Homeless Woman Slept in Downtown Lobby

42-year-old woman charged with trespassing after police found her curled up and sleeping in the lobby of building just off of Main Street.


A homeless woman who told police she has been sleeping in a Historic District office building to stay out of the cold has been charged with criminal trespass and for now will be sleeping inside Northampton County Prison.

Elizabeth Jean Rivera, 42, was found early Thursday “curled up, covered with a blanket and sleeping in a small alcove on the bottom floor of the building” at 79 W. Market St., according to a criminal complaint filed by Bethlehem police Officer Michelle Dologite.

The building, which is just west of Historic Main Street, houses CRB Properties, the complaint says.

Dologite writes that she and another officer were assigned to check 79 W. Market St. for “homeless persons” sleeping in the building. A person connected to CRB Properties had requested extra patrols due to “resident complaints,” Dologite said.

She and the other officer found Rivera – a small woman listed as 4-feet-7 and 90 pounds – at 12:21am. Rivera said she had been “sleeping in the hallways for the past few months to stay out of the cold.”

Rivera was arraigned at 3:30am Thursday by on-duty District Judge Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth Township on the criminal trespass charge – a level-three felony. She was committed to county prison in lieu of $1,000 bail.

The complaint says Rivera’s bail conditions are showing proof of residency and having pretrial supervision.

Summer January 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Is there not a homeless shelter that could have accommodated the woman rather than tossing her in jail, at least until her circumstances could have been ascertained? This is a sad reflection on a City caring for its poor citizens. Now it's a crime to be homeless and poor, just like the Middle Ages.
GREG L January 25, 2013 at 12:11 PM
This is a sad story and I'm guessing that this woman appreciated getting arrested as at least that's a way to stay warm. As cold as it's been, it's been almost unbearable for me to walk the short distance from my car to the store, so I can't imagine what it must be like to homeless and walking around outside. Sadly, it's a crime to be poor and homeless now.
Kathleen O'Donnell January 25, 2013 at 01:56 PM
I agree with Summer and Greg L. I don't know what else to say. They have both said it so well. I am relieved to know there are many who feel as they do. I was recently trying to explain the meaning of solidarity to my students....
Inga Eula January 25, 2013 at 02:49 PM
There is always more to the story. There are shelters in the area but you may have to fit certain criterias and abide by their rules. There are two agencies one in allentown and another in easton that can pay to put a person up for a very short while. There are churches that open their doors to the homeless every night however police officers are not social workers and may not be aware of some of the emergency resources nor have the time because many of the resources are not in the same jurisdiction. sometimes jail is the next best option.
LS Smith January 25, 2013 at 02:58 PM
I couldn't agree more. It is zero degree weather and the police elect to arrest this homeless woman because she was trying to keep warm. Wouldn't been better to take her to a shelter and warn her the next time she was found at the premise she would be arrested. Let's throw the homeless in prison instead of educating them on where they can seek help. This does give the BPD a positive reflection. I do think the citizens of Bethlehem are fortunate to have a great police force. This was just a red herring on the part of the BPD
Frances Caban January 25, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Something is really wrong with the system if they arrested a Homeless lady for seeking shelter from the weather. They could have taken her to a shelter. But no! What do they do. They have her arrested and her bail set at $1000. If she could afford to pay that then she wouldn't be out on the streets. Sad to say at least now she'll have shelter, a bed, and 3 meals a day. Totally Disgusted!
sue January 25, 2013 at 07:09 PM
there are 7 churches in bethlehem alone that house the homeless every nite of the week from dec~mar. the police are aware of these churches providing this service. they go to a different church everynite. east hills moravian church houses woman only on saturday nites. dont know all the circumstances of this individual, there may be more to the story.
Kathleen O'Donnell January 26, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Inga is right. There is more to the story. I went to the BP office this morning after I posted here. I wanted to find out more. I went because I willing to put up a portion of the bail money... and was going to come back here to find out if any others would join in. This is what I was told. The policeman told me that the record stated that woman does not like to return to the shelters she has been to, because people are always fighting there and she does not feel comfortable. The police told me that they are aware there are shelters open, but different shelters are open different nights a week and it is confusing (to the homeless or to the police, was not clear.) He said the woman would not have to raise the bail but would have to prove she was a resident somewhere. I asked if Social Workers would get involved and he said yes. Someone would be trying to help this person find a place to stay. I felt the policeman was compassionate. The world is so much more complicated than at first it seems. If there are shelters, but the woman does not agree to go, then what can the police do? I feel for everyone involved. I left the BPD feeling that they were trying the best to handle a situation that is more complicated than most of us can imagine.
Daryl Nerl (Editor) January 26, 2013 at 01:27 AM
Thank you, Kathleen, for following up and sharing what you found out with us.
sue January 26, 2013 at 01:37 AM
ditto what daryl said.
GREG L January 26, 2013 at 05:18 AM
Glad you followed up Kathleen. Acts such as yours reaffirms the basic decency of people in a world that seems to be frequently short of that. May God continue to bless you and yours.
Dirk January 26, 2013 at 08:21 AM
There is more to the story. This woman refuses to stay at the shelters..when they are offered..she refuses to go. She has been warned for trespass at countless places. It is an unfourtunate situation. Some are willing to accept help..and some wont. In any case....why should other citizens be subject to having unwanted persons on their property. Its obvious the police were responding to a complaint of an ongoing issue at this paticulair address.
Dirk January 26, 2013 at 08:26 AM
Another question to ask yourselves...would anyone posting be willing to allow this woman to stay at their residence to stay out of the cold?
GREG L January 26, 2013 at 11:03 AM
According to the article, this woman is the size of a small child. According to what I've read previously, the homeless find most shelters dangerous and someone of smaller stature would probably be more fearful in that regard. We don't know what circumstances led her to being homeless, but we do know that there are increasing numbers of homeless due to the cost of housing and the economic situation we find ourselves due to various reasons and that is what needs to be fixed. Addressing some of those issues would go a long way towards mitigating homelessness generally. I thought about your question about allowing such a homeless person to stay at my residence versus staying the the cold before you posed it. Back in the day, it wasn't uncommon for people to open their homes to strangers, but nowadays with various maladies affecting people, I'd be hard pressed to open my home to a stranger, homeless or otherwise. I'd be inclined to assist them either monetarily or otherwise to secure alternatives to freezing outside.
Kathleen O'Donnell January 26, 2013 at 05:48 PM
A link for people who would like to and are able to volunteer in some way..... http://www.bethlehememergencysheltering.org/
Nelson Lauver January 26, 2013 at 07:54 PM
Liz is a personal friend of my wife and I. We have come to know her well over the last year or so. She is polite (does have a temper at times) and sells crafts on the street in Bethlehem. She has always refused help in the past and is dead set against going to a shelter. While I am sure she is not please about being hauled off to jail, she will receive medical care while there, a warm place to sleep and three hot meals. This could well be the road back for Liz. With the help of the right social worker she could go from chronically homeless to having a place to stay and some help to deal with the issues that have caused her to be homeless for so long.
Kathleen O'Donnell January 26, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Thank you.
Summer January 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Thank you Nelson and to all who have commented. It's good to know there are caring people (including the police). I know the welfare system is probably overloaded, but I hope whoever gets this case will be able to help this woman in some way. I tend to believe her that a homeless shelter can be uncomfortable if one is not street smart and physically able. But to think of her curled up on a cold, hard floor as her most desirable option is heartbreaking. I'm sure if she finds a homeless shelter uncomfortable, prison will not be better.
Inga Eula January 28, 2013 at 12:43 AM
Thanks for the up date.
Inga Eula January 28, 2013 at 12:46 AM
I had worked with the homeless for a few years and it is a difficult situation all around. I have also worked with individuals in the criminal justice system and find a good set of them are homeless. First of all, we do not have enough shelters. Secondly, if you are a woman who do not have an infant or school-aged children it is hard to find shelter Finding a shelter for a single homeless woman with no children is difficult in the Lehigh Valley.
Kathleen O'Donnell January 28, 2013 at 12:58 AM
Thanks for writing this, Inga. I spoke this evening with a person from http://www.bethlehememergencysheltering.org/ and she said exactly what you have written. There are not enough support services offered to single women (versus women who have children). It sounds to me like this org. is trying, so that is a good thing. Her particular church needs more volunteers who are willing and able to sleep overnight.... which is something that not everyone can do... and other churches in the org. need people who can work for a few hours, serving dinner, or cleanup, or socializing.
Inga Eula January 28, 2013 at 01:00 AM
Thank you. I couldn't remember the website


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