WILLIAMSPORT – Tammy Herbert wakes up each morning at Saving Grace shelter before 7 a.m. She has to leave before the shelter closes at 8 a.m. and walk the short, but brisk, walk to the bus stop a block away on West Fourth Street.
She takes the bus to River Valley Transit where she sits – out of the cold – until noon when she heads to the American Rescue Workers for lunch and then goes back to Saving grace at 1 p.m. when the doors open again.
But when Herbet isn’t trying to find a place to sit out of the cold, she’s calling doctors offices to set up appointments and appealing the public assistance office for disability assistance.
“They seem to think I could work,” she says with a half-hearted chuckle. “If they followed me around for a day they would see that I just, I can’t.”
Herbert has fibromyalgia, arthritis in her hands, herniated discs and she needs a knee replacement.
In addition, she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“And they still won’t give it to me,” Herbert said of her disability benefits.
To help her manage her ADHD, Herbert said she smoked crack cocaine, as a method of what she calls self-medication. She is in recovery now and has been clean for two months.
However, due to her history with addiction, Herbert said doctors won’t prescribe her any opioids to help manage the pain and relax her body from the fibromialgia.
“I’ve never abused pain pills,” she said.
Herbert is being screened for an apartment in Montgomery. While Saving Grace is only a 30-day shelter, she is allowed to extend her stay while she undergoes the screening process. However, if Herbert doesn’t get approved for an apartment she may also have to leave the shelter.
Herbert’s story is common to many living in Williamsport. A 2019 point-in-time count reported 137 homeless in Lycoming County. This includes 14 unsheltered, 74 in transitional shelters and 49 in emergency shelters.
However, it is suspected that the actual number of the region’s homeless is much larger, because it doesn’t take into account people living with friends or family, or simply jumping around from couch to couch.
There are six year-round homeless shelters in the county – the Men’s Shelter, Saving Grace, Liberty House, Wise Options, Journey House and Family Promise. Most of these are certain requirements. Some are only open to men or women, others are short-term and some require a type of drug, alcohol or abuse issue to qualify for service.
But, when the shelters close during the day it’s every man and woman for themselves, and many show up at the River Valley Transit station. The lobby fills up with travelers and locals with no where else to go on below freezing days in the city.
Some will go to the James V. Brown Library, or a few area churches who offer meals, but options are slim.
For Herbert, prefers to sit at the bus station, talking with her friends and bumming cigarettes off of Joe, the resident cigarette man.