Friday, July 1, 2011

What Will Happen To the Safe Harbor Homeless Shelter?

Posted by: Noël Jones

Tom Shortell of the Express-Times reports that the executive director, Tyson Sprandel, of Safe Harbor, Easton's homeless shelter for men, has stepped aside as a result of federal budget cuts. Alan Jennings, Director of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV is the umbrella nonprofit that oversees the shelter) is looking for another nonprofit to take over the shelter and keep it running.

This comes at a time when homelessness in our area is at a 10-year high, due to the recession.

This brings to mind the libertarian argument that citizens should not be taxed and forced to help the needy, but that instead, charity should
come voluntarily, from churches, organizations and individuals. While this sounds good, the obvious question is, if citizens were allowed to keep their tax money, would our society have enough spontaneous generosity to meet the need, and if not, what would be the consequences to our society of not meeting that need? While I like a lot about libertarianism, I have difficulty with the faith walk required to eliminate funding for shelters, give citizens their taxes back, and trust that churches and others will step in.

It would seem that this would be a perfect moment for to this concept to be demonstrated and proven an effective alternative. Why doesn't a local church step forward to take over? 


Anonymous said...

I have been homeless. I know what its like to sleep in a car, a small child in tow and then the next day take him to school after he's had a bath out of a 5 gallon bucket of cold water. I remember the days of knocking door to door just to earn enough money to buy some food, or get medicine, or scrape a few dollars together to by some clothes at the thrift store.

I know what its like to walk down the street, in an among liberals, conservatives, Christians, Jews and Muslims, the rich and the middle class knowing the clothes on my child's back may have just been some 'throw aways' of the very people I bumped into here and there.

I know the shame of smelling like compost and remember the bitter tears burning my face as I prayed and prayed for our condition to change. Or to find a way to answer my child's questions as to why other kids at school lived in houses with extra rooms and why we couldn't live there.

I remember the 'ten-dollar Christmas.'

Homelessness is not the responsibility of the 'church' or social service organizations or government. It is the responsibility of all of us. Our resources, homes, spare bedrooms, extra money, time and resources to provide a roof over the shadowy pale faces of those who wander our streets, hills and river least for those who want it for not all do.

People, not programs heal homelessness. Radical altruism changes systemic social ills not charity. People who are broken for the broken mend the brokenness.

I know.

There is no better shelter than the shelter of one's own home offered to another.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Anon@5:32...well put.

I can't comment on the specific administrative decisions regarding Safe Harbor because I am an employee of CACLV via The West Ward Neighborhood Partnership. I have a few general comments though.

First, one of Libertarianism's weaknesses is a lack of understanding of what it takes to manage a complex society. The movement is permeated with thought processes that avoid or conveniently disregard the exigencies required to govern under conditions that include a disappearing middle class, profound variations of personal wealth, extreme ideological resistance to investing in infrastructure, and a lack of leadership in providing a vision for the future or even forming a coherent national consensus of what the problems are...hence a de-legitimatizing of institutions (government, regulatory agencies, education, media, banking, big business). Within these parameters, it would be my personal view that the Libertarian dogma of individualism for individualism's sake doesn't offer much.

Second, falling back on charitable institutions and churches sounds logical - volunteer efforts of both individuals and organizations certainly fill a gap - but in reality the people being served by Safe Harbor require professional care and hence professionally trained assistance. I have nothing to say about the impending changes other than any replacement services need to be judged also by their professional capacity rather than simply a willingness to "volunteer".


noel jones said...

Anon 5:32--thanks for sharing your story. I would love to know more, if you feel like sharing. Your post is extremely well-written, so you seem to, at some point in your life, have benefitted from a strong education, and I think a lot of people assume that all homeless people are either mentally ill, under-educated, and/or have always lived in poverty.

A lot of middle-class folks are slipping across the poverty line, thanks to this recession, brought on by the unregulated and unmitigated recklessness and greed of Wall Street investors who got nothing but wealthy from it all, and continue to get wealthier from it all.

I'm interested to know how long ago you were homeless, and if your situation has improved and how. It sounds, from your post, that it homelessness is in your past. I hope so.

noel jones said...

Oh, and if you could take a moniker, that would be great, so that readers can follow the thread more easily...thanks in advance...

Anonymous said...


Great site and thanks for joining up in the "volunteer" army out here in the blogosphere.

Many government funded non-profits are top heavy with administrative costs and salaries unlike volunteer orgs which can better sustain economic downturns. Here is another take on "Safe Harbor":

Alive and kicking apparently. All volunteer. No gov money. It does work. Been there. Done that. Walk the walk folks...

wanderer said...

Thank you Mr. Lieb.

Libertarians are the evangelists of the gospel of individualism. While I agree with the need to integrate a comprehensive and agreed upon approach, the weakness of the institutional mindset is the loss of the simplicity within the complexity of the myriad of systemic issues driving homelessness.

I don't pretend to have an expert understanding, I simply have an experiential one. It is a myth to qualify the homeless as needing 'professional care.'

Yes, homeless shelters have addicts, veterans suffering from PTSD, the mentally ill and those so beaten up by life's circumstances they have simply given up.

But they also have professionals who have lost everything, moms and dads who have been evicted. They have a growing number of people who can't find jobs in this economy, educated and talented women who have fled domestic abuse and the saddest victims, the children.

In its simplicity many of the homeless simply need someone to open a home and let them feed upon their cost while they help them harness the resources needed to move forward. They need someone to show them, not tell them, that there is hope beginning in their own home.

I was homeless nearly twenty years ago. I was a professional. I was thrust into single parenthood after my addicted spouse left. Upon discovering our financial assets had been drained and learning of hidden debt, money used to feed the addiction, I was unable to keep afloat. It was a free fall from there.

Such circumstances are crippling emotionally and spiritually. I sought institutional help through state Welfare. I was told that I would have to be on full welfare to receive the benefits I needed which also meant that I could NOT work. The waiting list was nearly a year for housing. All I really needed was help with child care and transitional housing while I worked to build up a financial foundation. Because of the state's guidelines I was unable to.

I worked as a laborer because I had more flexibility to care for my child. But child care ate over half my paycheck. We had no medical insurance. We were evicted. We lived in our car.

Finally, while attending a church, a couple took us in. They provided child care and desperately needed transportation. Then we lived with another senior couple in the church. They helped me to network with people and I finally found a job that paid enough to get me back on the road to hope. It was a blue collar job. People in the church took a collection and along with some money I saved while living at other people's houses, I was able to get a small apartment. It was a struggle to move forward but we were going in the right direction. We have been fully restored. Today, we share our house with the homeless.

I didn't want to be known as the 'homeless single parent' or a case file or a statistic enumerated in a strategic plan to end homelessness. I longed for the same dignity we all do. I was given that from the humble, generous and loving hearts of others who were willing to put themselves at risk for a beaten down parent and a child.

They were not professionals well versed in a specific area within a continuum of care. For them it wasn't volunteerism it was a matter of sacrifice.

In its simplest form, what are any of us, individual to institution, willing to sacrifice for the homeless?

'Plenty sits still, hunger is a wanderer.'

noel jones said...

Anon 1:58--thanks for sharing your story. Is this the same Anon that posted at 5:32?

Please please everybody, when you sign on, if you want to remain anonymous, take a moniker (secret code name) and use it each time you post so that readers can keep track of one writer's thoughts in a conversation (or multiple conversations) without knowing who you are--thanks!

Birdman said...


Good analysis. Increased complexity
eventually leads to collapse. One Safe Harbor dies, another survives.

what are the models?

the survivor model: volunteerism, altruism = resilience.

non-survivor: tied to failing central state debt spiral=death

Google: Joseph Tainter: The Collapse of Complex Societies.

It's the law of diminishing returns
writ large for civilization.

whataboutthechurch? said...

Noel, probably worth noting that local churches do quite a bit to support Safe Harbor, including providing meals.

Anonymous said...

I think Easton has gone the extra mile in supporting this institution. The problem is regional and the county and its agencies should step up and take responsibility. Easton has little and is being asked too much for this program. Face it, homeless come here from other communities because other communities do not offer this service. You cannot tell me that homelessness is a problem that only impacts Easton.

noel jones said...

whattaboutthechurch?--thanks for posting--it makes me wonder--if churches are providing meals, then what are the costs outside of food for running the shelter? the ones that come to mind are rent, utilities, a security guard, i would imagine, occasional new blankets...if there are readers out there that have worked for safe harbor or other shelters, i would love to get your comments on the intrinsic costs of running a shelter (minus administrative costs).

and i would like to know how much of the grant funding goes to administrative salaries.

it would seem to me that what most people would need most is a safe bed, food, a shower, and a phone, so that they could accept calls from potential employers that they apply to.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


I believe the costs of operating Safe Harbor are public record. They may be on the CACLV website as part of the annual budget. If they aren't there you can call the agency and get a hard copy.

I don't want to be held to this but I think the average national admin. cost of operating these facilities is 12-15% of budget and I think CACLV's admin is hovering around 7.5-8%.