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Displaced Tenants Seek Out Services at Municipal Building

by on July 16, 2013 11:14 AM

They have a long road ahead, but the 40 tenants left homeless and in need after a three-alarm fire ravaged an apartment complex at Waupelani Drive gathered at the Municipal Building on Monday as community groups reached out to help.

Meetings were held from 9 a.m. to noon and from 3-6 p.m. in Room 201 of the Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen St. Representatives from various community groups had tables set up to speak with residents and offer their services. Groups in attendance included the Centre County Office of Adult Services, Interfaith Human Services, Housing Transitions and Centre County Children and Youth Services. Representatives from Penn State also attended the meeting to offer their assistance to the many graduate students who lost homes in the fire. 

Hee Jung is a graduate student working toward his PhD in electrical engineering. He says the groups are trying to help and match what he and his fellow tenants have lost, but it is still difficult for some of the residents to get back on their feet. 

"Waupelani Heights is a low-income apartment, and our monthly rent is so low compared to other apartment complexes," Jung says. "They tried to match it, but with our needs, it's unfortunately kind of hard for them."

Ruth Donahue, Executive Director at Interfaith Human Services says the organizations involved are trying to act as a "community safety net" and about 15 groups come together when tragedy strikes. Interfaith was working yesterday to identify the needs of the tenants and making sure they stay connected with them until they're better off. 

Interfaith, which is celebrating 45 years of serving the community, also provides rental assistance for those who need it. 

"We have a displaced residents fund and people in the community have been very generous," Donahue says. "We've received over $35,000 in that fund and have distributed back to the families over $25,000 of that." 

"It would be wonderful if there was ever a day where our services weren't needed, but there are always going to be events that are unexpected that happen and people who face difficult times," Donahue says.

Romaine Naylor is the Emergency Response Specialist with the State College branch of the Red Cross and was integral in organizing Monday's meetings. At 9 a.m., a table was piled high with toys for children who lost their in the fire. By 11:30 a.m., there were only a few bags left. Naylor says she's happy so many residents came out to seek help.

"What we set up today is what we've been calling out one-stop shop. It's all the in-service agencies together, in one room, so that the clients can come through so that as we talk to them and identify their unmet needs we can refer them right then and there," Naylor says. "They don't have to run around to different offices and tell their story over and over and over again."

Naylor says there's been a significant loss of affordable housing in State College over the past year, which poses a big problem to the displaced residents. There were 19 units that were not able to be salvaged after the fire. In February, the State College area lost the Hilltop Mobile Home Park when the land was sold, sacrificing more affordable housing. 

"This has been a wonderful group of people to work with. They've been very cooperative, they've been very proactive in trying to get out there and find a place to live," Naylor says. "It's just going to take a while."

Last week, Steve Bair, Fire Director of the Centre Region Council of Governments, said a preliminary investigation revealed a grilling incident on a second-floor balcony caused the fire. It was ruled and accident but the investigation is ongoing.

Related coverage:

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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