When you think about Boyertown, what comes to mind? If you’re like me, you think of Fun Days, Fall Festival and the annual downtown sidewalk sale. You think of the Boyertown Bears and the vehicle museum and the town’s rich Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.
But when you think about Boyertown, do you think about the homeless?
While it may not be patently obvious, homelessness exists in Boyertown just as it does in nearly every small town in America. While we may not see it, it is there.
The National Coalition of Homelessness in Washington, D.C., says it is nearly impossible to track the number of homeless in rural areas. Yet the causes are far easier to determine, with job loss being the number one factor leading to poverty and a lack of affordable housing.
A 2005 study showed that the odds of being poor are between 1.2 to 2.3 times higher for people living in non-metropolitan areas than their counterparts living in metropolitan areas. The same study showed that while 12.5 percent of non-rural Americans were living in poverty, a whopping 15.1 percent of rural Americans were considered to be living below the poverty line.
While statistics bear out the problem of rural homelessness, what is not as clear are the steps being taken to eradicate it. That’s where BACH comes in.
Boyertown Area Creative Housing, or “BACH,” has been providing transitional housing for the homeless and near homeless in the Boyertown area since the early 1990’s. Working hand-in-hand with Boyertown Multi-Service, Inc., BACH’s stated goal, in addition to providing transitional housing, is to help equip parents with skills that will enable them to better provide for their families.
The BACH board members are made up of retired teachers, bankers, business people and other professionals who volunteer their time to the organization. Moyer calls their efforts a “labor of love” and says that each board member brings something significant to the table. Many serve terms of five years or longer.
The work the BACH board is doing is inspiring. According to board member Moyer, a retired teacher, and fellow board member Bobbie Graver, a former school nurse, the group’s transitional living facility has provided housing for more than a dozen single-parent households and 25 children over the years.
What’s not surprising is that so many people in Boyertown are willing to volunteer their time to help others. What is surprising is that so few people know about it.
“We’re the best kept secret in Boyertown,” Moyer says, noting the exact site of the living facility is kept confidential in order to protect the privacy of the families. “While it’s hard to be a secret, especially when you need to raise money, well, when I look at the children, I understand.”
Here’s how the program works. Families in need of assistance are first identified by a Multi-Service caseworker who reviews all applications and then selects possible candidates for the program. A committee made up of BACH board members then meets with the families to determine their level of need. A joint decision is then made by the two organizations as to which families will be selected for the BACH program.
According to Moyer, turning families away is a difficult decision. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people coming to us thanks to the downturn in the economy,” she says. “We certainly don’t have to look for clients; we have a waiting list.”
Graver adds that she doesn’t see that changing. “Most families are usually, financially, at the bottom of the wrung, and they are desperate, she says.
Once a family is chosen for the program, they are provided with living accommodations at the BACH house, a two-apartment facility located in downtown Boyertown. The facility can accommodate two families at any given time, and the convenient location allows them to walk to area schools and stores.
BACH and Multi-Service then continue their combined efforts in a variety of ways to support the families. Multi-Services assigns each family a caseworker and BACH provides a committee, made up of board members, to work with each family, helping them to adjust to the program and be successful in all areas of their lives during their stay at the house.
Once families are settled into the BACH house, parents are enrolled in educational or job training, including college and other courses that will help improve their basic skills. Children are enrolled in classes in the Boyertown Area School District, where they receive basic counseling and other resources.
While BACH parents work and pay a nominal program fee, the two organizations reach out to fill in the blanks and assist with other services the parents cannot afford. A short list of these services includes child care, counseling, transportation needs, furniture, medical needs and special needs for children. Families may live at the BACH house for a period of up to three years.
The result of these efforts are that many single-parent families and abused, single mothers are able to get on their feet and become self-sufficient and productive members of society.
Moyer and Graver credit people they call the “linchpins” of their efforts, including Multi-Service caseworker Amy Davies and Paul Willman, assistant pastor of Morningstar Church in Bechtelsville. “We’re extremely grateful for their efforts,” Moyer said.
While BACH can boast many success stories and have put numerous families back on their feet, Moyer says they’d like to do more. Specifically, the group would like to purchase a second housing facility.
Their biggest stumbling block, Moyer and Graver admit, is fund-raising. “The United Way of the Boyertown Area is by far our biggest benefactor. We send letters to churches and other local organizations and sometimes we get donations from that. We also get private donations. But it’s hard. We’re feeling the squeeze just like everybody else.”
Yet they’ve never had to turn anybody away due to financial constraints. “If we put the plea out there, we get the funds,” Moyer said.
If you would like to make a contribution to BACH, or would like additional information, please feel free to contact Bobbie Graver at 610-369-4929 or Judy Moyer at 610-367-8815. Any contribution to BACH is tax-deductible.