9/11 National Day of Service: Commemorating Tragedy and Triumph

Lara Dorfman, BA


On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, we look back on a tragic day in American history. Much like previous anniversaries, it can feel impossible to deservingly commemorate the victims, survivors, and heroes who risked their lives without a second thought. That is why in 2009, Congress designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. A day so vividly remembered but hard to comprehend has now become a day to give back, to honor the fallen, and to take note of the resilience and compassion that first responders and everyday citizens showed on this day sixteen years ago.

On Friday morning, just a few short days before the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, several members of the Chester County Department of Community Development teamed up with Friends Association in West Chester for a Day of Service in remembrance of 9/11. Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children is Pennsylvania’s oldest continual running child welfare agency. Friends Association works with families who are experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness by providing emergency family shelter, homeless prevention programs, and outreach to homeless families. Friends relies on volunteers to keep administrative costs minimal, which in turn allows the money to be better spent on programs and services.

The Chester County Department of Community Development volunteers split into two groups. The first group stayed in the Friends Association office and helped prepare for the release of their newsletter. Friends Association explained that a few hours of stuffing envelopes saves over $2,000, which can then be used to assist a family in need. The second group set out to Friends Association’s Emergency Family Shelter down the street, where the morning was spent cleaning, weeding, and moving a family of five from a small apartment to a larger two bedroom apartment, where they will be much more comfortable.

The Chester County Department of Community Development recognizes the importance of embracing different ideas and working together as a team, the same way our 9/11 heroes did sixteen years ago. We volunteer to bridge the gap of our differences and work hard to implement solutions that benefit humanity. As we march forward together, we give back in remembrance to those who lost their lives, lost their loved ones, and risked everything to help others on September 11, 2001.

Hear Our Voices: D2D’s Week of Advocacy and Awareness

Roberta Machin, BA


Did you know that the Community Development Block Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, serves 5,877 households in Chester County alone?  These funds aid the men, women, and children sleeping in homeless shelters or teetering on the brink of homelessness, and support the rehabilitation of our neighborhoods, roads, and homes.  In 2017, 2.285 million dollars were allocated for CDBG-funded services within our county.  But a 6.2 billion dollar decrease to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was proposed in the 2018 federal budget, including the complete elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

As a response to these proposed budget cuts, Decade to Doorways hosted a Week of Advocacy and Awareness from August 22nd to 25th.  At 5:00 pm on the 22nd, the community came together to kick off this week with a fun event on the front lawn of Uptown Theater in West Chester.  Stages Art Initiative performed live music throughout the event, and Giant Food Store provided snacks and desserts.  At the Kick-Off, Decade to Doorways provided information about the services funded by these crucial federal dollars, and the traveling photography display “Humanizing Homelessness in Chester County” was exhibited so that attendees could learn more about real people within their own community who have experienced homelessness, and the process of their recovery.

Everyone also had the opportunity at the Kick-Off to fill out a postcard to their legislator, explaining why they personally feel that supportive services and affordable housing programs are beneficial to their community, and urging legislators to vote in support of the preservation of the funds for these programs.  Decade to Doorways was able to distribute nearly 1,000 postcards at the event and to staff members at organizations throughout our community that rely on these funds.

On Wednesday the 23rd, Decade to Doorways asked that the whole community take a moment to call their legislators and speak with them about the importance of preserving federal funding for supportive services.  Thursday was Email-In Day, and D2D provided information about democracy.io, a website that allows you to easily find contact information for your legislators and email them about specific topics, such as homelessness.  Then on Friday, the final day, D2D asked that everyone complete their postcards and mail them in to the members of Congress that represent Chester County.

Although Advocacy Week is over, it’s not too late to voice your opinion!  It is critical that we continue to stand up for the people within our community and throughout the country who rely on these federally funded services.  You can continue to make your voices heard by visiting, calling, emailing, and writing to your legislators, and educating others on the importance of these programs that aid people on the brink of and experiencing homelessness.

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.

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.

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.