This story is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.
Delaware County officials are grappling with a housing crisis marked by a growing number of unhoused individuals, rising eviction rates and soaring housing prices as they approach a year of concerted efforts to find solutions.
A group of county officials and local stakeholders offered recommendations — which include establishing Delco’s first eviction diversion program, increasing shelter space and encouraging municipalities to reform zoning ordinances that encourage affordable housing.
The Delaware County Housing Coalition convened Wednesday night at the county Government Center in Media for a presentation on how to address its worsening housing crisis.
“We wanted to look at how we tackle these three topics and look at collaborations and partnerships, items that we might not have been thinking of, groups we weren’t bringing to the table to really help us expand the resources and Delaware County,” Delco Council Chair Dr. Monica Taylor said to an audience of 30 residents, local officials and outside partners.
The ultimate goal is policy change, so each group came up with three action items for local and county officials to take on.
Delaware County Department of Human Services Director Sandra Garrison delivered the presentation on behalf of the unhoused subgroup, and she said their goal is to have a county where homelessness is rare, brief and nonrecurring.
Garrison said the unhoused sub-group engaged with an outside consultant to assess county services and potential weak points. She provided a few high-level observations.
“The first one was that the need for stable housing and shelter is increasing. I don’t think I need to say that to any of the folks sitting in this room who do this work on a daily basis,” Garrison said. “We all know that we know the need is increasing drastically. We know the resources are shrinking at the same time.”
Delaware County Department of Human Services director Sandra Garrison, Council Chair Dr. Monica Taylor, county housing director Phillip Welsh and HOPE director Jordan Casey debrief following the Delaware County Housing Coalition Presentation. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)
The assessment also found that the staff and partners who provide services for the unhoused are passionate and dedicated — but they are hampered by being understaffed, overworked and frustrated. The consultant also determined that housing services in Delaware County have not received adequate amounts of funding and staffing.
“When I first came over to human services in 2010, our human services development fund was cut drastically. That funded a lot of the services for the unhoused population. One of the things that has helped us back in 2012 [is] we became a block grant county so we could shift the funding as needed among the various categories so that has been helpful, but we’ve never gotten to that point of the funding we had with the human services development fund,” Garrison said.
After compiling a comprehensive list of objectives and organizing those into about a dozen categories, the group refined their focus for the county into three priorities: enhancing shelter and housing capacity, bolstering outreach and coordinated reentry, and expanding services to its residents.
“We looked at exploring and acquiring buildings that aren’t being used within the county for temporary housing … There’s closed schools, closed hospitals and so forth that we could do more like a non-congregate shelter type program and also transitional housing,” Garrison said.
Garrison said the county is also exploring alternative housing options such as tiny houses, a co-housing program and a recovery house model. With a new land bank in the toolbox, the county is also examining that as an option to increase the low-income housing supply.