EAGLEVILLE — Resources for Human Development has developed plans for a new place to help people experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County following the closing last year of the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center, known as CHOC.
It’s a proposal the nonprofit’s leadership hopes is favored by elected officials in Lower Providence Township.
“I know you have stated this is supportive short term housing. Is this a homeless shelter?” asked Lower Providence Township Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dr. Janine Darby at recent meeting in which the plans were presented.
“It is not a homeless shelter. We would not look at it as a homeless shelter. We are helping people who are unhoused, but it is not a homeless shelter,” said Owen Camuso, regional director of Resources for Human Development.
The difference, he explained, is that this is short-term housing in apartment-like settings with support services geared to getting residents able to live on their own in regular housing.
RHD, a nonprofit services organization which works in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, previously operated CHOC on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital. The 50-bed facility was the largest and only space for single adults ages 18 years and older experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County.
The building was positioned on a portion of state land conveyed to the Municipality of Norristown, and RHD was one of several social service agencies in need of a new place when leases lapsed on June 30, 2022. No new facility has been built.
Resources for Human Development has continued its advocacy work, but without a place for individuals to come to. Instead, advocates sought to bring services directly to individuals.
Plans to develop a new space remained on the back burner, with an initial proposal for a “short term housing program” in Montgomery County that is different from temporary shelters opened during extreme weather conditions.
Social service advocates previously looked to do just that in Lower Providence Township, but plans had stalled.
A different approach
Now RHD is trying once again to get the concept which they call Genny’s Place implemented on the Eagleville Hospital property, 100 Eagleville Road.
“We heard community concern, we listened to community concern and we feel that being on Eagleville’s campus has like-minded services on that campus and it’s a good fit,” Camuso said.
Eagleville Hospital is an addiction recovery site with 347 beds and is managed as an independent non-profit facility.
“I think that you’re never going to have the perfect location, but I feel that it checked a lot of our boxes,” Camuso said.
However, he stressed that “we are a separate entity” from the treatment center, who will serve as the “landlord” for Genny’s place. The name honors the legacy of former CHOC Director Genny O’Donnell.
“Our program is focused on individuals who are 18 and older who are in need of permanent housing in an immediate situation,” Camuso said during the Jan. 18 Lower Providence Board of Supervisors meeting, adding that “it’s not a forever home. We are trying to get people linked to permanent housing.”
Only “qualified and screened individuals” in Montgomery County are eligible for services provided through the short term housing model. The multi-stage admissions process includes assistance from outreach partners, background checks and conversations to ensure the individual “understand(s) the program’s purpose” as “people need to have motivation to really engage in our services and to move forward.”
People can expect to stay up to three months. While Camuso noted some may need less time, and others could require more, it’s not a long-term housing option.
“At that 90-day period, it isn’t that you’re out, you’ve used your time,” he said. “We really wrap intensive services around individuals to find the resources that they need to move forward, but we always have to have target dates … and when that 90 days is approaching, it’s more conversations happening. What are you doing to move forward? What resources do you need? Things like that so people don’t stay stagnant.”
Christina Jordan will serve as program director of Genny’s Place, tasked with overseeing operations if and when the facility opens.
“Everyone has an individualized goal plan with us, a housing stability plan where we work on tailoring a goal, a plan to move forward into permanent housing that’s tailored to their unique needs,” Jordan said.
The “supportive housing proposal” holds a capacity of up to 60 people, according to a frequently asked questions flyer on Lower Providence Township’s website. The facility is slated to provide “efficiency-style apartments,” with up to two beds per room, along with spaces for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, computer rooms, storage, and staff offices. Men and women would have separate living areas as to taking a “trauma-informed” approach to caring for the clientele.
‘Dignity and respect’
Camuso and Jordan stressed the importance of providing individualized places for participants.
“We feel that treats people with dignity and respect,” Camuso said, adding “it’s their own space, with quick access to intensive services to move people forward.”
Additional services aid people with housing, health care and behavioral health services, food, laundry, gaining necessary documentation, as well as other community resources.
“It can look really different. We see all sorts of different people, but all people have the same basic needs and the same basic needs as all of us,” Jordan said.
Camuso and Jordan were pressed by the local officials and community members after concluding their remarks.
“Thank you for that comprehensive presentation. I’m glad the community is here to hear this. I know this has been a multiple year process, and we’re still working through it,” Darby said.
Darby and fellow Supervisor Sarah Charles inquired about allocating space specifically for Lower Providence Township residents in need.
“Yes, that’s what we’re here for,” Camuso said. “We’re here to provide that service, and we’re here to partner with Lower Providence on that, so absolutely we would do that.”
Charles also asked about how the venture may “benefit the residents of Lower Providence, not Montgomery County, but our small community here.”
“We want to be part of the community,” Camuso replied. “We don’t want to be a detriment to the community for sure. We want to be embedded in this community, and we want to be supportive of everybody here in Lower Providence.”
Public safety concerns
Public safety was also a topic raised by local leadership.
“When people have some free time they can only walk primarily, most of them won’t have cars,” said Supervisor Peter MacFarland. “So they’re going to walk to the Turkey Hill or Eagleville Tavern or maybe even the library, which is fine if there’s normal behavior and normal activities, but if there’s a problem related to one of these residents, what would you suggest would be the next step for that business owner?”
Camuso and Jordan stressed the importance of cultivating partnerships with local businesses and community members, but acknowledged protocols would be instituted.
“If they’re going to Turkey Hill to get something, absolutely that’s OK, but if they’re sitting out front loitering and stuff like that, we would try to put some processes in place to monitor that and address that as it comes up,” Camuso said.
Jordan anticipated curfew for Genny’s Place residents would be 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. Addressing concerns about security, Camuso said that staff would be on site, but not security personnel per se.
“I would hope that there wouldn’t be security issues that we would be calling the police all the time,” he said. “Historically, I feel like we’re able to resolve a lot of the situations on site without the need of security.”
While the plan has been introduced, homeless advocates and elected officials stressed it’s still in its early stages.
“I want to be clear that our plans aren’t fully laid out yet. They’re still being altered, but that is our vision,” Camuso said.
“This is an introduction to what RHD would like to do in the township, and the process is just starting,” MacFarland said. “So just want to make sure everyone understands there’s no vote on whether this is going to happen or not tonight, or any time in the next few weeks. It’s going to be several months, and there’s going to be one or more additional public hearings on the topic.”