The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania — long an advocate for fair and affordable housing for working poor and at-risk individuals and families — has joined the cacophony of cries from other organizations upset with Governor Tom Corbett’s budget, which slashed the funding for many programs and social services, including much-valued housing safety nets.
The alliance — which has organized caravans to both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. — has made weekly trips to both lawmaking centers to express its dismay. The alliance’s next trip to Harrisburg will be on Wednesday, March 28; the organization will spend the day listening to and providing testimony in regard to the slashing of housing programs.
“The main thing is, we’re trying to connect people in the community with the decision makers of the state and federal budget, so they can talk face to face,” said Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania executive director Liz Hersh. “One of the things in the budget that we are very concerned about is that it takes away the investment in prevention, such as the Homelessness Assistance Program.
“We’re really concerned with that, because there’s no other plan in place.”
Hersh said that about 68,000 Pennsylvanians lived off $200 a month through the program, and with that funding now gone, those people and other vulnerable Pennsylvanians will have to scrape that much more. Those affected could include single parents, victims of spousal and domestic violence, and the disabled.
“A lot of legislators don’t think [the $200] makes a difference, but these people have nothing,” Hersh said. “And when you do get a [housing assistance] lump-sum payment, the state gets its money back, so there’s a repayment component. But what to do when people don’t have that money?”
Troy Purrington, formerly homeless, didn’t have the money, and wound up homeless for the better part of a year. He said he knows just how tough it can be since he’s “walked in the shoes of the homeless.”
“It is very depressing being homeless,” said Purrington, a recovering drug and alcohol addict. “So this is very important to me, as the only programs that helped me were the Housing Alliance and my recovery program.”
Purrington often travels to both capitols with the alliance, and believes that the homeless and those who care about them should go eyeball to eyeball with legislators.
“It’s an honor to represent the homeless, and with all these cuts to funding, it will be good for everyone to meet the legislators and senators who make the decisions. We need the right leadership.”
Hersh said the Alliance is not starting a controversy or looking for a conflict; rather, she’s hoping the dialogue will continue.
“State lawmakers are listening. Our elected officials [go into office] because they want to make a difference, make communities better,” Hersh offered. “We know they have reasons for what they do, but they are human, too.
“We’re trying to engage them in a dialogue on how we can work together. It’s not about a conflict; it’s about us all being in this together.”
Hersh welcomed willing folks to join them on the caravan, but said they didn’t have to necessarily travel to Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., to have their voices heard.
“You can call your local legislative office and ask for five minutes on the phone with a member,” Hersh said. “This is a democracy, and we need to honor it; it’s not only a freedom, but an obligation.”