MUHLENBERG: USE EMPTY STUDENT RESIDENCE HALLS TO HOUSE ALLENTOWN HOMELESS DURING PANDEMIC

MUHLENBERG: USE EMPTY STUDENT RESIDENCE HALLS TO HOUSE ALLENTOWN HOMELESS DURING PANDEMIC

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Emily Drake started this petition to Muhlenberg College and

Muhlenberg College has shown extraordinary preparedness in the face of a novel, viral pandemic to protect its students. The rapidly unfolding situation has required extremely careful consideration in what actions to take to protect the community, and the College has consistently communicated to the Muhlenberg community through email.

An email sent to students on March 30th, 2020, contained the following announcement:

“They [local hospitals and first responders] have since informed us that they are expecting to have a significant need for additional facilities to house healthcare workers and first responders who are actively working to support the healthcare needs of the Allentown community. Given this, they have asked us to consider preparing those spaces for their use. We have considered the impact of this request from many angles and made the decision to support the community’s needs.

Therefore, we are notifying you first, and then will be notifying our local hospitals and Emergency Management Services, that we will begin to pack belongings, clean and sanitize the buildings and make residence hall spaces available to them on an as needed basis.  Currently, we do not know how much space will be needed or when, so this is a proactive message to let you know about this possibility…”

While the College states that they will house healthcare workers and first responders on an as-needed basis to support the “health and safety, not only of our faculty, staff and students, but of the broader community to which we are deeply rooted and inextricably connected,” there is already an existing immediate need of the Allentown community that the College has not addressed.

On March 25th, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for Lehigh County. How is someone supposed to stay at home if they don’t have one?

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2019, there are an estimated 13,199 people experiencing homelessness on any given day in Pennsylvania. As the third-largest city in the state, Allentown has a large homeless population, and the economic conditions precipitated by COVID-19 will only exacerbate this. As unemployment continues to rise and homeless shelters around the city close their doors, countless people are left with no shelter and no one to turn to for help. In many such cases, staying inside, practicing social distancing, washing your hands regularly, and wearing PPE are simply not possible. 

It is critical that Muhlenberg College uses its residence halls not only for healthcare professionals but also for homeless Allentown community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Muhlenberg has shown support through Community Engagement programs, the College make an even greater impact by using this life-saving resource to protect some of the most vulnerable members of the Allentown community it states to be “committed to the health and safety” of.

As a Muhlenberg and Allentown community member, I urge you to act now to make residence halls accessible to the homeless population of Allentown. Protecting the community means protecting all of us.

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