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Housing program expands to help single dads and families

The Catherine McAuley Center headquarters is located at 430 Pittston Avenue, Scranton, Pa. 18505.
Tom Riese
The Catherine McAuley Center headquarters is located at 430 Pittston Avenue, Scranton, Pa. 18505.

With 40 years of experience helping women and children, a nonprofit that runs an emergency shelter in Northeast Pennsylvania is expanding its services. The Catherine McAuley Center will soon be able to assist single fathers and families in Lackawanna County.

“In the last year we received calls from 200 people – either single dads or intact families – looking for shelter. It’s a service we don’t provide and people are still calling to ask us,” said Krista Murray, executive director at the nonprofit.

The sheer volume of calls told Murray there was a huge unmet need in the region. Murray said there hasn’t been a place for dads and their kids to seek temporary shelter for the last few years in Lackawanna County. One program ended about five years ago, she said.

The McAuley Center says it’s set to address that need next month in Scranton. The nonprofit will work with families to look at permanent housing options while they stay at the home. Their programs originally offered stays for up to 30 days, but Murray said “due to the housing market and the challenges in obtaining affordable housing,” the average stay for clients has increased to about 60 days.

She said people may have a stereotypical view of what they expect homeless families to look like, or where they might stay.

“When we think of our local area and we think of homeless families, it’s more of the ‘hidden homeless,’” Murray said, “especially when we’re talking about kids being involved… it’s finding places to stay for one or two nights and moving on… or sleeping in a car or being creative.”

In addition to emergency shelters, the nonprofit also offers community food pantries and medium- and long-term housing for women in scattered-site locations in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.

“We’ve typically been able to serve about 60 individuals through our shelters per year too, so that’s kind of our target for the upcoming year for when we open in July,” Murray said.

More than 14,000 children in Pennsylvania received help from emergency housing programs in 2021, and 622 children were based in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties that year, according to a report from Nemours Children’s Health System. Both counties saw a decrease in the number of unhoused children served from 2019-2021.

The Catherine McAuley Center is named for the founder of the Catholic Sisters of Mercy who helped women through housing, education and medical care starting in Ireland in the 1830s. The Sisters of Mercy community in Scranton began serving women in need in the early 1980s and founded the center shortly thereafter.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.