Centre Region’s homeless get another place to stay

Ginny Poorman shows someone bins of supplies that are available for people to take for free. Poorman is the founder and director of Hearts for the Homeless, a drop-in center located at 100 S. Fraser St. in State College.
Ginny Poorman shows someone bins of supplies that are available for people to take for free. Poorman is the founder and director of Hearts for the Homeless, a drop-in center located at 100 S. Fraser St. in State College. CDT photo

Ginny Poorman was running late.

She was supposed to be showing off the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work: the opening of Hearts for the Homeless, a new daytime homeless shelter in downtown State College.

On Thursday, inside the homey space nestled below Dunkin Donuts on Fraser Street, a woman slept on a couch, wrapped tightly in a blanket. Volunteers hovered, offering snacks and coffee or tea. One had brought in boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

Outside, the snow was steadily falling, and drifts were piling up. The door swung open with a blast of winter air, and there was Poorman, apologizing needlessly for being a few minutes late.

Though she didn’t say it, Poorman was out buying boots for the woman on the couch.

When she woke and saw the gift, the woman was overcome.

“These are new ones, you didn’t have to do that,” she said. “You’re going to make me cry, girl.”

The gesture was routine for Poorman.

She’s been working to help the homeless for five years, both in Pittsburgh and, more recently, in State College. Her time spent passing out coats and blankets in Pittsburgh led her to look more closely at her own community.

And what she said she discovered is a problem in State College.

“Last year, I started working with two guys who I would call street homeless, they have absolutely nowhere to live, spending all day outside,” Poorman said. “And then I realized there was a lot more homelessness here than I saw.”

There were 16 people counted as homeless in State College as of November, according to the Calvary Baptist Church. That congregation, along with a number of other churches and human resources agencies, hosts Out of the Cold.

The program provides emergency shelter from October to April when local homeless shelter Centre House is full, which the church said happens often during the cold winter months.

Susanna Paul, development and community relations coordinator with Housing Transitions Inc., said the organization works to help place people who don’t qualify for Centre House, or who can’t stay because the shelter is full.

“Together, Housing Transitions, Out of the Cold and Hearts for the Homeless are working to address the growing need for homelessness resources in the Centre Region,” Paul said in an email. “It's been really encouraging to see so many community volunteers commit to addressing this issue.”

But Out of the Cold only provides shelter at night, and Poorman said those who stay there need a place to go during the day.

“There are restaurants and the library,” she said. “But they’re not places you can go and be the entire day. You can’t sleep there. At Out of the Cold, they are sleeping in cots in a room with 15 or 20 people. You can imagine they don’t get much sleep like that.”

Frustrated by what she saw as a lack of resources here, Poorman decided about 12 months ago to do something: open a new daytime center.

That became reality when Hearts for the Homeless officially opened its doors Tuesday with Poorman serving as its director.

Poorman, who is working two jobs and is the mother to a young daughter, has had some help. She has 15 to 20 volunteers, and has been receiving donations from people, churches and businesses.

When the phone rang for the first time Thursday, the volunteer who answered didn’t know what to say.

“I wasn’t sure how to answer the phone yet,” he said. “We just set it up.”

Poorman took the call and then announced that the center was getting a new refrigerator thanks to a donation from the person on the other end of the line.

Churches paid a year’s worth of insurance and rent for the center, enabling Poorman and her volunteers to get the program up and running.

Individuals have also come through, some from as far away as Alaska, Texas and Florida, thanks to social media.

“The amount of people who are like, ‘Take this money and do what you need with it. I had no idea there were homeless people here,’ ” Poorman said. “We are just bringing awareness to the community. There are so many people who care and want to help, but have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”

Poorman’s center offers snacks, couches to sleep on, storage where those in need can safely keep their possessions, and extra items like socks and toiletries for the taking.

She said she hopes that with more volunteers the center can increase its hours to fill the downtime around the hours for Out in the Cold.

Those who are interested in donating or volunteering can contact Poorman or visit the center’s website or Facebook page.

“People always think it’s going to be someone else who’s homeless,” said Katie Nurmi, a volunteer at both Hearts for the Homeless and Out of the Cold. “But you can be just one paycheck away.

“I’m a volunteer here because homelessness is a huge problem in this community and people don’t realize how big it is,” she said. “I’ve seen what people go through, and I’ve been through enough of it myself.”