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September 4, 2013

Patches Place folds Tent City program

NEW CASTLE — Tent City no longer exists under the auspices of Patches Place.

Tent City is the name that has been applied to an encampment of homeless people who have been moving to various locations within the city of New Castle.

Last year, for liability reasons, the residents were evicted from a wooded, fenced-in property behind Cascade Galleria where they had been staying for years. When someone set fire to the camp last winter, it caught the property owner’s attention.

The Tent City residents then moved to remote land on Dillworth Avenue near El Rio Beach along the Neshannock Creek. Patches Place, a behavioral health consumer and family support and resource center, had used $500 in donations to buy the property for them.

Patches Place has been collecting donations of camping goods, clothing, food, supplies and money for the less-fortunate population to help with their basic survival needs.

The agency spent a couple hundred dollars on the Dillworth Avenue site, planting a garden and putting a fence up, and it had a zero-tolerance for alcohol and drugs, explained Sandy Hause, Patches Place executive director.

But someone tore its portable commode out of the ground, smashed it and threw it into the creek. People called county officials and complained about the encampment and, ultimately, rainstorms a month ago flooded the property, causing the inhabitants to leave.

Now Lawrence County’s Mental Health/Developmental Services administrator Joe Venasco is telling Patches Place it no longer can provide the property for the homeless and its name must come off the deed.

MH/DS contracts with Patches Place for mental health services.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the county both provide funding to MH/DS, which uses some of it for Patches Place for services for the mentally ill.

Hause said Tuesday there are six homeless people from the group who now are staying wherever they can outdoors in the city.

New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem said some of them had gone back to the original property, but he ordered them out again, then dismantled their tents. His officers patrol the area regularly to make sure they are staying out, he added.

Patches Place is still committed to helping the homeless, Hause said, but instead, at Venasco’s direction, the agency is working with the county agency to develop a program to reintroduce the homeless to living indoors. The new program will teach basic life and job skills and Hause said she hopes to reach at least three, if not all six of them.

“Some of them have been homeless so long they don’t know how to go back into a living situation, and they’re living on survival instinct,” she said.

The plan is to open a house for three men, with a full-time staff, Hause said.

Venasco credited Hause for trying to do the right thing with the Tent City inhabitants, but said, “it’s unsanitary down by the river and my thought was that something bad eventually would happen.”

“Sandy and her crew did the right thing, and I know where their hearts are,” he added, “but I talked to her about finding better options.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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