 contracts each for both Lenape Valley Foundation in Doylestown and Penn Foundation Inc. in Sellersville to provide case management services at the Code Blue shelters. The next meeting will include a motion to provide a similar contract to Penndel Mental Health for $10,700, plus a $5,000 contribution to AHTN to help with transportation services.

Martin says that community contributions are always welcomed, and, in particular, she is looking for gift cards to convenience stores or department stores.

“We are asking for gift cards of no more than $25 to either Walmart or Wawa,” said Martin. “At the least, definitely Wawa, where people with cars can get gas and some food. I don’t like to give more than $25.”

For more information about volunteering or donations, Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need can be contacted at 215.550.3868.

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