Muller indicated responding to emergencies such as gas explosions or Hurricane Sandy is different than providing long-term shelter to homeless people.
Muller said the county may be able to help address the short-term threat, when temperatures drop below a certain level, but added the issue requires long-term solutions involving the city, school district, clergy, non-profits and human services personnel.
O’Connell said when a gas explosion occurred several years ago, the city used Agricultural Hall in the Allentown Fairgrounds as an emergency shelter for a couple of days.
A uniformed Allentown police officer wearing his hat conspicuously stood along the side wall in council chambers throughout the entire City Council meeting, which lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours.
A line of people waiting to speak to council, most in defense of the homeless, stretched the length of the room for nearly 90 minutes.
Those addressing council included at least two men who formerly were homeless – one lived under the 8th Street Bridge for eight years and the other used to sleep in the bandshell at West Park -- and a woman who said she will become homeless on Feb. 1 because she has no income.
After four homeless people died in one winter in Allentown, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at 38 S. Eighth St. opened Safe Haven.
The Rev. Richard Baumann, the church’s pastor, said Safe Haven opened with the intention of providing shelter to four or five people on the floor.
“It rose to 23, then to 40 last night,” said Baumann.
“Our homeless problem in Allentown is enormous. We really don’t have time to talk. It’s time to do something.”
Homeless advocate Dale Smith said St. Paul’s has space for about 20 to
25 people on the floor of its parish hall. “In that cold snap last week, 40-50 people were showing up a night. That was just way too much.”
Teti said on Tuesday night, Safe Haven could not take any more people.
While expressing gratitude that the congregation of St. Paul’s has opened its doors, Teti said people at Safe Haven must stay in “deplorable” conditions. She said they manage themselves, with no volunteers, counselors or security.
People sleep side-by-side on the floor, said Teti.
“In a space meant for 23, we have close to 50 people. There is literally no space between them. We need to do better for these people. This is a manageable problem. But something has to be done now, not in February.”
After the council meeting, Teti said: “I am optimistic that we’re on the right path.”
Also during the meeting, it was announced council soon will schedule a special committee-of-the-whole meeting to better determine what more
the city should do about its slums and slum landlords.
Noting having such a committee-of-the-whole meeting has been discussed before, Eichenwald pushed for a date and hopes the administration will be there.
She said Ken Heffentrager of the Allentown Tenant Association presents “salient and important issues” regarding slum properties in Allentown at nearly every council meeting.
O’Connell supported Eichenwald’s suggestion that a committee-of-the-whole council meeting be scheduled on the issue.
Julie Thomases of the Allentown Environmental Advisory Council appealed to City Council to help get three vacancies filled. She said interested people who regularly attend EAC meetings patiently have been waiting to be appointed by Mayor Ed Pawlowski.
One of them is Ken Heaton, a civil engineer who has been waiting more than a year.
“It is disrespectful to them, and to the EAC, that no action has been taken on these applications,” said Thomases. She said the EAC is supposed to have seven members, but only has four.