This is the fourth report of ‘Homelessness in the Garden State‘, a special Jersey Digs series focusing on the homelessness crisis affecting New Jerseyans throughout the state.
Although many individuals experiencing homelessness in New Jersey come to public places such as train stations, libraries, and parks during the day, those who seek shelter at night often have nowhere else to turn but non-profit and religious organizations in the state’s largest cities. Very few government-run shelters exist in the Garden State, where some of the largest facilities are operated by groups such as the Goodwill Rescue Mission, the YMCA of Newark, the Rescue Missions of Trenton and Atlantic City, and Volunteers of America Delaware Valley.
Because of this, the City of Newark made headlines last December when it opened the Homeless Emergency Living Partnership (HELP) Center at 224 Sussex Avenue in the Central Ward’s University Heights neighborhood. However, the shelter, which was housed in the former Newark Residential Reentry Services Center, was only intended to be open for the winter months. It ended up shutting down during a heat wave in July, forcing those who had been living inside to move back out onto the streets. Although funding from some corporations that operate in Newark allowed the facility to reopen, it could close again on August 31, leaving questions about where those without a home will turn in a city where over 14,000 people are on the waiting list for public housing.
Now, in order to try to answer those questions, City Hall is in the process of creating the City of Newark Commission on Homelessness, which would be one of the first boards of its kind in the state. Citing “unacceptable levels of homelessness among single adults, families, and unaccompanied youth” in Newark, an ordinance that was introduced to the Newark Municipal Council on August 8 calls for the proposed commission to “provide a framework and strategy” for ending homelessness in the New York Metropolitan Area’s second largest city.
The board’s tasks would include providing recommendations for services for homeless residents and stating how they would be funded, coordinating resources, advocating to the state and federal governments, and assessing the annual Point-in-Time Count.
The ordinance cites factors such as “a lack of affordable housing, a shortage of family wage jobs, domestic violence, a shortage of housing with support services, high levels of debt, substance abuse, mental illness, the growing number of at-risk youth, access to affordable health care, and people exiting institutions and systems of care” as causing homelessness locally. If the plans are passed by the Council on September 6, the new commission would include between 15 and 30 members that would be appointed by the mayor with council approval.
Members, all of whom would not be paid for their roles, would come from the private and public sectors and would be able to serve for up to two three-year consecutive terms at a time. At least one of the commissioners must have experienced homelessness before.
Although people experiencing homelessness come from throughout New Jersey, many individuals without places to call home come to cities like Newark, Trenton, Camden, and Jersey City because there tend to be more resources available there than in suburbia.
“You’re not going to get help standing on a corner in Millburn,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told Jersey Digs in December, referring to one of Essex County’s wealthiest municipalities. “You might go to jail.”