High homeless numbers calls for additional help

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) A local homeless advocacy group is seeing a big increase in the number of people living on the street since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The Keystone Mission based in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton is one of the local agencies that help the homeless across our region. Officials told Eyewitness News the numbers they are seeing in recent months are “downright frightening.”

“At the mission, we serve hot meals for the homeless and we started about a year ago. We had about anywhere between 300 to 400 in a month show up. We are up to 900 right now every month,” said Justin Behrens, director of Keystone Mission.

Behrens says the numbers of homeless have been increasing steadily since early March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area hard. He says the reasons for homelessness include things like unexpected job loss, addiction and health issues.

Behrens says the homeless stay in shelters that are not open 24-7.

“The point is not so much that we need a shelter that stays open from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then they’re out during the day and they have nothing to do. We need to give them the life skills and transformation to make it better.”

Behrens says he is reaching out to community leaders in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties to make it happen.

“We want to transform their lives. Right now we just have a shelter, a traveling shelter, it’s not even permanent. What it does is it goes from place to place and they stay there.”

We spoke with two men who know what its like to be homeless.

“It’s tough to get help on anything, you know what I mean? Hard to get a job too. I can’t work full time, I can do part time. It’s hard to get a job, and with this COVID going on,” said William who is currently homeless.

“I know how they live ’cause I’ve been there. It’s bad out here. They have no where to go, like I see them in the morning. They sit on the square all day they don’t know where to go,” said Jerry who was formerly homeless.

Officials at the Keystone Mission tell Eyewitness News that right now they have plans in motion to establish a new day and nighttime shelter in the city of Scranton. Keystone officials say the exact number of homeless in our region is not known, but according to federal statistics the number is around 500.

Officials at the keystone mission say they believe the number is actually well over one thousand.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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