Update 12/12/2023: Since this story was published Bob and his wife have received an outpouring of support with multiple private free housing offers for the winter and job offers. GANT News also received numerous calls thanking us for writing the story and offering support to our local shelters. We are now hoping as a result of this story that there is now one less tent community in Clearfield County.
Editor’s note: GANT News identified four homeless tent communities located in Clearfield Borough and Lawrence Township. We recently set out to find the camps, check on the habitant’s welfare and hopefully hear their story.
We uncovered a lot of what we expected and a lot of what we did not expect- particularly how difficult it was to ask a man how he found himself homeless.
A fictitious name is used in this story to protect the subject’s identity and respect his privacy, but he did share his story.
With the leaves off the trees, tents that shelter the homeless are becoming more visible in wooded areas around the county. Tarps are placed over the tents to keep them dry in the rainy and snowy weather. Most are dirty and littered with trash, drug paraphernalia and half-eaten food.
But that was not the case at all of the camps.
We discovered Bob’s site hidden in a secluded spot deep into the woods. We announced our presence and asked permission to enter the camp. Bob quickly appeared out of a tent and obliged us, noting that we were not permitted to take any photos.
In his late 40’s, he appeared thin but healthy. His clothes were tattered but looked clean- as did he. He was sharp and educated and showed no apparent signs of drug use. Bob has been living in his tent with his wife at this location for two years.
Bob is not a transient. He was born and raised in Clearfield County and said he became homeless after a “bad set of circumstances.”
Unlike the other camps we visited that day, their camp is very clean without a single sign of trash or litter. It is organized with a firepit and a cooking station that was converted out of a what appeared to be a metal book case. Plastic jugs and containers hung neatly from a single tree. Other utility items like buckets and a shovel were organized near some bushes in the corner of the camp.
Bob said he doesn’t know who owns the property that they are living on, but says he greatly respects and takes care of it.
There are three tents on the site. The main unit is where he and his wife sleep. A second houses their supplies and a third is a “guest house for whomever might need it,” he said. He explained that he and his wife are constantly in search of other homeless or transients they find sleeping under bridges or in the woods without shelter. They invite them into their camp, share their supplies and give them shelter. He said most only stay a couple of days and then move on. Bob said he is aware of about four other camps in the area that offer the same kind of assistance. He said, “That’s what we do, help each other out.”
Those that don’t move on to a more conducive climate seek out an alternative shelters in the cold winter months. Some move in with friends, but most go to jail.
For Bob and his wife to stay together over the winter, they do what they can to fake a drug addiction… enough to get them into rehabilitation facilities. When asked why they don’t utilize the shelters, Bob became visibly sad and replied that he doesn’t want to be separated from his wife (most local shelters are segregated. Haven House in DuBois accepts men, women and children with a referral from social service agencies). He said if there were services available where they could be together and help get them back on track he would definitely take advantage of it.
For now, Bob said he and his wife are good and healthy. When asked where they get their food and supplies, he answered wherever they can- from the woods to food banks.
They have been able to adapt to their surroundings and feel safe in their seclusion, noting that we were only the 6th or 7th “strangers” to ever walk on their site in the two years that they have been there.
He declined our offer to help them with food and water and asked that we do not disclose their location. He explained that he doesn’t want any personal handouts or for people to come into their camp to pity them.
When our interview ended, he politely shook our hands, thanked us for wanting to tell his story and wished us a Merry Christmas.
- According to the PA Department of Community and Economic Development’s website, “On any given day, over 15,000 Pennsylvanians are known to be homeless. In the more rural regions, over 8,000 individuals including children were experiencing homelessness either being on the streets, doubled up with family or friends, or in shelters. For many this is a night-time occurrence and one that is not easily resolved on their own.”
- In August Clearfield Borough Council added a new addendum to park rules to keep transients from sleeping (or camping) in Lower Witmer Park.
(Photos of one area homeless camp.)
Central Pennsylvania Community Action 207 E. Cherry Street, Clearfield 814-765-1551
Good Samaritan Center 11 North Front St., Clearfield, PA 16830-2401 814- 768-7229. Men’s residence.
Haven House 202 W DuBois Ave, DuBois, PA 15801 814-371-0333 Takes individuals of all ages. A referral from social service agencies, police, hospitals, or VA is needed to apply.
Freedom House 112 Trcziyulny St, Osceola Mills, PA 16666 814-339-5575 Women’s residence.
Many other clubs and service organizations throughout the county also support those in need.
Ways to help
If you would like to help “Bob” and his wife, consider making a donation to your local food bank and support the above resources with donations. Local law enforcement advises against visiting the camps for safety reasons.
In an interview with Doug Bloom, director of the Good Samaritan Center in Clearfield, he said that they serve approximately 20 to 30 men a year, but because they do not require a referral the center is actively used.
“In the winter months we always see an increase in guest residents due to the cold weather,” he said.
As with all shelters, in addition to private monetary donations, the Good Samaritan Center also accepts donations of food, clothing, household supplies and bedding.
Bloom said that with inflation and rising food costs the center has a significant need for non-perishable food items.
Central PA Community Action is also currently holding their annual holiday food drive. In addition to non-perishable food items, they also accept any local grocery gift card. Below is a list of recommended items in need this season.