Lehigh Valley students aid efforts to house Allentown’s homeless

Luke Williams
September 30, 2014

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. – Packaging was torn apart, buckets were filled and the scent of Pine Sol filled the air as students from Penn State Lehigh Valley’s Kappa Delta Pi and members of the Human Services Club began to prep the interior of one of the Sixth Street Shelter’s old shelter apartments in Allentown on Sept. 26. The students were taking part in the shelter’s Adopt an Apartment program in which families with at least one child younger than 18 that are struggling to stay self-sufficient, or are homeless, can take refuge for 60 days to regain a long-term, stable foothold in society.

The program also sheds light on a relatively new category of the population known as the “working poor.” Those that suffer from this label may be working under the pressures of full time employment but still do not manage to earn a sufficient living wage. Such a condition leaves these families in a never-ending loop of financial and mental poverty, giving them no other option but to resort to lower means of living, despite being employed. That’s where Penn State Lehigh Valley comes in.

“Being such a small, close-knit campus, we are always striving to help out in the community. It’s basically our mission,” said Linda Habrukovich, president of Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), an international education honor society. “Every so often, students from Kappa Delta Pi and the Human Services Club clean up and renovate the shelter apartments to keep them in top condition for those that desperately need it."

Lehigh Valley students move furniture at the 6th Street Shelter apartment.

Matthew Cruz, left, and Tom Carson, right, work hard to reposition a piece of furniture.

IMAGE: Luke Williams

Despite these efforts to house the homeless, the Sixth Street Shelter’s waiting list for apartments is massive and only grows by the day; a reflection of larger socioeconomic and structural shifts in society. Changes like these make staying afloat a daunting challenge for an ever-increasing number of families.

Jennifer Parker, associate professor of sociology at Lehigh Valley, began taking her classes to the apartments to help, and, soon, Kappa Delta Pi and the Human Services Club joined the effort, with Habrukovich spearheading the operation. With numbers come progress, and that’s certainly what the campus has made since its involvement in the program.

Each apartment is free and offers a variety of everyday and family life services including computers for job and housing searches, beds to accommodate each family, toy rooms for the kids, lounges and pantries full of food. In addition, the shelter provides parenting classes, money management lessons and help with education to arm the residents with the knowledge and skills that they’ll need to survive on their own. There are also many rules and regulations they must follow.

“The goal of this is independence,” said Habrukovich. “The items that we are supplying the families, minus the furniture, they take with them when they move out so that they don’t have to worry about moving into a bare apartment. These families don’t have that kind of money to purchase those items on their own.

Of course, it takes more than just hard work, compassion and a desire to help to provide the items and services to these families. The students solicit hundreds of dollars’ worth of donations from local businesses, the campus and other organizations to fund these projects, and could always use more help.

“I think it’s fun, and I think these kids are having fun doing it. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them,” said Habrukovich. “This has been a phenomenal success, and the Human Services Club and KDP are going to keep working together to continue doing this.”

  • The toy room at the 6th Street Shelter apartment.

    Shelter apartment 213’s toy room designed especially for the kids. The door at the back leads to a computer room for job search and educational help.

    IMAGE: Luke Williams
  • Students check out the pantry supplies at the Sixth Street Shelter.

    Students check the shelter's pantry for items for the apartment.

    IMAGE: Luke Williams
  • The renovated bedroom at the 6th Street Shelter

    A shot of the apartment's renovated bedroom.

    IMAGE: Luke Williams
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Last Updated October 01, 2014