Image from King’s College Facebook Page Hunger for Justice Week featured many programs designed to educate the community about the realities of homelessness. Pictured here are the boxes used during the “60 Hours of Solidarity” event. Students took turns staying in the boxes to raise awareness of homelessness.
Image from King’s College Facebook Page
Hunger for Justice Week featured many programs designed to educate the community about the realities of homelessness. Pictured here are the boxes used during the “60 Hours of Solidarity” event. Students took turns staying in the boxes to raise awareness of homelessness.

As part of Hunger for Justice Week, the King’s College community was invited to engage in a unique conversation with residents and staff of Ruth’s Place women’s shelter. Audience members were able to learn the reality of homelessness through statistics and hearing firsthand accounts of homelessness.

The talk was initiated by the Shoval Center, in an effort to educate the community and counteract some the stereotypes associated with homelessness.

Bill Bolan led the discussion by explaining some of the history of Ruth’s Place, and its strong ties to King’s College. Bolan explained that in 2007 a series of King’s college classes that began the legwork to secure a permanent place for the shelter.

“Classes helped prepare the application to the zoning board, classes did surveys on the impact of Ruth’s Place in the immediate neighborhood,” Bolan said.

Guests of the talk quickly learned that there was a lot of opposition to the establishment of a women’s shelter in our area.

“There were some very, very, very upset people that came to that zoning board meeting.”

Bolan attributed public hostility to a lot of unclear thinking about stereotypes associated with homelessness.

Samantha Orth, Employment and Volunteer Advisor at the shelter, tried to enlighten the group about the differences between the negative perceptions most people have about the homeless and the reality of who actually experiences homelessness.

“When most people see this person sitting on the side of the street with a cardboard sign, they think drugs and alcohol,” Orth said. “The reality is that the homeless are everyday people.”

The panel also shared an unfortunate fact: homeless men in the Luzerne County community don’t have access to a permanent shelter with support services that equal those of Ruth’s Place. Most shelters are not open 24 hours a day, so there is no place for the homeless to go during the day. The fact that Ruth’s Place is open all day is one of the things that makes it such an important asset to the community.

Orth went on to explain that Ruth’s Place goes beyond simply providing a temporary roof over the heads of homeless women.

“We provide a bunch of services to help figure out why they’re homeless,” Orth said.

Orth described how the staff at the shelter assesses each case to discover the underlying issues that led to each individual’s homeless state. Ruth’s Place then provides the appropriate social services to its residents.   These include mental health support, drug and alcohol counseling, and help finding employment and permanent housing.

“We try to get any agency they need to that shelter for that person,” Orth said.

Some of the women who receive support at the shelter were in attendance to share their individual stories. Stacy, Bonnie and Marion asked to remain somewhat anonymous, so we are not using full names.

Stacy relocated from Monroe County to escape a domestic violence situation. Services provided by the shelter enabled her to find work within a week after her arrival. Although employed Stacy is still struggling to afford permanent housing, which she feels is hampered by a lack of affordable housing in the area. She’s now waiting to hear if she is eligible for food stamps to bolster the income brought in by the two part-time retail jobs she currently works.

Another resident of the shelter, Bonnie, said she spent the summer living at Ruth’s Place.

“I pretty much lost everything and had to start over,” Bonnie said. “I got evicted and had to surrender my dog.”

Bonnie’s situation doesn’t allow her to work due to a mental illness. She credits the shelter and its vast service resources for the stability she hopes to one day attain. She has applications for disability and public housing currently pending and acknowledges that without the help from Ruth’s Place, it would have been impossible for her to navigate the application processes. She now lives in Gabriel House, a transitional place between shelter life and permanent housing, but hopes to one day regain a sense of normalcy and independence.   She is grateful for the supportive environment of Ruth’s Place.

A third resident, Marion, came to Ruth’s Place after becoming seriously ill and losing a job she had held for nine years. She applied for unemployment but, being a proud person, she refused to apply for food stamps. She referred to her string of problems as a stumbling block. When her unemployment eventually ran out in June, Marion was still unemployed and had fallen ill again with pneumonia. She said she had only two elderly siblings for family, neither of whom offered her help. For Marion, Ruth’s Place was the sense of community she needed.

“It’s like being with your family, but it’s not like being with my family because no one wanted to help me, but these people did.”

Each of the women conceded that without the help of Ruth’s Place, their situations would have only deteriorated.

Bill Bolan emphasized the uniqueness of the shelter saying,

“96% of women that go through Ruth’s Place find some safe place to go,” Bolan said.