Housing insecurity is rising in Pike County, advocates say
Pike County Hands of Hope volunteers say the January count of homeless people falls short of the actual number


Pike County Hands of Hope members, from left: Fred McNeely, Jim Pierce, Karen Rice, Teresa Rocco, and the Rev. Bob Misiak (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

By Frances Ruth Harris
MILFORD — The people among us experiencing homelessness live under bridges, in the woods, in sheds, and in cars. They live inside and under rock formations along the Delaware River.
On Jan. 23, advocates for the homeless conducted an annual count in Pike County as part of the nationwide program Point In Time. The count is done to discover the needs of homeless people while increasing awareness and prompting action.
The advocates who volunteer for Pike County Hands of Hope are tasked not only with counting homeless people but finding them. Embarrassed and afraid, they sometimes run away as the volunteers approach. Some are veterans.
Pike County Hands of Hope members Fred McNeely, Jim Pierce, Karen Rice, Teresa Rocco, and the Rev. Bob Misiak told The Courier about their work to meet an uptick in need. The number of homeless and near-homeless people who contacted Pike County Hands of Hope in 2018 has increased substantially, they said.
The one-day count this year puts the number of homeless people in Pike County in the single digits. But, the volunteers said, the actual number is greater than those found on one January search day. In December alone, the organization received 21 calls for help. Eight of the callers were homeless or near-homeless.
Any pedestrian strolling the streets of Milford, whether or not they realize it, are passing people who have unmet needs for housing, food, and medicine, they said.
Volunteers often find beds and tents and other evidence of homelessness — but no actual people. They recently found sleeping bags under one of the area's bridges. But they can't count the beds and sleeping bags, only people.
The members said they want to catch people before they became homeless. Many local people are a car payment or rent payment away from losing their place of residence.
Following ChristPike County Hands of Hope is "Christ based," the members said, and doesn't take money from programs or subsidies because complex organizations have unpredictable cash flows. They said Christ leads them to do what they do in their 100 percent volunteer-run organization. They work with local churches to feed and house those in need on a case-by-case basis.
The organization's annual budget ranges from $15,000 to $18,000. The money comes from fundraising and donations from individuals. The United Way awards the organization $2,000 a year.
The Hands of Hope summer yard sale brought in $5,000. Some dropped off donations without buying anything. One anonymous donor came with a check for $2,000.
As funds permit, the organization provides financial assistance to those with housing-related needs, including help with two-week rentals, relocating, and emergency assistance with toiletries, food, and clothing.
Members said their dream is to have a building with apartments to shelter those in need. There are no homeless shelters in Wayne or Pike counties. People seeking shelter are sent to neighboring areas, including Stroudsburg and Lackawanna/Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania and Port Jervis in New York.
Pike County Hands of Hope donates to the Stock Pot of Hope, which serves no-cost meals on the last Friday of each month at Milford United Methodist Church at 206 East Ann Street.
Hands of Hope needs more volunteers. To volunteer, leave a message at the Hands of Hope hotline, 570-296-4673, or email info@Pike CountyHOH.org.
Contributions may be mailed to P.O. Box 654, Milford, PA 18337
For more information visit pikecountyhoh.org.

CALLS FOR HELP INCREASE
Total primary calls:
2016 — 190
2017 — 238
2018 — 241

The percentage of total primary calls from the homeless or near-homeless:
2016 — 37 percent
2017 — 35 percent
2018 — 46 percent

A primary call is the first time a person calls Pike County Hands of Hope. The person may call many times after that, but the first call is the only one counted in the statistics kept by the organization.