Photos by Evan Brandt
Children who once lived in the Ashwood Apartments, which were destroyed by a July 30 fire, play on one of the two inflatable play areas set up for them Sunday at a picnic organized by BranchLife Church in Pughtown.
One month to the day after the Ashwood Apartments in North Coventry were destroyed by a massive fire, many of the 100 people made homeless by the blaze gathered in a church picnic ground in Pughtown for a break, and some help.
"We just wanted them to have a break, get some fresh air and see each other," said the Rev. Josh Park, pastor of BranchLife Church on Pughtown Road which organized the event.
Former Ashwood apartment residents put their names
into cups for a chance to win donated prizes Sunday.
Of those 50 families, only about 13 have found new permanent housing, Park said. "I'm told that's pretty good and that it usually takes 45 to 60 days, but we won't rest until they all have homes."
It's been a joint effort, with assisting agencies ranging from the Red Cross, United Way, Salvation Army, Chester Housing Authority and more.
Local businesses have lent a hand (Pottstown's own Grumpy's Handcarved Sandwiches and Beverly's Pastries provided the food for Sunday's picnic) with donations and services.
Moon Dawgs performed for free at Sunday's picnic
for victims of the Ashwood Apartments fire.
Even the entertainment, by Moon Dawgs, was donated, as were the inflatable slide and bouncy house set up for the kids.
"All I can say is at a time when the country is so divided, how heartening it is to see the community come together to help," Park said.
And while the help is appreciated, former Ashwood residents are still struggling to put their lives back together.
Woofi, the missionary puppy, paid a visit to Sunday's
picnic, much to the delight of the young children.
"I just want my life back," said Kim Scram, a mom with 11-year-old twin girls and a 13-year-old boy to support.
Like many of the former Ashwood residents, Scram is staying in the Staybridge Suites in Royersford.
"I had to get a two-bedroom suite because of the kids' age and it's $129 a night," said Scram.
Luckily, she can still work. A home health aide, Scram's client conveniently lived in Ashwood and is now lodging at the Staybridge.
But Scram has "bad credit" and an "eviction" that resulted from a bad relationship a few years ago, "and it really follows you around. I mean who in the world has good credit in these times?" she asked.
The Rev. Josh Park, of BranchLife Church, shows the
list of former Ashwood tenants. Only those marked in
pink have managed to find new housing.
While some landlords, prevented from evicting tenants due to the COVID-19 pandemic might dispute that observation, the fact remains that decent apartments at rents like those at Ashwood are hard to come by.
Maybe that's why Bill and Eleanor said when they went to look at an apartment recently, they saw several of their former neighbors contenting for the same space.
Bill and Eleanor agreed to speak to a Mercury reporter only if he agreed to change their names. Like many who at the picnic seeking housing, there is a reluctance to share their difficulties with the world in a newspaper article.
Most who attended Sunday's picnic for former
Ashwood Apartment residents followed health
protocols, wore masks and practiced social distancing.
The Chester Housing Authority recently warned that unless the state General Assembly extends the ban on evictions, thousands more people, put out of work by pandemic health restrictions and unable to pay rent, may be flooding the already cramped, and expensive, housing market."We are extremely worried that these developments could result in an even greater crisis for those renters faced with continuing monetary challenges related to the COVID-19 virus," Dale Gravett, executive director of the Housing Authority of Chester County, told MediaNews Group.
Josh Park, at right in green, explains the process of
applying for assistance to the former Ashwood
Apartments residents who showed up for Sunday's picnic.
To date, the HACC has received in excess of 200 applications from renters whose inability to pay would normally result in potential eviction proceedings.
The Ashwood Apartment fire on July 30 was a
A month after the fire, Jim and Evelyn Uphold
still don't have a permanent place to live.