Last Day

CHS staff, clients sad­dened on agency’s fi­nal day

North Penn Life - - Front Page - By Dan Sokil dsokil@jour­nalregis­ter.com

A fter 29 years of help­ing thou­sands of area res­i­dents through tough times, em­ploy­ees of Lans­dale’s Com­mu­nity Hous­ing Ser­vices spent the agency’s last day help­ing as many clients as they could.

“This place has been a bless­ing for a lot of peo­ple. It’s sad to see them leave; this was a nice place to come in and hang out, use the com­puter, what­ever you need,” said one client who asked to be iden­ti­fied as Robin.

“You don’t get to meet many peo­ple that are will­ing to help you, but here ev­ery­one is,” she said.

As she spoke, CHS staff and sev­eral clients spent the fi­nal few hours pack­ing, mov­ing and dis­man­tling the of­fice equip­ment, dé­cor and var­i­ous re­source ma­te­ri­als the agency ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing nearly three decades of help­ing the home­less in and around Lans­dale.

Just days prior, the or­ga­ni­za­tion had an­nounced it clo­sure.

“It’s a very sad time right now. This is purely a fi­nan­cial de­ci­sion, there was less fund­ing and less do­na­tions to Com­mu­nity Hous­ing Ser­vices over the past few years,” said CHS board mem­ber Wade Lu­quet.

“It’s just not sus­tain­able, so sadly we have to make the de­ci­sion to shut down all ser­vices, but all of our peo­ple will be taken care of. They did won­der­ful work, and we’re very sad about the whole thing,” he said.

CHS was founded in 1984 to help ad­dress hous­ing needs of low-in­come area res­i­dents, and in a pre­pared state­ment, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Glo­ria Echols said Feb. 1 that while the clos­ing was “a time of deep­est sor­row, that sor­row is matched by the pride that we can all have in what we have done at CHS.”

Those ac­com­plish­ments in­clude giv­ing in­for­ma­tion, re­fer­rals, food, cloth­ing and shel­ter to thou­sands of clients, match­ing more than 600 peo­ple each year with hol­i­day gifts through the Hol­i­day Shar­ing pro­gram, help­ing more than two dozen fam­i­lies be­come homeowners, build­ing two dozen sin­gle­fam­ily homes and pro­vid­ing hous­ing for more than 60 home­less men in the agency’s Ezra House project.

“CHS, al­ways in a spirit of open col­lab­o­ra­tion, has part­nered with al­most ev­ery other help­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion in our county to help our need­i­est neigh­bors,” she said.

Some of those showed up last Fri­day for one fi­nal round of hugs and well wishes, in­clud­ing client Bob, who said he came to CHS for help find­ing food stamps and hous­ing af­ter los­ing both job and home in 2008.

“I’m just so used to coming here. I help out, clean up trash, vac­uum ev­ery few days, help pick up do­na­tions. I’ll prob­a­bly go home and be de­pressed for a few hours” af­ter the doors fi­nally close, he said.

Staffers spent their fi­nal hours giv­ing clients what help they could, whether re­fer­ring them to lo­cal agen­cies in Lans­dale or else­where in Mont­gomery County, while shar­ing mem­o­ries of their years work­ing there.

“I’ve been here for 13 years, and it’s a won­der­ful place to work. Ev­ery­body here is like fam­ily,” said ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant Chris­tine Wi­ley. Hous­ing spe­cial­ist Jon Robins agreed, but said that in his 16 years work­ing for CHS, the eco­nomic down­town and sub­se­quent bud­get cuts to county, state and lo­cal agen­cies have com­bined to make life much more dif­fi­cult for those in need. “Clients can be very re­source­ful, and we can be a way to help them stretch that, say, $200 a month and make it last a lit­tle longer, but there have been so many cuts there’s not much left” in terms of re­sources, and an ever-grow­ing need for as­sis­tance, Robins said.

“There’s this im­pres­sion that peo­ple are rid­ing high and tak­ing

In 2008 when we were first threat­ened with clos­ing, staff con­tin­ued to work with­out pay and gave out Thanks­giv­ing din­ners to many, know­ing that they them­selves were on the brink of qual­i­fy­ing as clients. Glo­ria Echols Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor

ad­van­tage of the sys­tem, and that couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth,” he said.

As he spoke, clients pe­rused a coat closet in­side the main en­trance of CHS, as staff and vol­un­teers moved com­puter equip­ment, books and re­source ma­te­ri­als to­ward the agency’s front en­trance, where signs di­rected clients to call the county’s Home­less Preven­tion Cen­ter at 1-877-646-6306 for re­fer­ral to other agen­cies, a process that Robins said can be hit or miss.

“There are agen­cies out there, but the wait­ing lists can be months or years for some of those. [Find­ing aid] was a very dif­fi­cult thing to do years ago, and now it’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent world,” he said.

He thanked all of the lo­cal donors along with Trin­ity Lutheran Church of Lans­dale and Gwynedd Square Pres­by­te­rian Church in par­tic­u­lar for help­ing with clients’ hous­ing needs, and Echols said the agency’s work would not have been pos­si­ble with­out help from county government, the fed­eral De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment, vol­un­teers and staff.

“In 2008 when we were first threat­ened with clos­ing, staff con­tin­ued to work with­out pay and gave out Thanks­giv­ing din­ners to many, know­ing that they them­selves were on the brink of Qual­i­fy­ing as clients,” she said.

“We helped each other. Some of us have worked to­gether al­most from the be­gin­ning. In the end, we are all hon­ored to have each other, and to have had this CHS ex­pe­ri­ence,” Echols said.

Com­mu­nity Hous­ing Ser­vices board mem­ber

Jean Luna com­forts Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Glo­ria Echols as she wipes

away tears.

Com­mu­nity Hous­ing Ser­vices em­ployee Chris­tine Wi­ley, left, hugs board mem­ber Jean Luna as Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Glo­ria Echols wipes away tears on the last day.

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