CHS staff, clients saddened on agency’s final day
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
Community Housing Services employee Christine Wiley, left, hugs board member Jean Luna as Executive Director Gloria Echols wipes away tears on the last day.