ALLENTOWN, Pa. - As biting winds and frigid temperatures invade Allentown, more and more homeless people are seeking warmth and safety inside a shelter.
"We have a homeless problem in Allentown," said Richard Baumann, pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Allentown.
Th church at 38 S. Eighth St., opened up a safe haven several years ago, after several homeless people died out in the cold.
Baumann said a safe haven differs from a shelter because it doesn't provide beds or other services, just a place to keep warm.
Providing just heat, Baumann said the safe haven served 300 people last year.
But on Monday night, the safe haven had its biggest population to date.
More than 40 people came to the church looking for warmth. Not wanting to turn anyone away, Baumann said the basement was packed tight, with just inches separating one sleeping bag from another.
With little room to spare, Baumann said he reached out to the Allentown Rescue Mission, hoping for some relief. The rescue mission told 69 News it had 10 vacant beds on Monday night.
"I was told nobody could come in without a police voucher," Baumann said.
According to Baumann, a person must prove they have no outstanding arrest warrants to be issued a voucher. He said the mission requires the voucher to ensure it isn't harboring fugitives.
Rescue Mission Vice President Skip Smith told 69 News, "We have our rules in place for the safety of our employees and the other residents of the shelter."
Dale Smith with the Commission to End Chronic Homelessness said a person must prove their identity with a state-issued I.D. before they can be issued a voucher. He said that becomes problematic when people don't have access to such records.
"It makes it difficult, to show up to the police department and say "Hey, I'm Dale Smith, here is my I.D. card, please confirm I have no warrants," Dale Smith said.
The rescue mission said it has had rules in place for more than 100 years and said its rules are no secret. The mission said it relaxed on its policy that prohibits people from returning to the shelter for 90 days without being enrolled in one of its programs.
Baumann believes the voucher restriction should have been lifted on Monday night to accommodate more people with what he called "better services."
"It had been agreed a long time ago, that the rescue mission would remove some if its restrictive polices so people could come out of the cold," Baumann said.
The sheltering subcommittee of the Commission to End Chronic Homelessness will discuss the issue again next Wednesday.
"There is a critical problem that needs to be resolved, but in the middle of winter is not the time to do it. Right now, we need to keep people safe, out of harm's way, and out of cold. And it's very cold tonight," Baumann said.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Lehigh Valley 69 News