Last updated: February 19. 2013 10:53PM - 800 Views

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FRANKLIN TWP. – Melvin Minckler sipped coffee and rolled a cigarette as he leafed through The Druids, by Peter Berresford Ellis.

It was just after 10 a.m. Wednesday and Minckler, 48, was thinking about how he would spend the rest of his day.

This was not a typical day for Minckler and the other 20 or so participants in the Mother Teresa's Haven program for homeless men who are spending two weeks at Camp Orchard Hill.

The traveling homeless program usually spends a week at a time in local churches, where the participants' routine starts with a 5:30 a.m. wakeup and a ride to Wilkes-Barre to keep appointments and look for jobs. They are then returned to the temporary shelter around 6 p.m. to get a meal and a bed for the night.

Reprieve from routine

At the camp, the homeless can sleep in – something Minckler said they don't often get to do. They still keep their appointments, but the rules are somewhat relaxed at the camp.

For two weeks around the holidays, these homeless stay at the camp, part of a non-denominational nonprofit organization that plays host to about 10,000 kids for summer camps and church group retreats each year.

Catholic Social Services operates Mother Teresa's Haven – formerly VISION – moving 22 to 25 homeless men through the system. They sleep in local churches – a week at a time – and they get assistance in finding work, services and essentials such as food, clothing and a shower.

Monsignor Joseph Kelly, executive director of CSS, said these homeless men still have hopes of finding a job and housing.

Kelly said the numbers for the program have been stable for the last year or so. He said many participants navigate the system and find jobs and housing. Kelly is hopeful a permanent men's shelter will open in 2013.

Finding a permanent location is a priority, Kelly said. Yes, I believe it will happen.

Kelly said he has been meeting with the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, the United Way, the Commission on Economic Opportunity, Wilkes-Barre city and Luzerne County to resolve the problem. He said the talks have been going well.

Everybody is very much on the same page, Kelly said. They all realize that homelessness is an issue not just for Wilkes-Barre or Luzerne County, but for the entire country.

Kelly said CSS has 25 years of experience dealing with the homeless issue.

Kelly said funding for the homeless program has been cut in half over the last two years.

It's a huge problem, he said.

Local churches have opened their doors to the Mother Teresa program. He said there had not been much pressure to create a permanent site because sufficient funding was available in the past.

Now that has changed, Kelly said.

Habits of the homeless

Minckler said homeless people hang out in coffee shops and libraries when they aren't at pre-determined appointments.

He has a daughter living locally. He talks to her often, but he said he would never impose on her.

I have to learn to deal with my problems with a certain level of sobriety, Minckler said. But it's not easy.

William Kerr, 34, has been on the streets since he broke up with his girlfriend in late November. He's been looking for work ever since.

I'll take anything, he said. The problem as I see it, is a lot of guys enter this program and try to make it a home and not a temporary shelter.

Kerr said he has been homeless before, but now has a resolve.

This will be the last time, he said.

Homeless service

The annual Homeless Person's Memorial Service will be held at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Friday at 4:30 p.m. with a small meal afterward. The service is dedicated to the legacy of the late Ann Marie McCawley, former director of the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen. Stefanie Wolownik, former director of REACH, said six homeless people died in the past year.

The Times Leader on Sunday plans to present an in-depth look at the Wyoming Valley's homeless problem.

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