Recap: Meeting the Moment on Homelessness and Affordable Housing in Montgomery County

An image of a paper house, HealthSpark's logo, and the title 'Community of Practice.'
“In 2024, it is impossible to ignore the homelessness and housing affordability crises in Montgomery County. And it is equally impossible to ignore the groundswell of calls to action from leaders like all of you.” - HealthSpark Foundation President and CEO Emma Hertz

Last week, over 200 people joined us for our Community of Practice event, ‘Meeting the Moment: Taking Action on Homelessness and Affordable Housing in Montgomery County' to discuss these dual crises taking place.  

Our goal was two-pronged: bring together the voices solutioning this important work and the ones ready and willing to help build that pathway out further.  We knew we wanted to create an environment rooted in knowledge-sharing, idea-building, and most of all hope.  

Our morning kicked off with HealthSpark President and CEO Emma Hertz giving opening remarks. Within them, eye-opening data points that highlight the intensity of the homelessness and affordable housing crises in our County: 

  • Recent data shows that one-third of Montgomery County residents can't afford their home. That's inclusive of both renters and homeowners.  
  • 74,000 households live above the poverty line but earn below what it costs to live in Montgomery County. 
  • The largest growing cohort of housing unstable households are those earning between $45,000 and $75,000 annually. That's the traditional middle class. 
  • Rents in traditionally affordable communities like Schwenksville, Hatfield, and Lower Pottsgrove have seen home prices increase exponentially - over 200% since 2019 in some cases. These increases are well over inflation and are far outpacing the growth rate of a healthy housing market. 
  • Montgomery County now has the third highest rate of evictions in Pennsylvania, recording 22 evictions per day. 

Despite this data, we feel our community has what it takes to both increase and sustain the resources needed, mobilize policy changes, and grow collective leadership across every facet of our community joining this movement from local businesses to neighborhood groups to elected leadership to ‘meet the moment.' 

The time is now and thanks to our attendees, we feel the energy for the journey ahead to keep these crises at the forefront of our work. 

If you have thoughts and ideas, we encourage you to connect with us. For more insight from the Community of Practice, check out our highlights and takeaways* below: 

Quick highlights

  • Montgomery County Commissioners Jamila H. Winder, Neil Makhija, and Thomas DiBello provided remarks. They collectively shared they are grateful for the work of the provider community, are ready to take bold action with community partners, and are excited to be working in bipartisan ways to find solutions 
  • We had 32 speakers across our morning panel, lunch plenary, and breakout sessions. 
  • We are grateful to our board members, Representative Nelson, Representative Webster, and team members of Senator Casey, Senator Fetterman, State Senator Cappelletti, State Senator Maria Collett, State Senator Haywood, State Senator Muth, State Senator Pennycuick, State Representative Bradford, State Representative Daley, and State Representative Nelson for joining us. 

Community Partners Share How They are Tackling the Homelessness and Affordable Housing Crises 

We had a variety of content shared throughout the day across our morning panel, lunch plenary, and several breakout sessions. For main takeaways from each one, check them out below.  

Morning Panel: The Current View: State of Homelessness and Housing 

Featuring: Mark Boorse, Director of Program Development at ACCESS Services; Kayleigh Silver, Administrator at Montgomery County Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Housing and Community Development; and Stacie Reidenbaugh, President and CEO of 10,000 Friends. Moderated by HealthSpark President and CEO Emma Hertz. 

  • The community has been taking ownership over the challenges of homelessness and coming together in new ways. 
  • Successful rent distribution program was possible because of county partnerships and coordination across providers. 
  • The targeting of services using data available.  
  • Advocacy around the PHARE funding increase and seeing that raised as a prominent policy solution. 
  • Bipartisan approaches to policy change, at the state level being seen.  

Lunch and Learn: Re-envisioning the Narrative of Homelessness 

Featuring: Sarah Glover, VP of Civic and News Dialogue at WHYY and Brian McShane, Metro Team Associate Director for Pennsylvania and New Jersey at CSH, the Source for Housing Solutions. Moderated by Monique Curry-Mims, Principal and Editor at Civic Capital and Generocity. 

  • Not framing things from a space of trauma and leaving it there, but also bringing it the human element. 
  • Active listening is important. 
  • Housing and homelessness advocates need to build a stronger messaging framework. 
  • Supporting media coverage leads to authentic stories being shared. 
  • Our journalists want to hear from us. 
  • “Joy also has to be part of the stories we're telling.”- Sarah Glover 
  • Referenced: WHYY's podcast Young, Unhoused and Unseen.  

Breakout Session: Managing Resource Scarcity and Prioritizing Your Mental Health  

Featuring: Debra Curtin, Senior Director, Housing and Homelessness at ACCESS Services; Tom Niarhos, Executive Director of Pottstown Beacon of Hope; and Preshuis Williams, Founder and President of Rahab's Hope.

  • Resource scarcity looks like training for staff and having hard conversations, and making sure they are clear on their role.  
  • ACCESS Services uses Dr. Sandra Bloom's model of trauma-informed facilitation
  • Homelessness is not just a homeless and provider issue – it is a community issue. The integration of community services is essential. For example, integration of drug and alcohol services, children's services, and more. If we could think about how integrated services can increase better care for our unsheltered, that could help.  

Breakout Session: Faith Communities: Leading the Way in Partnerships to Help the Homeless 

Featuring: Reverend Carolyn Cavaness, Pastor of Bethel AME Church of Ardmore; David Eckert, Senior Director of Intersect at ACCESS Services; and Marsha Eichelberger, Executive Director of Family Promise Montco. 

Breakout Session: Roundtable: How Do We Create and Preserve More Affordable Housing? 

Featuring: Kim Krauter, Director of Development at The Walters Group; Jerome Mitchell, Executive Director at Willow Grove Community Development Corporation; and Aliyah Stanger, Executive Director of Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority. 

Breakout Session: Getting Involved: How to Engage in Homelessness and Housing Legislative and Advocacy Efforts  

Featuring: Kristyn DiDominick, Executive Director of Bucks-Mont Collaborative; Mike Hays, Co-director of Montco 30% Project; and Stacie Reidenbaugh, President and CEO of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania.

Breakout Session: Problem-Solving Legal Issues Impacting the Homeless and How to Build Collaboration between Entities that Could Help  

Featuring: Chief Andy Block, Upper Moreland Police Department; Carolyn Johnson, Esquire, Chief Counsel at Legal Aid of Southeastern PA; and Alexis Moyer, Lansdale Police Department and Merakey. Moderated by Sheldon Good, Director of Development and Strategic Direction at Manna on Main Street.

  • Lansdale Police Department and Merakey have launched a Co-Responder program together. 
  • Research shows that criminalizing homelessness – such as by using law enforcement officers to clear encampments or using criminal citations, arrests, or fines – not only doesn't solve homelessness, but is also traumatizing for people, and ends up costing communities more than using housing-first approaches. The reality is our criminal legal system is not the solution to social problems like homelessness. 
  • Resourced shared: 

Breakout Session: Navigating Difficult Discussions Centered on Homelessness and Affordable Housing Development in Municipal Settings, Public Meetings and Other Local Contexts 

Featuring: Reverend Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Pastor at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church; Jarrett James Lash, Township Planner at Upper Merion Township; and Sandra Zadell, Township Manager of Upper Gwynedd Township. Moderated by Scott France, Executive Director of Montgomery County Planning Commission. 

Breakout Session: The Pivotal Role of Healthcare in Addressing the Homelessness Crisis 

Featuring: Casey Fenoglio, Director of Community Engagement at Pottstown Hospital; and Dr. Alvin Wang, Chief Medical Officer & Regional EMS Medical Director for Montgomery County. 

  • Street Medicine (Casey) and Mobile Integrated Health (Dr. Wang) are both examples of programs launched to address the homelessness crisis. 
  • Community partnerships are important, and both have a partnership with ACCESS Services to integrate each other's program goals.  
  • Short-sighted to believe that medicine can be effective without considering the needs of the community, and programs like Street Medicine and MIH are intuitive and thoughtful in their approach.  

Breakout Session: Discover: Nonprofit Repositioning Fund  

Featuring: John Kepner, Senior Project Advisor, College Student Basic Needs Program; Lindsay Kijewski, Director, Nonprofit Repositioning Fund; and Holly Parker, Executive Director, TriCounty Community Network.

  • The Nonprofit Repositioning Fund is a pooled funding collaborative effort among regional grantmakers to improve the capacity, effectiveness, and financial health of the Greater Philadelphia nonprofit sector. 
  • College Student Basic Needs Program and TriCounty Community Network are active collaborators with the fund. 
  • Community can hear the word “repositioning” and may feel it's intimidating. It's important to understand that the NRF's goal is to support best practice solutions and that each collaboration effort is unique.  

*Takeaways include responses and insights from our live-event survey. Thank you to those that participated.