An Interview with Gina Ruggieri

Roberta Machin, BA

 

As Director of Programs with Open Hearth, Gina Ruggieri is no stranger to working hard and overcoming challenges.  Her commitment to her work stems from her parents, whom she admires greatly for their work ethic and dedication.  “My mom and dad immigrated to the United States from Italy,” she said.  “They had to learn how to become adults as teenagers.  They had to overcome language and culture barriers.  My dad quit school to get a job and support his family, and was able to send two daughters to college.  I’m incredibly grateful.” 

Growing up in Drexel Hill, Gina says she took for granted having a “normal” home and family and rarely noticed evidence of homelessness.  She didn’t have a clear understanding of what poverty was until she started college at Villanova.  There, Gina was able to go on service trips to poor communities in Mexico, Peru, and South Carolina, where she witnessed poverty firsthand.  Originally interested in becoming a teacher or marriage counselor, Gina earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.  However, while volunteering with Mercy Volunteer Corps as an outreach counselor, Gina fell in love with her position and decided that she wanted to help people find homes.  She earned her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Maryland, with a specialization in Social Planning.

While every day at Open Hearth is different, Gina enjoys the unpredictability of her job.  She tries to always be prepared for what might be thrown at her.  She spends some days working out issues with clients, and others filling out reports for funders.  Her work involves switching gears fast and constantly, and it’s never the same.  Gina says that her most memorable days of work have involved crisis intervention and resolution, particularly while she worked as a member of the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) Team for Pathways to Housing in Philadelphia.  There, she sometimes faced dramatic highs and lows due to the unpredictable nature of the job.

Gina enjoys the challenges that social work presents.  “Impoverished people within the community deal with a complex puzzle of issues, and it’s my job to match the resources to each person and situation so that they can overcome the barriers they’re struggling with,” she explained.  Gina has felt the most successful in her career while doing direct service.  “When you help someone get into a house, you feel like you did your job,” she said.  She’s happy that she has experienced a variety of roles and positions, and believes that challenging herself has allowed her to understand homelessness from multiple perspectives.

What surprises Gina most about her work is how intertwined she has become with her clients’ lives, and how much they are willing to let her in.  “It’s incredible how much they trust you to help them,” she says, “and it’s strange that being intrusive starts to feel normal.”  Gina always tries to balance between holding clients accountable and making sure she is being respectful.  She won’t sugar coat a situation, preferring to be firm and direct, but she also wants her clients to feel comfortable and trust her so that she can help them to the best of her ability.  When she can, Gina tries to bring laughter into a situation, so that she can get others to lighten up. 

With the understanding that the work she does is not about her, Gina says she always tries to leave her ego at the door.  “When people only think about themselves or making their own organization better, they lose community support.  It’s not about you, it’s about the common goal: working towards ending homelessness.”

As an incredibly active and dedicated member of Decade to Doorways, Gina is proud to have co-chaired the Systems Change Action Team.  Originally nervous to be in charge of the committee, Gina has proven herself to be a worthy and diligent leader.  She has enjoyed gaining the trust of the group and learning how to lead, and praises her team for accomplishing the goals they have set.

Outside of work, Gina enjoys being outdoors, especially if she’s going for a run or a hike.  At the moment, her favorite role in life is being an aunt to her nephews, whom she loves spending time with.  Gina also loves desserts, and when asked what gets her through the tough days at work, her answer is simple: “ice cream.”

While discussing the biggest challenges facing low-income families in Chester County, Gina said that she is shocked that buses still don’t go to certain areas of the county.  “This prevents opportunities from happening,” she said.  “It all comes down to access.  Since services tend to be in the bigger cities, that’s where people go.”  She believes that it is possible to end homelessness in Chester County, because interest in the issue has been growing.  “As awareness of homelessness builds, people will be more interested in funneling money and resources into solving the issue,” she said.  “Chester County has a manageable homeless population, and DCD is very committed to refocusing their goals and working hard to solve this problem.”

Gina recommends that anyone interested in beginning a career in social work needs to be able to go with the flow.  “Don’t plan, but always be prepared for any possibility,” she said.  “Since you can’t always anticipate what’s going to happen, you need to learn to let go, because there is no rigidity or predictability in this line of work.”

When asked what animal she wishes she could be, Gina responded, “definitely a giraffe, because they’re so gentle and non-aggressive, and no one is scared of you.”  Tina Fey is the celebrity she wishes would portray her in a movie about her life.  “I think she’s a perfect combo of hilarious, smart, driven, bold and engaging,” she said.  “I hope I’m viewed as that at some point in my life!”

Gina will soon be leaving Open Hearth to work at the Philadelphia Office of Supportive Housing.  While the Decade to Doorways community is sad to see her leave, we are excited for her as she embarks on this next chapter, and we are incredibly appreciative of her dedication to her work and the cause.  She concluded our interview by saying, “For nearly 5 years Chester County has been home to my career and I will forever be grateful to all the wonderful and passionate people living and working here. Being a part of Decade to Doorways, the development and execution, has been an important learning experience for me and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of such a dedicated community. It’s been a pleasure to work alongside other providers, advocating for those in need. Though I’m moving on in a different county, I look forward to seeing what D2D does next!”

10 Fun Facts about Lara Dorfman, New AmeriCorps VISTA

Roberta Machin, BA

 

The newest member of Decade to Doorways, Lara Dorfman, began her year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the end of July.  She is excited to work alongside Lauren and Roberta and collaborate with the other agencies within the community who are working diligently each day to prevent and end homelessness.

Here are 10 things you didn't know about Lara:

1.      In May, she graduated from Temple University with a BA in Communication Studies and Public Health. If she could do it all over again she would, because she thought the Communication program at Temple was incredible.

2.      Her favorite class was called Media Criticism, which she took during her last semester. Her professor tailored the class to focus on Apocalyptic Scenarios, which ended up being very interesting.

3.      She has three younger sisters and two older brothers.

4.      Her favorite food is French fries.

5.      She went to London last spring and did an internship with the NHS program called Thrive Tribe. The program offers free weight management classes that included cooking, simple exercises, and other support. They also offered free smoking cessation counseling and smoking cessation products. It was her favorite internship and she wishes these kinds of programs would be implemented in the U.S.

6.      In high school she was on the crew team, and now she runs for fun.

7.      She has absolutely no sense of direction.

8.      Her favorite movie is Superbad.

9.      She went to the University of South Florida for one semester before transferring to Temple, because she couldn’t stand not living in the city.

10.     She decided to join AmeriCorps after an old internship supervisor described her own experience with AmeriCorps, which she loved.

 

My time on Capitol Hill

Lauren Campbell, Decade to Doorways Administrator

 

This past week I was able to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference and Capitol Hill Day in Washington, D.C.  It was an incredible conference, packed with great speakers that addressed crucial topics.  I felt privileged to have been able to attend and bring back the knowledge to assist our community in bringing an end to homelessness!

While I was particularly fond of the food choices in D.C., I have to say that the most enriching experience during my time there was my visit on Capitol Hill. It was pretty fascinating, albeit slightly daunting, seeing the inner workings of the buildings on Capitol Hill. The buildings you enter are pristine and primarily marble. There is a strict security process and stoic guards (who will not laugh at your jokes, so don’t try). Each person that passes by you seems more important than the last. And even though we dressed the part (which basically means heavy, layered, stifling clothing – not fit for the 95 degree weather we traversed in), there remains a nagging feeling in your stomach that says, “You don’t belong here.”

But today, I wasn’t here to be a wallflower. I wasn’t here to be a silent bystander. And when finally arriving in front of the office of my legislator, I had the timely realization that, I absolutely belong here. This is my country, and if I am unhappy with the implications that this government would have on those in need in my neighborhood, I don’t have to say anything, I get to. What a privilege.

The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t there to speak for me.  Being motivated by assisting others – this helps me. I often pray to be given the words that would sustain the weary, and today was no different. Today I’m speaking for approximately 1,200 people who were homeless and received services last year and potentially thousands more at risk of homelessness in my County. I’m speaking for the individual that may never get the chance to set foot in this building – because they’re working three jobs to pay for the rent, their kid’s child care, and a van to fit the new baby on the way.  The individual who is forced to choose between paying for housing and paying for medication to treat their depression. The individual whose husband left them alone with three kids and no car.  That’s the person I’m here for. And on Wednesday afternoon at 3:05 pm while I waited for the visit with my legislator, I imagined them.

At that point, it didn’t matter if I said all the right words. It mattered that I showed up and I spoke up – because there are so many that can’t.

We’re in a time where actions matter. We must be vocal about the impacts that funding cuts would have on those who are most in need in our neighborhood. Perhaps you can’t show up, but call, write, text, tweet. Find a way to say what needs to be said to protect the most vulnerable in our County.

An Interview with Anthony Zayas

Roberta Machin, BA

 

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Anthony about his role as Housing Support Specialist with ConnectPoints, and how he got involved with social work.  Tan and cheerful after having just returned from a family vacation at Disney World, Anthony first chatted with me about his trip – including his fear of roller coasters and his lengthy quest for his step-daughter’s lost Harry Potter wand. 

I first met Anthony at a Cross Systems Partnership meeting in Coatesville last winter, and was inspired by his passion for serving the homeless population, particularly during a frigid week where Code Blue was in effect and the Coatesville Library was closed, leaving many individuals on the street with nowhere to escape the cold.  Now, Anthony advocates for the development of a program to distribute lunches to kids in Coatesville during the summer, when school is out and they may not be able to eat all day.

After inquiring about his childhood, Anthony told me that growing up in northern Philadelphia, homelessness was a lot more visual.  “There were more services available in Philly than there are here,” he said.  “But whether or not people were utilizing them is a different story.”  Anthony admitted that he didn’t really have any career aspirations as a kid.  “I didn’t think college was for me,” he said.  “My mom was so proud that I graduated high school.  A lot of the kids in my hometown got into drugs and never finished school.”

After graduating high school, Anthony was unsure of his next step and didn’t have much guidance, and so he worked at a lot of different jobs while trying to decide on a career goal.  Eventually, the fear of unemployment encouraged him to begin looking into college.  Anthony realized that he loved the idea of helping people, and was fortunate enough to find a social work program at Eastern University that offered night classes. Therefore, he was able to work during the day and also complete an internship at a homeless shelter in Philadelphia, where he helped run an after school program for youth.

For the next few years, Anthony worked hard to complete his education.  He also began working at a second internship with the Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville.  Anthony explained that the long days were very stressful, and left little time for him to see his wife.  When he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, Anthony described getting his education despite the town he was from as his greatest success in life.

While at Good Sam, Anthony met Rei Horst, who was working at Family Service of Chester County.  Rei was impressed by Anthony’s people skills and informed him that Family Service was in need of a multilingual provider, and so Anthony applied for and received the job.  Now, Anthony describes Rei as a great role model and mentor in his life, always willing to offer him support and flexibility.  In his role as Housing Support Specialist after the establishment of ConnectPoints, Anthony speaks with people in need of emergency housing, rental assistance, food, and other supportive services on a daily basis.  Anthony enjoys connecting with individuals from other organizations because he believes collaboration between agencies will more efficiently provide clients with the assistance they need.  He also prefers to meet with clients in person, because he has a talent for reading other people’s expressions and analyzing their intentions.

As an active member of Decade to Doorways, Anthony is most proud of his work with the Housing Stabilization Action Team on the Ride Guide, an interactive and user friendly map of transportation throughout Chester County.  Anthony is also interested in becoming a board member at Orion Communities soon.  He enjoys spending time with his family, swimming in his new pool, and watching comedy shows and skits on Netflix.

Having been in the nonprofit world for ten years, Anthony sees himself as quite flexible, a team player, and very much a people person.  Anthony finds his job most enjoyable when the opportunity arises for him to get out in the community and meet with clients or members of other organizations.  Despite being tough-skinned, Anthony still finds it difficult when he knows someone is in a desperate situation and there is nothing that can be done.  He recalls one time when he knew a client would have to spend the night on the street during the winter because the shelters were full, and he felt so upset that he considered paying out of pocket.  But in the end, Anthony says it’s important to keep a thick skin in this line of work, because if you are too soft you can easily be manipulated.

What surprises Anthony the most about his work is that we do not have more resources and affordable housing, considering the level of need in the county.  While he admits that this is partially a funding issue, he also points to the lack of volunteers as a huge factor.  Anthony says he has a hard time finding people who are willing to sacrifice time or resources in order to help out as a volunteer.

On a lighter note, Anthony confessed to me that if he could be any animal, he would choose to be a puppy, because “everyone would treat you good.”  He also proudly stated that he would want Denzel Washington to play him in the movie about his life, because he looks up to the actor.

When asked if ending homelessness in Chester County was possible, Anthony responded optimistically.  “Absolutely,” he said.  “But first the community needs to realize that this is a real situation, because many people are not aware.  We need the general population to come to our meetings.  I think only about 70% of the county knows that ConnectPoints exists.”  I asked Anthony how he thought we would successfully end homelessness, and he said, “If you had asked me this when I first started working, I would’ve said the answer is that we need more shelters.  But now I realize that not everyone has the skills to become stable on their own.  I think we need a housing first approach with more extensive case management, so that we can help people get back on their feet and stay in their housing.”

Have You Heard of "Doubled-Up"?

Lauren Baker, BSW

 

There are incidences where we have either stayed with family and friends or had family and friends stay with us during times of need. For families or individuals experiencing homelessness, staying with family and friends can be a means of staying out of shelter and trying to get back on their feet. Living arrangements of the homeless population are on a spectrum. To list a few situations: “doubled-up” (with family and friends), transitional housing, emergency shelter, or on the streets. The doubled-up living arrangement of the homeless population is maintained through informal social supports.

The Value of Informal and Formal Social Supports

Doubled-up living can be considered an informal social support and as informal housing assistance. Social supports impact the ability for a family or individual to attain stability. Informal social supports, also known as natural supports, can be identified as family, friends, kinship ties, church communities, and other community circles. On the other hand, formal social supports are characterized as social service agencies, government agencies, community resources, assistance programs, shelters, etc.

Informal and formal social supports have their own unique value: informal social supports as bonding ties and formal social supports as bridging ties. Studies identified informal social supports as enduring, long term, and providing “bonding” means of emotional support. In contrast, formal social supports are identified as short term but “bridge” individuals and families to resources that can maximize their economic and educational strengths (Cook-Craig & Koehly, 2011;Hawkins, 2010; Skobba, Bruin, & Yurst, 2013). Often, informal social support networks and doubled-up living situations can become strained, exhausted, and burnt out. As a result, individuals and families resort to tapping into formal social support systems and programs.

Housing Assistance

Housing Choice Vouchers and Rapid Re-housing are two forms of formal rental assistance programs where availability and funding can fluctuate.  At times, the need can exceed availability of resources.  Many government entities, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), use the United States Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) to identify whether an individual or family is homeless. The CFR used to identify eligibility of specific government programs, deems doubled-up living arrangements as “at risk of homelessness” (Emergency Solutions Grants Programs, 2012). Therefore, individuals and families in doubled-up situations would not meet eligibility requirements for specific government rental assistance programs.

Food for Thought

Individuals and families currently in doubled-up situations may feel trapped between the decision to ‘hit rock bottom’ and go into shelter to access formal assistance programs or to continue living in an uncertain and strained, doubled-up living arrangement without access to formal rental assistance. Often, this is when social service agencies receive the call for help. As a community, I pose these questions to you:

  • How can we assist and support neighbors in doubled-up situations?
  • How can we tap into and maximize informal social support networks as the strengths that they are?
  • What services or means of diversion can we provide to support individuals, families, and social support networks to become stable and out of the shelter system?
  • What resources can network together to provide a web of support to families unable to access formal rental assistance to attain financial and housing stability?

References

Cook-Craig, P., & Koehly, L. (2011). Stability in the social support networks of homeless families in shelter: Findings from a study of families in a faith-based shelter program. Journal Of Family Social Work, 14(3), 191-207.

Emergency Solutions Grants Program, 24 CFR §576.2 (2012).

Hawkins, R. (2010). Fickle families and the kindness of strangers: Social capital in the lives of low-income single mothers. Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 20(1), 38-55.

Skobba, K., Bruin, M., & Yust, B. (2013). Beyond renting and owning: The housing accommodations of low-income families. Journal Of Poverty, 17(2), 234-252.

Decade to Doorways Tri-Annual Meeting

Roberta Machin, BA

 

At the most recent Decade to Doorways Tri-Annual Meeting, the group took a step back in order to evaluate the effectiveness of D2D’s structure and reflect on the successes and challenges of the past two years.  With a goal of restructuring Decade to Doorways to maximize its efficiency and move closer to the end goal of eliminating homelessness within Chester County, the Action Team chairs posed the following questions to the group of community supporters, government workers, agency providers, and nonprofit members sitting before them:

  • What should the role of Decade to Doorways be?
  • What has gone well during the past two years in D2D?
  • How has D2D changed or influenced what you or your organization does?
  • Reflect on the meeting format of D2D.
  • Where is there room for improvement within D2D?

These questions sparked lively discussions and debates amongst the approximately 80 individuals in the room, and for the next hour, the group dissected Decade to Doorways, praising its accomplishments and how the homeless support systems have evolved due to the implementation of D2D, and offering suggestions that could help to develop and expand current practices.  The atmosphere was very positive, as everyone believed that the progress made so far has helped our agencies serve the most vulnerable people within our community, providing them with the resources and supports necessary to improve their lives.

The group generally decided that the role of Decade to Doorways should be to provide strong leadership that forges connections between nonprofits to build a robust, interconnected web of support, all while advocating on behalf of these organizations to the community to raise public awareness of the issue of homelessness, and to government officials to educate on the importance of these services and protect the federal funding that supports them.    

Many attendees commented on the lack of affordable housing in Chester County, and the need for more supportive services that assist in diverting individuals on the brink of homelessness, so that they never have to enter the system in the first place.  This could include rental and utility assistance, meals, or personal care items.  An increase in case management once a client receives stable housing was acknowledged as a key element that would lead to future success with housing stabilization.

Another need identified by the group had to do with the lack of public knowledge about what Decade to Doorways is, and how it operates.  By spreading the word via social media and news outlets, D2D will be able to gain public recognition and a potential increase in public support.  Most importantly, the need for more consumer voices at meetings and events was brought up several times. This would allow individuals with lived experience to have an influence on the decisions that are made concerning the services they receive. 

The group commended the collaboration between nonprofit agencies, organizations, and the government that has increased due to D2D’s support and leadership.  This collaboration has increased communication about the types of services each organization offers, so that we can all work together to serve the homeless and at risk population more effectively.  The implementation of ConnectPoints and the VI-SPDAT has allowed supportive organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of the individuals they are serving, so that we can ensure we are serving the most vulnerable people first.

To end the meeting, Lauren Campbell posed the question: How do we end homelessness by 2022?  The answer is not straightforward or simple.  But by ensuring that everyone’s experience with homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring, we can more effectively serve everyone in our community who is in need of support.

An Interview with Sandra Lewis

Roberta Machin, BA

 

As a child, Sandra Lewis dreamed that she would one day grow up to be a dancer or train horses.  She initially became a certified Interior Designer, before deciding this was not the career path she wanted to follow.  Her faith guided her down a different path, and she realized she wanted to help homeless and impoverished women and children. 

Growing up in a tight-knit, safe neighborhood in Virginia next door to her best friend, Lewis had no knowledge that homelessness existed within or beyond her protective community.  “It was a different day and time,” she said.  “In the 40's and 50's, you took care of your neighbors.  My family was very compassionate for others.  I never saw any evidence of homelessness in my community.”  Now, she wonders if we are more aware today of the problems that exist among the poor, or if these problems have escalated.

After moving to Coatesville and witnessing poverty firsthand, Lewis’s empathy for the poor grew.  She had always felt that her faith and beliefs held her true, and she was disturbed by the lack of shelter for homeless women and children.  When she became president of the Board of Directors for the Coatesville YWCA (currently the CYWA) in 1981, Lewis saw and heard about many women sleeping outside and in garages, tents, and campers, and wanted to do something about it.  In 1983, she founded the YWCA Emergency Shelter for Women and their Children.  There, she was responsible for supervising case managers, providing individual counseling, establishing a hotline for women in crisis, soliciting funding, and many other projects. 

Three years after founding the YWCA Shelter, Lewis delivered a speech in which she implored the general public to become more aware of the homeless women of Chester County.  Lewis laid out the facts about single mothers trying to survive and support their children on wages that fell below the poverty level, with little to no support from the community.  She said this was “fast becoming a critical situation,” and “answers will not be found until the issues, questions, and situations are posed.”  Concluding her speech, Lewis stated, “dare to look with me into the faces of our homeless women and children, may it haunt us all, comfortable Americans, until we are compelled to help ease the pain.”  A year later, Lewis founded and served as acting director for Bridge of Hope.

In 1998, Lewis received her Master of Human Services Degree from Lincoln University, where she graduated among the top ten in her class.  Two years later, Lewis became the Director of Counseling for the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, where she currently works.  Lewis says that every day is different.  Sometimes there is a crisis she must assist with, and sometimes she is able to celebrate when someone finds safe and affordable housing.

Lewis considers her coworkers to be superior mentors, and enjoys the shared wisdom she receives from working with them each day.  She also names Mother Theresa as a great influence in her life, quoting, “You can do what I cannot do.  I can do what you cannot do.  Together, we can do great things.” 

Lewis believes that the women she helps suffer from multiple layers of a complex trauma.  Since there is not a simple cause, there is no simple solution.  And while she is well aware of the amount of women living in poverty and unstable housing in Chester County, many others within the community have no idea.  “It’s not that they don’t care,” she says.  “They just don’t see it.”  Being so immersed in the struggles of these women, Lewis says she experiences “vicarious traumatization.”  Even though she has not faced the traumas that they have suffered, Lewis empathizes so deeply that she sometimes feels traumatized herself.  Knowing the dangers of this world, she fears for the safety of her own children and grandchildren.  Despite this, Lewis feels confident that she has done the best she can do to help those in need. 

For others who are interested in beginning this kind of career, Lewis advises, “If you’re looking for monetary reward, you won’t find it here.  This is a place to give.”  While her job is emotionally challenging, Lewis believes that “life is all in your perceptions, in how you view a situation.”  Lewis views each day as an opportunity to give love and to be loved.

Beyond work, Lewis enjoys a rich life.  She takes pride in being a confidante for her grandchildren, and relishes every moment she is able to spend with them.  Her parents provided for her a stable and supportive home life, and family means everything to her now.  Witnessing the wisdom of her children has been one of the the greatest successes of her life.  She is also an active participant in her church community and loves to spend time gardening.  Currently, she is learning French from a CD in her car.  If she could choose anyone to play her in the movie about her life, Lewis would pick Sandra Bullock, because she enjoys many of her movies and they share a name.  She would also choose to be a horse if she could be any animal, because she grew up around horses.

When asked by friends and family if she is planning to retire, Lewis responds, “what else would I do?  This is not just a job.  This is a calling.  It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Chester County's 8th Annual Landlord Forum

Roberta Machin, BA

 

On May 22, Decade to Doorways collaborated with the Pennsylvania Link to Aging and Disability Resources to host a forum for approximately 75 landlords in and around Chester County, called "Healthy Tenants, Happy Landlords."  Experts spoke about Hoarding, Bed Bugs, and Lead and Mold Remediation.  Organizer Elizabeth Doan, Coordinator for the Link, hoped to foster new relationships between landlords and service providers in order to support low-income tenants within Chester County.

Annie Amoon Richard, Certified Professional Organizer for Amoon’s Custom Organizing, spoke first on the topic of hoarding.  She defined hoarding as a disorder in which a person has difficulty discarding, which leads to an accumulation of stuff that prevents normal use of space.  People who suffer from this disorder generally feel emotional attachment to their belongings, and experience distress due to feelings of responsibility and a fear of waste.  Most individuals who hoard are over the age of 40, intelligent, perfectionists, and socially isolated.  Unfortunately, Richard explained that hoarding can lead to conflict with loved ones over clutter, health risks, inability to have visitors due to embarrassment, and mental health problems, especially depression.

Many landlords view this situation as irritating due to the increased maintenance hazards and risks of infestation and structural damage.  Richard encouraged landlords to conduct a home visit and speak with their tenants patiently, asking questions and expressing empathy.  She explained that gasping or attempting to remove the tenant’s belongings without permission would lead to negative emotional reactions and increase the tenant’s distress.  It is important to evaluate the situation for safety violations and ask the tenant what kind of supports they need.  As a member of the Philadelphia Hoarding Task Force, Richard hopes to improve outcomes for people who hoard and reduce the catastrophic consequences related to hoarding for residents in the area.

The next speaker, Paul Bello of PJB Pest Management Consulting, led a lively discussion on bed bugs and pest management.  As the author of “The Bed Bug Combat Manual,” Bello is one of the foremost experts on pest control and has removed bed bugs from residential homes across the country.  According to Bello, it is imperative for landlords to establish an effective bed bug management program, which should incorporate chemical treatment, heat (at or above 122 degrees), and a high-powered vacuum.  A bed bug can lay up to 300 eggs in the course of its lifetime, which can last up to six months.

Bello explained that bed bugs are adept at hitchhiking, and so no matter how clean your own living space is, you could easily pick up bed bugs somewhere else and bring them home.  In addition, bed bugs can easily crawl through cracks in the walls of a neighboring apartment or room, spreading the infestation.  Therefore, it is not always the fault of the tenant when bed bugs are discovered at their residence.  Tenants, landlords, and pest management experts must work together in order to ensure the health and safety of all residents.

The final presenter, Ron Gerricke, Director of Field Operations at McCright & Associates, spoke on the topic of lead and mold remediation.  Gerricke focused on the dangers of lead-based paint, which can cause serious health problems if ingested due to its toxicity.  Prior to 1978, there were no federal regulations restricting the use of lead in household paint.  Lead-based paint is easy to identify on windowsills and wooden door frames, where paint may be peeling.  Children and family members could easily inhale dust from the paint or ingest flakes, which would present serious health risks for the household and legal issues for the landlord.  According to Gerricke, it is important to encapsulate all surfaces where paint is peeling, chipping, flaking, or dusting. 

In addition to the valuable information the landlords were able to take home with them, prizes were also given away during the raffle at the conclusion of the forum.  The prizes included a tour of the 6abc news station, gift cards to hardware stores and local restaurants, free consolations, and sports memorabilia and tickets.  Overall, the event was successful in educating landlords on the many ways to keep their tenants healthy and their units clean.

Hope Dunn Receives the Governor's Achievement Award

Chester County WIA

 

Last year, Hope Dunn moved here from Mississippi with her husband and four children, who were all under four years old.  They had moved to Pennsylvania so that her husband could go to automotive school.  Soon after settling here, her husband lost his job and they faced eviction.  With the family in need of assistance, Hope was referred to the Chester County EARN program.  A week after Hope started at EARN, a judge ruled in favor of their eviction and her husband abandoned the family the same day, taking their vehicle with him.  Hope was left with no transportation, no family in the state, and as a stay-at-home mom, no recent work history.  

In spite of everything, Hope continued to revise her resume and apply for jobs, all the while keeping a smile on her face and caring for her children. She was diligent in contacting every agency to which she was referred.  Assisted by her local CAO and PathStone, she managed to find a car that could fit four car seats.  With the help of PathStone & Department of Community Development, she and her children were able to avoid a shelter and stay in a hotel for three weeks until Rapid Rehousing could find her a new home.  She rented a truck, emptied their storage unit and moved everything, all on her own.  Hope even conquered taking four small children to daycare on a bus when she had never been on mass transit in her life. 

The week after she moved to her new home things moved quickly.  She went on five interviews, took an assessment for a position with a school district and then was offered her dream job as a Catering Sales Coordinator.  Hope has pushed through many obstacles in a very short time.  Instead of being crushed by the stress and pressure of life, she blossomed and grew stronger.  

The PA Department of Human Services recognizes Hope for her perseverance and congratulates her for gaining financial independence for her family through employment.