Red Cross seeks shelter operator in Bucks

Posted: July 14, 2011

The American Red Cross is looking for an operator to take over its homeless shelter in Bucks County - the largest and primary emergency shelter in the county - as part of a restructuring that will close the lower Bucks chapter.

"The objective is to make the operation the most effective and efficient to respond to disasters," said Renee Cardwell Hughes, chief executive of the American Red Cross' Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter. "The homeless shelter has a different and a separate mission. We're looking for an organization that specializes in running homeless shelters."

The Red Cross has operated the shelter for 25 years, the last 10 on New Falls Road in Bristol Township. It houses 75 men, women, and children each night, and has a daily waiting list, said Loriann Pavluk, who worked at the shelter and chapter headquarters for 18 years.

The shelter, open 24 hours a day, has two dormitory-style rooms - one for men, the other for women and children - and serves three hot meals a day, said Pavluk, who now works at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter's headquarters in Center City.

It is staffed by 18 full-time Red Cross employees, plus volunteers. Five other employees split time between the shelter and the chapter's headquarters on Route 413 in Middletown Township.

Hughes said there is no timetable for a change in the shelter's operation. "It's so preliminary; we've just begun the dialogue," she said.

But the local chapter - the last such Red Cross branch in the five-county Philadelphia area - and its headquarters will close by Sept. 1, with its work taken over by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter.

"Bucks has always been served by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter," Hughes said. "This will streamline operations."

Money saved on administrative costs can be better spent on disaster preparedness and relief, services to the armed forces, blood collection, and health and safety classes, she said.

"On average, we have 34 responses in Bucks a year" to help victims of disasters such as fires, floods, and water-main breaks, Hughes said. "In 2010, we had 54."

The homeless shelter costs $1 million a year to operate, Pavluk said, financed by federal, state, and county funds, grants, fund-raisers, and individuals' donations. The Red Cross owns the shelter's building and the small headquarters, but it leases the shelter site from the county for $1 a year.

A homeless count that the county takes one day each year identified 505 individuals - 472 in shelters and 33 unsheltered - in January.

The Bucks County Housing Group, a nonprofit, does not provide Red Cross-style emergency housing - up to 30 days, executive director Nancy Szamborski said. It provides apartments primarily for families for stays of six months to two years.

"Nobody's asked us" whether the Housing Group would operate the Red Cross shelter, Szamborski said. "We would consider it. I'd like to look at the numbers."

Hughes said a few organizations had been contacted - she declined to name them - and she "just received an e-mail from an interested party."

She said she hoped the new operator would retain all 23 workers. Otherwise, they can apply for jobs posted by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter.

"Our goal is for a smooth transition to a professional, effective operator," Hughes said. "It's too early to say whether it will close. We're hoping people will come forward."


Contact staff writer Bill Reed

at 215-801-2964 or wreed@philly.com.

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