Lebanon County Commissioners gave unanimous approval for a local agency to request $100,000 to address affordable housing issues for victims of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Intervention (DVI) of Lebanon County requested and received Thursday, June 1, permission to seek $100,000 of Optional Affordable Housing Act (Act 137) funds to supplement Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and state monies to alleviate homelessness for Lebanon County domestic violence victims. 

The request came during the bi-weekly meeting of the county commissioners.

DVI executive director LeAnne Burchik said the agency will implement a program called Rapid Rehousing (RR) as soon as they hire a housing specialist. 

DVI is a nonprofit organization that provides free services to victims of domestic violence, including counseling, emergency shelter, and a 24-hour hotline. The organization also offers public education presentations and programs for schools.

“This money will provide much needed wrap-around services to supplement federal and state monies that we are getting for this program,” said Burchik. “It is not transitional housing in the traditional sense. This money will stay in the community.”

Burchik said DVI operates a 30-day emergency shelter. Paperwork detailing the funding request to the commissioners noted that a “lack of affordable housing is the primary obstacle facing victims of domestic violence who want to leave their abuser.”

“It’s very difficult to exit if you are a domestic violence victim,” said Burchik. “Landlords are very – a lot of times – reluctant to take a chance on our victims. Affordable housing is hard for anyone in this county and it’s particularly hard for domestic violence victims.”

Burchik noted that RR is a “very unique program that will benefit the community and provide much-needed help to local residents.”

“It allows us to work with landlords and to place landlords and victims together with the help of a housing specialist,” said Burchik. “It will also enable us to work with victims who can’t or who do not want to come into a shelter to be able to stay in their homes and remain there indefinitely.”

In other county business, Lebanon County Children and Youth Services (CYS) provided three sets of invoices for the first three quarters of the 2022-23 fiscal year, and also requested renewal of a contract for automated case management system services with AVANCO, based in Camp Hill, Cumberland County.

The quarterly invoices for the fiscal year 2022-23, which runs from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, are:

  • First quarter  – $2,261,445
  • Second quarter – $2,337,627
  • Third quarter – $2,247,686

The largest figures for each quarter were for program services, salaries, and benefits covered under Act 148.

CYS administrator Erin Moyer said Act 148 provides monies that will be reimbursed by the state to the county. Funding for four other smaller ticket items is covered by the federal government, added Moyer. 

The commissioners also approved spending $30,000 for the annual contract with AVANCO for the automated case management system for the fiscal year 2023-24. Moyer noted that this figure had been the standard rate for many years.

In a separate matter related to the CYS department, the commissioners approved the hiring of three new case management workers as mandated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

Since the hirings are mandated, the state covers 80 percent of salary and benefits while the county must pay the remaining 20 percent of salary and benefits for those new hires. Moyer said that this is at least the third consecutive year that the state has mandated adding new caseworkers to her department.

“Since Sandusky came out and the new changes to the Child Welfare law, we’ve definitely seen a sharp increase in the numbers coming in,” said Moyer. “I am preparing for the budget right now, and I’ve been looking at numbers and statistics and just the amount of general calls coming into the agency have gone up almost two-fold in the last year.”

Moyer added that in-home service cases increased by 100 this year, and about 160 youths were placed. 

“Going back five years, that is almost double,” added Moyer. “Generally, more difficult, complex cases, concerns for homelessness and drug use – there’s a lot of stuff going on in Lebanon right now. We’re just trying to keep up with the numbers so that we can keep staff and make sure that people aren’t stressed out and taxed out with extremely high caseloads.”

Jamie Wolgemuth, county administrator, said just because the state mandated the hirings doesn’t mean those positions will get filled immediately.  

“The real struggle in the department is filling these positions – much like what we have in the public defenders’ office right now,” said Wolgemuth. “So, caseload is divided among those we have in place. Three new caseworker positions doesn’t spread the caseload until you fill (the job), and that’s been the big struggle.”

Wolgemuth added that staff turnover is the biggest challenge CYS has right now. Moyer agreed with Wolgemuth’s assessment, adding that it takes three to four months to train a new hire before they are ready to handle caseloads on their own.

In other items, the county commissioners voted to: 

  • Purchase 39 flashlights at a cost of $5,421 for the county’s probation department. The funding is from an annual PCoRP grant provided through an insurance program of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
  • Reappoint Raymond Bender and Harrison “Harry” Diehl to another three-year term on the board of the Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick.
  • Issue a proclamation honoring Huggins “Jane” Allie for 23 years of service to the county. Allie’s last day with the county was Friday, June 2.
  • Provide one full real estate tax exemption for a fully disabled veteran.
  • Approve the minutes of its May 18 meeting, the treasurer’s report, and various personnel transactions.
Huggins “Jane” Allie (center) listens as President Judge John C. Tylwalk (left) offers comments at a brief ceremony that recognized Allie’s 23 years of service to the community. Allie retired on June 2 from the county’s Domestic Relations department. Also pictured is Michael Anderson, director of Lebanon County Domestic Relations, who said that the “office diva” will be missed and never replaced. (James Mentzer)
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...