LYNN TWP., Pa. – A few homeless people have set up tents in Lynn Township, Lehigh County, upsetting some neighbors who say they have safety concerns. And it appears the situation is in the crosshairs of a property controversy.
Residents of Jefferson Court said the tents started going up on Friday, and that the encampment grew from two people to five.
Neighbors said they have safety concerns.
“I’ve never had to lock up my house as much as I have when they got here,” a woman named Nicki said.
“I today put up another camera, other people are putting up cameras,” said Ryan Williams. “It’s scary, especially for kids.”
Williams said the property where the tents are now set up is a popular place for neighborhood kids to play.
Jennifer Miklus, with the non-profit, Operation Address the Homeless, which works to assist those without housing, said those individuals came to Lynn Township to get away from a bad situation in Allentown.
“I’d like to see any one of these people from this neighborhood, come to Allentown, spend a night on skid row, and tell me this is a problem, these people are trying to get away from all that,” Miklus said.
Miklus says she’s worried about the homeless peoples’ safety too.
“Since they have been here, they have been nothing but harassed by the neighborhood, they have been threatened to have their tents burned down for no reason,” Miklus said.
The situation got ugly. On Tuesday night, weapons were displayed and state police were called. No one was hurt. Footage captured by 69 News showed one person walking down the street with a weapon Monday night. It’s not clear who that person was.
“Cops are here multiple times a day, there are threats of violence from all parties allegedly, people wielding guns, allegedly the residents may have guns as well, the homeless individuals,” said Justin Smith, chairman of the Lynn Township Board of Supervisors, and a Jefferson Ct. resident.
On Thursday afternoon, emotions were still running hot.
During an exchange between residents and Miklus, residents asked “Where do you live so we can send them to live in your front yard, how’s that sound?”
Miklus responded “Why would you want them in my front yard?”
A resident yelled back “Why are they in my front yard!”
Miklus responded “Why does that bother you so much?”
A resident said “Because they made threats!”
The homeless didn’t just find the property and start setting up tents. They were invited by Allentown developer Munhel Makhoul.
“These people are not bad people. These people just ended up in a bad situation in life,” Makhoul said, adding he had no objection to people putting up tents on the property.
Makhoul bought the property, which is actually three separate properties, a few years ago at a tax sale.
He said he offered to donate the land to Lynn Township.
“Their lawyer came back and said they don’t want them,” Makhoul said.
Makhoul said the township offered to buy one of the parcels for $1,000, but he wasn’t interested in selling the property, and wanted to transfer all three parcels.
A letter shared with 69 News shows in 2018 the three properties were offered for donation to the township, but the township was only interested in one.
“He never offered to donate it to the township, we would have taken it,” Smith said.
Smith said Makhoul wanted to sell the land, but the township couldn’t pay the asking price.
“Someone is using homeless people as pawns, it’s horrible it’s despicable, they are trapped in the middle of a horrible situation,” Smith said.
On Wednesday morning, Makhoul transferred the property to Operation Address the Homeless.
Smith said people of the township are concerned about their new neighbors, but Lynn Township isn’t the best place for them.
“We want them to have help, there’s no bus routes here, no real resources here for them,” Nicki said.
“Where is the appropriate place? Where?” Miklus said.
Smith, speaking on behalf of the township, said that the municipality has informed the non-profit of a zoning issue, adding that it could go through the court system if the organization doesn’t comply.
“Hopefully, someone can step up and come up with a solution,” Smith said.
Miklus said it’s not a long-term solution for the homeless to live at the property. She said the organization was still figuring out its plans for the property long-term.