New Castle News

May 28, 2013

Patches Place provides a helping hand

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Patches Place is in the business of helping.

The agency at 217 N. Mill St. provides a wide range of assistance to local people who have mental health issues. Many of the member-clients are veterans.

One focus of the program includes providing housing through emergency, temporary or permanent apartments or at Robin’s Nest, an outdoor alternative living facility along Neshannock Creek.

“People have misconceptions about the homeless,” said Sandi Hause, executive director of Patches Place. “As a rule, they are not dangerous, not drunks, not drug addicts.”

Detractors “say we’re enablers because we support the outdoor campsite but some people just prefer to live outside.”

Hause said the agency is concerned for the safety of their clients, who are like family.

Programs of Patches Place are funded through Lawrence County but the county provides no money for housing, she said. For that, the agency depends on donations from the public, area churches and social services including Catholic Charities. Local homeless people, she said, generally live at the City Rescue Mission or Robin’s Nest.

“Both arrangements require that residents follow rules.”

Evicted from the original “tent city” on the city’s west side, the new one-acre Robin’s Nest site was donated to the organization. Hause said an orchard and garden are being planted to improve the diets of clients. Currently, four people live there. About 15 lived in the original tent city.

Hause works with other agencies, including Human Services Center, to obtain housing for local homeless clients. However, many homeless individuals — especially those who have mental health issues — “learn to adjust to their settings,” she said. “They feel they are not worthy of anything better. They don’t see a future. They live day to day.”

Due to a scarcity of employment opportunities, she said, sometimes member-clients who live together in apartments sell their food stamps in order to make rent payments, according to Angela Hagberg, director of Patches Place’s The Next Step Center.

“This became a necessity after the state cut 70,000 former recipients from general assistance rolls in recent years,” she said.

Mark Burney, a Patches Place member-client and veteran who lives at the mission, said he is looking for a job but few exist.

He added, with patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day and July 4, “You see people on television saying they would love to hire veterans. But when you go and ask about a job, they say ‘I can’t use you.’”

Patches Place, Hagberg and Hause said, is the only “consumer run” center of its kind in Pennsylvania.

Clients, who are members, are screened and they and their families are directed to the proper agency to meet their individual needs.

The “Next Step Center” offers the members a safe place to enjoy recreational opportunities, learn computer skills, work out in a gym and watch television and interact with others.

Hagberg, who is herself a disabled veteran, said she helps returning servicemen and women to re-enter society. This, she said, can be difficult in an economically-challenged rural community such as this, with few jobs and housing opportunities. Problems are magnified if there are mental health issues.

Also available to members is a representative payee program, which provides assistance with financial issues, from balancing check books to paying bills on time. Peer mentoring is also available.

“In many instances, people take advantage of those with mental illness,” Hause said. “We’re here to help.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)