WHITNEYVILLE - The Tioga County Homeless Initiative has an actual house in which to shelter homeless residents of the county starting today due to the donation of a generous homeowner and action by the Charleston Township Zoning Hearing Board on Monday.
The board granted Dianne Kennedy, the owner of the house at 2580 Charleston Road, a variance to have the property rezoned to allow the faith-based group to use it as a homeless shelter.
Kennedy is leasing the house to the organization for below its market rental value.
"They said the only stipulation is the maximum number of guests we are allowed is 16 based on the number of rooms we have," said organization President John Sylor.
The organization formed last year following a housing shortage caused in part because the influx of natural gas workers to the area inflated rents and put many low-income people out of their homes.
The Homesless Initiative was organized by Sylor and his board of directors, consisting of representatives form each of about a dozen churches that agreed to open their buildings to the homeless a week at a time.
This year, there will be no need for housing people in churches, unless the number of homeless needing shelter exceeds 16.
According to Sylor, the house has four bedrooms upstairs, one of them big enough to shelter a family, and downstairs there are extra rooms that could be used for bedrooms, so there should be no trouble keeping the number to 16.
"That gave us the go ahead to start moving things in," he said.
The group planned on moving in yesterday, he said, in order to be ready for the shelter's opening at 5 p.m. today.
"We have a lot of beds and furniture and a washer/dryer in storage, but we didn't dare start moving things in," he said.
Kathy Diehl, treasurer for the organization, said the donations have been coming in from everywhere since the word got out that they had a house lined up.
"We have plenty of beds, bedding and furniture and appliances. We just need pillows," she said, at least 16 of them.
Many of the beds came from the closed Laurel Health Systems youth detention center at the former state hospital in Blossburg, she said.
"They also sold us a 12 passenger van for a very reasonable price," she added.
The organization hopes to staff the house with male and female resident assistants and also provide an office area for residents to use to look for work.
"We have two computers that have been donated and refurbished by members of Coolidge Hollow Church, which is one of my husband's churches," Diehl said.
There also are two bathrooms, one upstairs and one down, and a downstairs bedroom that will be handicap accessible, she said.
The new shelter even has plenty of dishware and some cookware, though they still need saucepans, Diehl said.
The group moved everything during a workday Saturday and opened the house to anyone in need today.
Diehl said during the recent hurricane, they put one person up at the Comfort Inn in Mansfield after the man called state police for help.
To donate to the Tioga County Homeless Initiative contact Diehl at 404-2065.