Temporary working capital

Harrisburg officials act after bus stop turns into temporary homeless shelter

Bus drivers in downtown Harrisburg have been unable to use the benches at the covered stop on Fourth and Market streets in recent weeks after several homeless people began living and sleeping there.

Older drivers and those with health issues would like to sit while waiting for the bus, but could not as the benches were used as beds or bins.

A passenger, who has been on the bus for 50 years, said the problem has arisen over the past two weeks with the accumulation of trash and some people sleeping, using drugs or fighting in the bus shelters, the preventing it from being used for a bus shelter.

“They have to do something about this bus stop. We can’t even really sit in there because they’re in there. It’s really bad, ”said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she still takes the bus. “They sit there and do whatever they want to do. It’s just awful.

Brian Davis, executive director of the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority, admitted that the situation had spiraled out of control with the downtown shutdown. His organization has taken steps to improve conditions, he said.

Amtrak and Harrisburg Police have stepped up patrols in the area and are moving people loitering to the stop, Davis said. He said the HRA is also ensuring that leftover garbage and debris is removed from shutdowns on a daily basis.

The Capital Area Transit bus shelter on Fourth Street and Market Street in Harrisburg, across from the Harrisburg Transportation Hub. May 25, 2021. Dan Gleiter | [email protected]

“It’s a challenge, but we have the equipment and the manpower to do it. We want it to be safe and clean, ”Davis said.

Even though the area is cleaned up, people still use the bus stop as a place to get high, the longtime bus driver said. Davis said anyone who witnesses illegal activity should call the police.

The HRA is working with the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness to respectfully resettle homeless people in more appropriate areas, he said.

“We sent the message to everyone who was used to it. Now we’re just going to be consistent in checking that space and moving people around when we see them there, ”Davis said. “We have to use our resources methodically and regularly. “

Davis said it is not uncommon for groups of homeless people to sometimes congregate in an area of ​​town. The 4th and Market Street stop is just the last one, he said.

The woman who takes the bus daily said she thought some homeless might be drawn to the 4th and Market stop because of its proximity to a liquor store, pub and alleyway.

“We know there are places in town that have camps, and from time to time those will appear in different places around town,” Davis said. He said citizens who notice the appearance of a camp in part of the city can notify the police or the homeless coalition.

Darrell Reinford is the executive director of Christian Churches United, which works hand-in-hand with the Capital Area Coalition and other local organizations to help the city’s homeless people. He said a number of local outreach groups, including the CCU, were planning to visit the bus stop on Tuesday and offer accommodation and mental health services to anyone who has stayed at the stop. bus 4th and Market or nearby.

The pandemic and the moratorium on evictions have made it difficult to find shelter for the homeless, Reinford said. Homeowners’ financial losses, rising rents and fewer apartment moves have made suitable housing scarce, according to Reinford. He said men’s shelters like the Bethesda Mission still received fewer people than before the pandemic.

“Obviously our ultimate goal is to get people to find housing. There are just a lot less housing. Many landlords are suffering, their rents are increasing. For someone with a significant intellectual disability, their income is probably quite limited, ”said Reinford. “Plus, they often have a very poor rental history. At present, it is very difficult to find a type of housing that accepts people who have already been evicted or have bad credit. “

Richard Farr, executive director of the Capital Area Transit bus company, said he was unaware of the homeless problem at the bus stop but had received complaints about its dilapidated condition .

“Sounds good,” admitted Farr.

The glass is broken, the wood is deteriorated and the trash cans are outdated, according to Farr. He has already contacted PennDOT to have an engineer work with CAT to make improvements. Farr hopes the installation of new trash cans will help contain trash and debris.

Reinford also pointed out that some homeless are on the streets because they refused to stay in a shelter. But given the lack of suitable solutions, it’s hard to say how many choose to be there. He said his organization and others were willing to put them in touch or lead them to family and friends who live outside the region.

“Roaming is obviously quite complex,” Reinford said. “One concept is that because people are on the streets, they assume that they are not offered help. It certainly is not. “

The woman who brought the issue to PennLive’s attention said she wanted officials to find solutions to help the homeless as well as get the bus stop back up and running for passengers. She suggested using some of Harrisburg’s old vacant buildings as shelters for the homeless population.

“They have all these vacant buildings here, they can fix them for these homeless people. At least one or two of them. Give them their own space where they can sit and smoke and do whatever they want to do, ”she said. “It’s a different thing downtown here.”

Reinford encourages anyone interested in helping the homeless community to donate clothing, time or money to local outreach organizations. More information on how to get involved can be found on the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness’ website.

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