A public council meeting, Jan. 4, led to a yelling contest among the Council and members of the audience; most of the Council and residents claimed the homeless could pose "problems," with others claiming the problem had nothing to do with the homeless but with following proper zoning ordinances. However, the church is zoned R-1 (residential) and in a residential area. Council kicked the problem to the Zoning Commission, but indicated that if the church files an appeal, with a $350 fee, it would allow the homeless to stay in the church for a week. It's an "olive branch," claimed council president Charlene Tarnalicki. There was no ruling that if the church loses its appeal if it would still be liable for up to a $3,500 fine.
"This is not a zoning issue, but an issue of fear by residents," says Gary F. Clark, executive director of the Northeast Pennsylvania Homeless Alliance. "Most homeless pose absolutely no threat to any citizen," says Clark. The homeless, says Clark, often have day jobs, and are sheltered only in evenings. Clark says that with the Recession, more persons have been laid off from jobs they may have had for several years, and have been unable to meet mortgage payments on houses. Council's concern about the homeless, according to Balas, was that they could be violent or be drug users.
However, Clark says that while some of the homeless may have alcohol- or drug-induced problems, most are "just trying to get by." About 3.5 million people will be homeless at some point this year, with almost half being children, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. About 16,000 Pennsylvanians are homeless on any given night, according to the Pennsylvania Interagency Council on Homelessness. About one-third of homeless men are veterans, "many with post-traumatic stress disorder that keeps them from a stable life," Clark says. It is unlikely, he says, that they pose any threat to public safety.
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