Norristown Hospitality Center revives Sole Harvest 5K to combat homelessness

Photo from Norristown Hospitality Center's 2019 Sole Harvest 5K. (Joel Limbauan)

Photo from Norristown Hospitality Center's 2019 Sole Harvest 5K. (Joel Limbauan)

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The Norristown Hospitality Center is reviving its Sole Harvest 5K and 1 Mile Walk at Norristown Farm Park Saturday morning for a good cause — to combat homelessness. Last year, it was a virtual experience because of the pandemic.

For this year’s eighth annual event, “we’ll also have more opportunities for raffles and winning prizes. It’s definitely going to be a great event, and all of the proceeds will go towards the Norristown Hospitality Center, which is a day shelter that helps people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Norristown,” said Katie Ortiz, a development coordinator at the center.

Online registration is closed, but walk-up registration starts at the Farm Park at 7:30 a.m. The 5K and 1-mile walk begin at 9 a.m.

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Since its establishment in 1992 by religious leaders from various faiths, the Hospitality Center has served the community, offering hot breakfast five days a week, warm showers, mail contracts, locker storage, workforce development programs, and even travel assistance to and from job interviews.

Social workers are available without an appointment, and partner organizations have teamed up with the center to offer services such as affordable housing, HIV testing, and health advice. The center now serves about 90 clients a day.

“I absolutely love everything that we offer because everything is designed to remove barriers for people experiencing poverty and homelessness,” Ortiz said.

The center is always looking for ways to expand, but its services are only possible through fundraising and donations.

“Last year, because of the success of our fundraising events, we were able to open a Code Blue shelter. That was especially important last year because the occupancy of other shelters was very limited due to COVID. So that was a lifesaving service that we were able to start because of the fundraising, the participants, and the donors that we have,” Ortiz said.

She said executive director Sunanda Charles is working to put together a “homeless court” to connect a judge in the area with the social service organizations in Norristown, the Montgomery County seat. That would allow people charged with minor offenses who have difficulty attending court to have an advocate at their side when they finally speak to a judge.

Homelessness is increasingly an issue in Pennsylvania’s third largest county. In May, the county released its Homes For All report, which laid bare a worsening housing affordability crisis — roughly half of all renters in Montco are paying more than 30% of their monthly income toward their rent.

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Montgomery County’s home prices are skyrocketing as well. In Lower Merion, according to the report, the median sale price increased by over $240,000 between 2003 and 2019. Meanwhile, poverty in places such as Pottstown and Norristown is being exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing options.

The county’s housing and homelessness program, Your Way Home, is facing an increasingly uphill battle.

“Montgomery County does not have a lot of shelter space for residents who are faced with homelessness,” said Kyle Tribble, community relations manager for Your Way Home.

The county is “becoming more expensive by the day,” Tribble said, so he thinks it will take collaboration at the county level with many of its municipalities to find a solution.

April McNeal, a program manager for Your Way Home, said it doesn’t help that people view Montgomery County as just a very wealthy area while hidden pockets of poverty continue to grow.

And it’s not just individuals who are currently being affected.

“They’re going to be low-income families, unfortunately, throughout the county, and we’re working to support those families as they come to us for support,” McNeal said.

Tribble pointed to Your Way Home’s preventative eviction measures and emergency rent and utility relief as some of the ways they’ve tried to close the gap.

“We’re working extremely hard and just trying to listen to our residents and just listen to all parties involved, and just trying to figure out the best way we can support,” Tribble said. “So I would just keep advising folks to contact 2-1-1 and also reach out to us — whether it’s via social media, whether it’s through their contacts, just keep us informed with everything that’s going on, because we definitely are aiming to help and make sure that everyone lives in a thriving community and can have a place they can call home.”

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