Homelessness in Erie, PA: A Single Mother’s Struggles and Where She Turned for Help
As a single mother, Stephanie Lewis has fallen on hard times.
“I got kicked out by family, and my dad passed away in September,” said Lewis. “He used to pay the bills.”
Facing homelessness, Lewis turned to Community Shelter Services for help.
“If this place wasn’t available, I’d be out on the streets in the cold, with my kids,” said Lewis. “I couldn’t handle that.”
The organization provides emergency shelter for up to 65 people.
“Our phone rings every day and we have to turn people away.” said Community Shelter Services Executive Director Diane Lazette. “We’re full almost every night.”
Throughout the pandemic, Lazette says the shelter has been at maximum capacity, putting a major strain on the agency’s budget.
“People are here 60 to 90 days,” said Lazette. “Now, they’re here, some of them over 300.”
Kurt Crays is the executive director of the Erie United Methodist Alliance.
The organization operates the Refuge. It’s a 34-bed emergency shelter for families with children, who have nowhere else to go.
“It’s critically important that we have shelters in our community, but it’s not the goal,” said Crays. “The goal is to move families with children into a pathway to permanent housing.”
However, inflation, the rising cost of rent, and lack of affordable housing are making that goal much more difficult.
“Inflation for you is real, and it’s real as well for those who are experiencing a housing crisis,” said Crays. “All the prices are going up. Rent is going up, and it’s pricing people out of the market.”
Despite those challenges, Lewis remains optimistic.
“They are here to help,” said Lewis. “If you have nowhere to go, you’re able to stay here.”
Jamison Hixenbaugh is a multimedia journalist for Erie News Now and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Co-published with Erie News Now.