Indiana County leaders have given a strong boost to the effort to make an Indiana area shelter for homeless veterans accessible to those with mobility problems and other disabilities.
The county board of commissioners on Wednesday awarded $10,000 from the Indiana County Local Housing Trust Fund to the grassroots campaign for upgrades to Veterans Parsonage, a transitional residence for destitute servicemen along Oakland Avenue in White Township.
Representatives of Parsonage said the home operates daily without benefit of corporate or government funding and that its volunteer supporters raise money through donations to serve its residents.
Veterans Parsonage last year had a wheelchair ramp installed for outdoor access, and now plans to widen the interior doorways and build an accessible bathroom, not only for veterans but for visitors and staffers.
Michael Keith, chairman of the commissioners, said the county has earned recognition for its care for needy veterans.
“The U.S. Council of Homelessness this year recognized Indiana County as one of 81 communities and three states that have effectively ended veteran homelessness,” Keith said. “This designation to end homelessness is to achieve and sustain functional zero, with its well-coordinated and efficient community system that quickly identifies and connects those experiencing a housing crisis with the supports they need and want, to avoid staying on the street and to be moved to permanent housing as quickly as possible.”
Commissioner Sherene Hess said the county’s Veterans Providers Group coordinates the resources available from multiple sources to a focused effort to help veterans.
“Veterans Parsonage works with local housing providers that can assist with securing permanent housing alternatives,” Commissioner Robin Gorman said. “Many times Veterans Parsonage houses homeless veterans who cannot be assisted through other housing programs for a variety of reasons, or while a housing agency is located. This ongoing partnership contributes to the support system that the county has successfully developed to address veterans’ homelessness.”
Advisory board member Kristin Squires said Veterans Parsonage is geared to short-term, transitional living.
“Our veterans can’t stay with us forever, about four to six months, and during that time we help prepare for a soft landing ground for them to get back up on their feet while we work with the Veterans Providers Group to find what comes next,” Squires said. “Indiana County as a whole has been absolutely phenomenal. Different organizations, schools, community groups — any time we need anything, the citizens of Indiana County are always willing to step up for their veterans.”
In other business, the commissioners:
• Learned of mixed numbers in a report on the coronavirus pandemic from county Emergency Management Agency Director Thomas Stutzman.
Folks aren’t getting sick like before.
They’re also not getting vaccinated like before.
Stutzman cited a dramatic drop in the daily average of new cases of COVID-19, to 4.29 for the week ending June 5, and attributed the decline to vaccination of county residents.
“We’re continuing to see changes on a daily basis, something we haven’t seen since early last year,” Stutzman said. “We’ve even had a couple of days with no cases reported over the past month.”
The number of people being tested has dropped off to 38.29 per day, about 15 per day fewer than a week earlier, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics Stutzman quoted.
The vaccine issue continued to grow. “We see a disparity in Indiana County …. as of Monday, the percentage of population 18 and older who have been fully vaccinated is only at 31.69 percent,” Stutzman said.
That’s No. 64 in the state. Only three other counties have lower immunization rates.
The counties that surround Indiana have 36 to 43 percent vaccination rates, Stutzman said.
It puts herd immunity and full return to normal activity still far from reach for the county and the region, he said.
“The need to get out and get vaccinated, I’ll again stress — if you could encourage everyone to get that done, it would be a great help to get us toward that 70 percent herd immunity that we’re all striving for across the country.”
Stutzman said access isn’t a barrier because residents may make appointments or walk in for jabs at 50 locations within 25 miles of Indiana. Hess said Indiana County Transit Authority offers free rides for people who need a bus ride to get immunized.
• Adopted proclamations designating June as COVID-19 Vaccination Month in Indiana County; June 7 to 11 as Indiana County Ready Week; and June 19 as the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the 1865 end of slavery in the U.S.