Monday, July 28, 2014

Vandalism highlights need for second bus for Lower Bucks homeless

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 

For 12-year-old “Delilah,” it was a typical Monday evening: two round-trips to the Fallsington Quaker Meeting house for dinner before parking for the evening around 8 in a Middletown church lot.
But overnight someone broke into the 13-seat passenger bus, busting a window and swiping the fire extinguisher.

The 2002 Chevy bus provides rides for the homeless to an emergency shelter in the winter and church dinners year-round.
Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need Executive Director Sandy Mullican found the vandalism Tuesday morning when she went to get the mileage to renew the bus registration. Initially it appeared vandals damaged the bus wiring, but a check found nothing disconnected and the motor started, she added.
Mullican and another volunteer fixed the window, though they’ll have to shell out $150 to replace the fire extinguisher. They filed a report with Middletown police.
Mullican and her volunteers are grateful the damage didn’t take the bus off the road. That’s a growing fear for her all-volunteer nonprofit, which runs the county’s Code Blue shelter programs and other efforts to help the homeless.
“Anything that might take Delilah out of commission becomes a major situation for us,” Mullican said. “It’s hard to find another mode of transportation on very short notice, and it’s even harder to notify so many homeless that we have a transportation issue.”
The bus is the only reliable mode of transportation for dozens of homeless living around Lower Bucks. AHTN bought it using donations in 2011 — two years after the county started its Cold Blue program, which offers the homeless shelter on nights when the temperatures dip below freezing.
Before Delilah, volunteers borrowed church vans to pick up homeless, Mullican said. The bus allows them to expand services and the geography they serve.
The bus shuttles more than two dozen homeless almost daily, but isn’t big enough to carry everyone who could use a lift to a dinner or shower station, she said. Between December and March, the bus can make two or three trips a night picking up the homeless at designated stops.
And the bus has been around the block more than a few times, now nearing 200,000 miles, Mullican said. The bus isn’t wheelchair accessible, a problem AHTN encountered last winter.
When the bus goes out of commission, volunteers scramble to find alternative transportation, which usually means borrowing a church van, Mullican said. But there are no guarantees one will be available, especially in the summer when there are many church youth programs operating, she added.
If another vehicle isn’t available, Mullican or another volunteer end up driving to each stop to tell homeless waiting there they have no transportation.
“I feel horrible leaving someone standing out at one of our stops and the van never comes,” she said. “When we don’t show, we’re sending the wrong message.”
AHTN has undertaken a fundraising campaign — Dollars for Delilah — to raise money to purchase a second bus, or as Mullican says, a “sibling” for Delilah. A second vehicle would not only provide a backup bus, but also could help the group expand its mission.
Currently the bus stops only in Bristol Township.
Mullican wonders why the bus was a target, especially since it is clearly marked as serving the homeless. While $150 to replace the fire extinguisher, which is required to operate the bus, doesn’t sound like a lot, for her organization every penny counts.
“It’s sad that someone would bother a bus that spends so much time helping others,” she added. “And incurring costs means spending funds that could go to a second bus.”


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