Sixth Street Shelter expands
The Sixth Street Shelter now has five more apartments to help Allentown's homeless. The newly-constructed apartments have bathrooms, bunk-beds and kitchenettes that will be used by families of homeless mothers and their children.
Sixth Street Shelter, directed by Jessica R. Dreistadt, is part of a group of shelters that include the Turner Street Apartments, Allentown, and the Ferry Street Apartments, Easton. The shelters are under the auspices of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV).
"This is a day filled with joy," said Dreistadt, speaking to supporters and well-wishers. "I hope we can meet again in 30 years and celebrate the end of homelessness."
She said more than 2,000 volunteer hours contributed to the addition to the Sixth Street Shelter.
Many of those hours were contributed by members of the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown led by Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier, who attended the dedication of the addition, as did several congregants from his parish.
Women of of the church donated 30 twin sized quilts to the shelter. According to Sandy Meenen, a member of the 2,000-member church at Tilghman Street and Cedar Crest Boulevard, aiding the shelter is an ongoing ministry for the female church members. "The quilts are kept by the women when they leave the shelter," said Meenen.
She said each quilt requires a total of 68 1/2 hours of work. "They are very sturdy and labor intensive," said Meenen.
The expansion was enthusiastically greeted Nov. 21 by shelter staff, local politicians, state officials, representatives of non-profit groups and representatives from Muhlenberg College.
The five new apartments will allow the homeless shelter to expand its capacity to serve to 130 families per year, up from the previous capacity of 120 families per year.
A former shelter resident, Joanne Lewis, told of her time as a homeless single mother. "My case worker was there with me every step of the way," said Lewis.
Of the expanded facility, she said, "There will be many families that will have a warm and loving space here."
According to information provided by the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, as of 2010, more than 2,440 men women and children were housed in the Lehigh Valley's nine emergency and short-term transitional shelters. Of those, 32 percent were children, with 50.4 percent under five years old.
The small apartment building is on the site of a condemned building acquired by the Sixth Street Shelter. The shelter complex now occupies 211 through 223 on the northeast side of North Sixth Street.
The Architectural Studio designed the shelter to fit into the historic Allentown neighborhood, according Senior Associate Paul Felder, who attended the dedication with his wife Peggy Palmer.
Felder said the previous building, which may have dated to the 1800's, had been a private residence that had been "chopped up" into apartments. It was not salvageable as a building but, he said, the foundation was mostly reusable.
An architectural feature of the basement is a stone wall that was part of the old structure. Another notable feature is the small wooden portico or gable over the front door of the building. According to Felder, the design was inspired by other buildings in the neighborhood and represents historic Allentown's character. Felder said the building represents an "extraordinary collaborative experience" of the charitable community that he has not seen in his 40 years in the architecture profession.
"Everyone is getting an opportunity to get back on their feet," said Marta Gabriel, Regional Manager for Sen. Pat Toomey (R). "The shelter is primarily for women and their kids."
"I'm pleased that the Sixth Street Shelter will be expanding with the support of the Allentown community," said Sen. Robert Casey (D) in a statement. "It's always wonderful to see community members coming together to support local projects. The shelter provides critical services to Allentown residents and now those services will grow."
Allentown City Councilman Pete Schweyer also lent his support for the expansion.
Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley Executive Director Deb Cummins attended as did Resource Development Manager Melissa Laurer.
Habitat for Humanity provided much of the construction labor. Helping build the shelter will contribute to her organization's "global mission of eradicating poverty and homelessness," Cummins said.
The shelter has the support of PPL, represented by its Regional Affairs Director Melinda Stumpf.
Air Product's Community Relations Specialist Lauryn Graves attended the outdoor ceremony on a side alley that city officials closed for the occasion.
"We have been partners for years with the Sixth Street Shelter," said Graves. "We wanted to help them be successful."
Graves said Air Products has "groups who have adopted apartments" and continue to support he shelter.
The open house and dedication ceremony was emceed by Chris Reid, a principal with Seidel Cohen Hof & Reid and president of the CACLV Board of Directors.
Said CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings "The expansion is important because it gives struggling people an opportunity to get over their troubles. A bunch of people in the county agree with that."
C. Champ Holman, Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs and Development for Pennsylvania, also attended. His office facilitated $200,000 in grants toward financing the $900,000 project. He credited CACLV's Jennings for the good work that his organization does in and for the Lehigh Valley.