WILKES-BARRE — When Salvation Army officers from across the state visit lawmakers in Harrisburg this week, Lt. Ted Tressler wants to alert them to the needs in Luzerne County.
Tressler will be among with the delegation Tuesday for a “Day on the Hill.” He was there four years ago when he worked with the Salvation Army in Lancaster. This trip will be his first since taking over the Wilkes-Barre Corps assignment in 2012 with his wife Sharon, who’s also a lieutenant and ordained pastor like him.
“There are similarities,” he said Friday of the community needs in the different locales.
But homelessness and poverty top his list and are topics he wants to discuss with local legislators at the biennial event. Tressler and other Salvation Army officers will also gather in the rotunda of the state capitol with people who been helped by the organization. Over the past year, the Salvation Army served more than 2 million meals in Pennsylvania and through its community programs provided a variety of services to more than 1.9 million people.
Many of them have been in the Wyoming Valley, Tressler pointed out. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 in Luzerne County has nearly doubled to approximately 29 percent since the 2000 U.S. Census. It increases to 33 percent for children under the age of 5.
“I don’t know if (the legislators are) necessarily aware of the effects of that,” Tressler said.
Although the United Way of Wyoming Valley recently embarked on program to reduce childhood poverty, its efforts are to make the public aware of the problem, Tressler noted.
“That’s one of the things many people, most people don’t understand that the United Way is not a service provider,” Tressler explained. The United Way is a fundraising agency and the Salvation Army apply for grants from it.
The transitional housing provided by Salvation Army’s Kirby House program in Wilkes-Barre has room for 10 families. “More than 20 families have asked for help,” he said.
“All of that comes down to money,” Tressler said.
But additional dollars are hard to find, especially with funding cuts for programs.
“Our primary funding source for the Kirby House is a (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) grant,” Tressler said, adding HUD cut the funding 10 percent. Neither the state, county nor local governments provide anything for the program.
“We do the best we can. We’ve cut every possible corner that isn’t an absolute necessity,” Tressler said.
The Salvation Army is the only area organization that provides transitional housing for families, he noted. As part of the county-wide continuum of care the Salvation Army meets monthly with other agencies that receive public funding to make sure they’re not duplicating services.
If additional funding isn’t available, solutions might be found by changing the laws, Tressler said.
“The hunger doesn’t go away, people’s needs don’t go away just because the state wants to balance its budget,” he said.