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LEHIGH COUNTY Board embraces homelessness plan

Lehigh County Commissioners expressed enthusiasm for a plan to reduce homelessness in Lehigh Valley at their regular meeting Feb. 10. Michael Frassetto, founder and CEO of Movement Moves Media, introduced the idea of a small house village that could give local authorities a reasonable option for dealing with their homeless populations. He shared with the commissioners via a Zoom meeting a short film clip depicting tent cities and desolate people living in squalor.

Tomas Rodriquez, Executive Director of Operation Address the Homeless (OATH) introduced OATH’s tiny village plan, which envisions small, one-person dwellings supported by a common-area building with offices, a kitchen, a laundry, bathrooms, recreation room and an eating area.

Jennifer Miklus, the chief marketing director for OATH, held up graphics depicting a typical Tiny Village Plan concept. Miklus said she is also with the Allentown Homeless Commission, but the proposal is an OATH project.

“It is a tiny village to help serve the homeless community and give them back their quality of life,” said Miklus.

The shelters are mold, mildew and rot-resistant. They can withstand snow and wind, according to Miklus. “They are like units that were used after Hurricane Katrina.”

Miklus said a Tiny Village will cost between $350,000 and $400,000.

“Hope Village of Allentown [the name proposed for the village envisioned for Allentown],” said Hope Sabbagh, head of patient services at OATH, “is going to provide residents with rehabilitation services and recreational services in order to give them the tools that they need to be integrated and stable members of society until they get their own permanent housing.”

Sabbagh said the Hope Village project and its staff will contribute to the success of residents and end chronic homelessness by giving them support and security for their property, a secure place for them to live, and will allow them to transition smoothly without feeling overwhelmed.

Residents will go through an application process before being admitted into the program. They will need to be 18 years old or older and need a valid identification.

The application process will prioritize helping homeless people pursue personal goals and quality of life, according to Sabbagh.

Some of the goals are to get valid identification and an address. Others include opening a bank account, and getting a General Equivalency Diploma.

“I’ve been working on this project about a year now,” said Frassetto. “Basically, we took a blueprint from the most successful programs around the country.This seems to be the best model.”

Frassetto said his team has about 50 signatures in support of the project from community organizations. He said a formal proposal will be sent to the Lehigh County Commissioners.

“I see a lot of heads nodding for you,” said Commissioner Chairman Geoff Brace, speaking to Frassetto and the proposal team.

Natalie Santos, a candidate for Allentown City Council, said she helped draft the proposal.

“When I am elected,” said Santos, “I want to help make sure Hope Village gets the funding it needs to effectively address those who struggle with homelessness.”

Press photo by Douglas Graves Jennifer Miklus, the chief marketing director for Address the Homeless (OATH), and Tomas Rodriquez, executive director of Operation OATH, introduce OATH's tiny village plan.
Jennifer Miklus, the Chief Marketing Director for Address the Homeless (OATH) shows the Commissioners a plan for typical tiny village for the homeless.