Nicetown-Tioga: Community Members Share Concerns, Solutions for Area Homelessness

Keith, a resident at Kailo Haven, rests on the sidewalk just around the corner from his temporary home.

When Diona Mininall first became involved with the Nicetown Community Development Corp., she had fallen on some hard times herself, and through organization’s Affordable Housing program, Mininall was able to buy her own home.

Then, last July, Mininall found herself without a job when the Temple University Health System shut down its Northeastern Hospital. She found an opportunity again within the development corporation, and today, Mininall serves as the community coordinator.

In her current position, Mininall helps point two to three people a day – mostly women and their children, she said – to local homeless shelters. At the NTCDC, Mininall directs those in need to the Emergency Intake Services building at 1430 Cherry St., where they “check all local shelters,” she said, to find one available.

“By 10 a.m.,” she said, “they don’t even usually accept anymore people.”

Keith, a resident at an all-male shelter in Nicetown-Tioga, rests on the sidewalk just around the corner from his temporary home.

Bonnie Best, a practical nurse who has lived in the area all her life, takes care of people for a living: She’s worked in a nursing home for the last seven years. Best said she can’t but feel bad for the area’s homeless population.

“[You] get up in the morning, and they are sleeping on your porch, but you don’t wanna kick them out,” she said. “I feel bad.

“We need to help them, not turn a blind eye,” she added.

Best said she would like to see the abandoned buildings in the area be a part of the solution.

“My goal in life is to buy two old houses, fix them up and move all the homeless people and mentally challenged people into them,” she said. “That’s my goal, help the people.”

Results from the 2000 U.S. Census show that 3,329 – more than 10 percent – of the region’s 22,188 houses are vacant; 61.8 percent of those homes are categorized as “other vacant.” The rest of the vacant homes are for rent, for sale only, rented or sold but not occupied, for migratory workers, or for seasonal, recreational or occasional use.

“They gut the houses, and then you never see them again. It’s horrible,” Best said. “The homeless people sleep in them – rats, cats who have flees. The mayor needs to do something about them, fast.”

One not-quite-red tomato grows in the garden behind the Kailo Haven facility.

For those homeless persons who are able to find help inside local shelters, they must make the most of the opportunity, said Brandon Banks, the weekend supervisor at Kailo Haven.

“If you can’t get through the process in about six months or so, you have to go back to square one,” Banks said. Kailo Haven is an all-male facility that helps its residents cope with addiction recovery and behavioral health, in addition to homelessness.

With a little less than a month of experience as a supervisor under his belt, he’s the newest one at the shelter, but Banks has been at the facility for a little more than two years.

The reason for his original involvement with the shelter was “as simple as being curious,” he said.

His home in Germantown is just across the street from Kailo Independence Manor, a semi-independent all-female living facility that specifically helps those with behavioral-health needs. One day, he said, he introduced himself to a staff member who was leaving to go to the store, and soon enough, he found himself working at Kailo Haven.

But for Banks, the concept of rehabilitation hits pretty close to home.

Brandon Banks, the weekend coordinator at Kailo Haven, poses inside the facility's front office.

While he was growing up, Banks said, he had an uncle who would often come to Banks’ family for help. Banks’ family members would take his uncle in and offer him food, clothing and other comforts but eventually, stopped offering their support. Despite his family’s disapproval, Banks said he continued to sneak his uncle food and money at times.

“I guess you could say it was really a call,” he said of his work with Kailo Haven. “I finally paid attention to it.”

Today, Banks’ uncle lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his family of three.

As a weekend supervisor, Banks oversees operations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. On Friday nights, he touches base with the Saturday morning crew to help make sure the shelter transitions smoothly into the weekend, with all the materials, supplies, documentation and medication the staff needs to take care of its residents.

At least two staff members are present inside the home at any given time, with one supervisor either there or on call.

“We definitely empower our staff [and] instill the confidence to do work on their own,” Banks said.

“We’re not police officers. We’re not [commanding officers]. We’re humans, too,” he said, adding that, “The guys won’t move on until they’re ready to move on.”

Nicetown-Tioga resident Cecelia Clardy said she thinks the best way for community members to help combat homelessness is to offer their time and support.

“We can help by providing our time and energy, support organizations like Philabundance, who supply food.

“We can help if we know for sure that they are homeless, sometimes just having a listening hear can help or a couple bucks if they honestly want a cup of coffee or something like that,” she said. “In my case, I go in and buy the coffee, ‘cause you don’t know whether you’re being taken for a ride or not.

“But there are things that we as a community can do,” she added, “but No. 1, to offer our time.”

This multimedia feature is part of a two-segment package about homelessness in Nicetown-Tioga. To learn more, select this link.

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