With the cutbacks at Safe Harbor, the shelter and drop-in center for homeless men and women on Bushkill Drive in Easton, local churches are prepared to help out where necessary despite their own staff and budget reductions.
"It's a challenge but it doesn't mean we can't rise to it," said Reverend Cynthia Simmons, pastor at First Presbyterian Church on Spring Garden Street in Easton.
She emphasized that they are a small church with limited resources, and currently provide two meals per month to Safe Harbor, which they will continue to do. They are prepared to step up as much as possible should there be an increase in need.
"Resources are down for the local churches as well. We face the same economic reality as everyone else," Rev. Simmons stated. "We want to continue to work with these agencies even when our own resources are stretched."
Budget cuts led the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) to hand off control of Safe Harbor, to be taken over by an ad hoc committee October 1.
As a result, Safe Harbor has had to cut staff and is readdressing the budget. In order to maintain coverage 24/7, cuts were made during the day from three staff members to one and from a full-time secretary to part-time.
Tyler Rogers, a case manager at Safe Harbor for four years, is now serving as director as well as case manager.
"Easton is a better community for having us here," Rogers said. "People don’t realize the impact we have until after we’re gone."
Reverend J. Michael Dowd, senior pastor at the First United Church of Christ in Easton, member of Northampton County Council and vice president of the local Chamber of Commerce, said that without question the cuts at Safe Harbor will result in a longer term issue.
He stated that if Safe Harbor were to close, "The impact on downtown Easton and its churches will be significant. If you put people back on the street, the impact will be enormous."
Dowd has asked Alan Jennings, executive director at CACLV, to meet with him and other downtown clergy early next month in order to get a sense of what the financial shortfall is and where the local churches can further assist.
First United Church of Christ already contributes several thousand dollars annually to Safe Harbor, ProJeCt of Easton and the Salvation Army. In addition the church collects food on a regular basis, donating most of it to Safe Harbor.
Shiloh Baptist Church has ministered to Safe Harbor with donations of clothing and blankets in the past and will continue to do so, hoping to help out as much as possible as future needs arise.
Trinity Church currently provides a Saturday noon meal to 55-80 members of the community.
Although they have not seen an influx of people arising from cuts at Safe Harbor, they are prepared to do more if needed.
"It's almost too early to tell, but we would feed more on Saturday if we had to,” said Jan Charney, outreach liaison for the church and coordinator of the ARK soup kitchen.
Despite the downturn, Rogers is hoping to assist 300 residents going forward. Where $59,017 was achieved through fundraising last year, he is increasing the goal to $100,000-$130,000. Rogers says Safe Harbor needs an increase in food and clothing donations, community support for fundraising as well as volunteer time.
One of the greatest shortfalls is in the ability to commit time to clients, including daily programming such as life skills classes, NA and AA meetings, workshops, etc., and this is where community support is critical.
"One thing I like about the Easton community is that everybody is there to help out. We are going to really need that support going forward," Rogers said.