This newsletter presents a report on our recent Project Homeless Connect. We’re sure that many of you will be moved by what you read here. To get more involved in volunteering for this and other projects that will help to end and prevent homelessness, please email us at the address given at the bottom of this newsletter.
Why a one-day event to reach out to the homeless?
Imagine your day when you need to go to several different locations – to the doctor, pick up a passport application, renew your driver license, stop at the stores for food or a new pair of shoes. You need to juggle your day, but in most cases, you jump into your car and deal with traffic and parking issues. You place your purchases into the car and move on to the next task.
Now, imagine you have no home, no car and you must carry all your belongings and walk to your appointments and shopping; or you’re a mom in a shelter with your pre-school kids and you must travel with them on a bus, carry your purchase and go to several different offices to get an ID, get food stamps and get your children’s SSN cards. In many cases, you would only be able to complete one of these errands.
What is Project Homeless Connect?
Project Homeless Connect is a one-day event designed to provide housing, services, and hospitality in a convenient one-stop model for people experiencing homelessness.
This a national program modeled after the military stand-downs for Veterans.
How does it work?
All services agree to come to one location to assist the homeless. The one-stop model allows individuals to meet with all the agencies they need one day – something that could take weeks in the normal approach of visiting each location.
The success of Project Homeless Connect relies on community support. Through the participation of local businesses, corporations, hospitals, doctors and a variety of other non-profit providers, this one-day event positively affects the lives of many individuals who are homeless in Mercer County.
When and where did this event take place?
On January 29th, 2008 Mercer County’s Project Homelessness Connect was held at the Trenton, NJ Shiloh Baptist Church (340 Rev. S. Howard Woodson Jr. Way (Calhoun) from 9am to 2pm. Individuals were bused from the Salvation Army Homeless Drop-In Center and TASK to Shiloh Baptist Church by A-1 Limo.
“Reverend Darrell Armstrong generously offered the use of Shiloh Church’s multi-purpose room for this homeless event.” said Executive Director Herb Levine. “This is a wonderful example of how our communities of faith can help.”
Podiatrist checked feet.
75 Haircuts were given.
What is the Point-in-time Count?
The event takes place in conjunction with the HUD-mandated Point-in-Time Count of the homeless on January 29th, when the Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care (CoC) (a consortium of homeless service providers) bands together to count Mercer County’s homeless. Holding Project Homeless Connect on the same day as the homeless count allows Mercer County to reach out to and survey more of the homeless people in the community, while providing them with much needed services.
How is the information used?
The information on the numbers of homeless is used by the CoC to apply for funding from the Federal government for homeless housing and services.
Information gathered about the homeless will play an important role in the efforts. The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness is a public-private partnership implementing a ten-year plan to end homelessness in Mercer County.
“Everybody was respectful, courteous, helpful and generous,” “very well organized”, “very cordial,” “good location” “easy to get to”, “very colorful- a lot of unity”, “free giving spirit”, “coats and sweaters”, “everyone trying to help”, “good food ”, “A lot of agencies and transportation”, “informative”, “like a social gathering”, “sneakers”, “I like… the haircuts, legal information, the food and music”, “Everything is here - one-stop convenience,” “felt wanted”, “There was different kinds of help available,” “Location,” “Very well informed staff,” “Hospitality,” “very educational,” “Nice, Kind” and “Friendly.”
Their feedback also identified additional services to incorporate in the future, such as: “Job opportunities”, “More housing options,” “worship service”, “affordable housing for over 65”, “Housing opportunities for single people,” “child support help for men,” as well as other issues and needs to address: “More Clothing- jeans”, “underwear and blankets”, “Glasses,” “more giveaways,” “congested” and “more chairs.”
A Home Is More Than a Place to Live
As a recent homeowner, I have had a lot of opportunity to think about what it means to have a home. Fixing up my home has quickly become both a fun hobby and a wise financial investment, but the feeling of coming "home" has taken on an entirely new meaning. When I have a bad day at work or a painful time in my life, the safety of home is more than just literal shelter from the weather. My home serves as a safe haven, a base, a space to rejuvenate myself.
Volunteering for the Point in Time Homeless Count reinforced my feelings of gratitude, yet also served as an intense and poignant reminder of the depressing realities plaguing our society. In one of the wealthiest counties in the world, I saw people living in horrific conditions on the streets. I met a gentleman who collects cans to make money and saw firsthand mentally ill citizens living in the dirt. I must say that no matter what I attempt to write, the indignity of that existence and utter inhumanity of their living conditions will not be conveyed through words. Yet, as I processed the surveys of our county's homeless population, a few trends became apparent. Some people just fell on bad luck as jobs were lost or bills increased too dramatically. Without family or a social safety net, options were limited. This was especially alarming considering that the experts say most Americans are only two pay checks away from homelessness.
As Americans, can we allow these conditions to exist right in our own communities?
Reality Check - Am I Still In America?
“How do you get discharged from prison, rehab or the hospital into homelessness? Does this really happen in our country? Apparently so…”
Before I participated in the Project Homeless Connect and Point in Time Survey, I knew that I was embarking on a difficult day, but just how difficult I could never have imagined. I reminded myself just how agitated and temperamental I could be when I am having a bad day, and then I thought my worst day couldn't ever compare to one day on the streets. I tried to imagine being cold all the time, un-bathed, hungry, tired and lonely.
When I arrived at Shiloh Baptist church, it was packed with people receiving free services, eating and chatting. Most of these people looked pretty normal at first glance. They weren't acting out or argumentative; most had coats on and were following directions. As I took a few surveys and heard their stories, I realized that I am not that much different from them; I just have a better safety net. But after speaking to these people, I do realize that life could have gone very differently for me and that the world does not offer a level playing field for us all.
At the end of the day, I realized there were a few things that most of the people I had talked to had in common. First and foremost, they were all kind to me, wanted to talk and have some human contact, and had respect and dignity, meaning they did not want you to feel sorry for them. Unfortunately, most of them were very hard on themselves and blamed themselves for their current situation, which broke my heart. I wish I could have done more, but during training they told us you are going to want to help, but for right now you can only help by filling out surveys, listening and giving out food and blankets, so that is what I did.
Want a reality check? Or maybe you need confirmation on how good your life really is? Join us next year or volunteer on a committee to help end homelessness in Mercer County.
The Woods Is My Home
The PIT survey took on a much more primitive meaning to me after having searched some of the most desolate, isolated, uninhabitable (seemingly so to the normal eye at least) wooded areas of Mercer County that I did not even know, would not know, existed unless I was homeless and invisible to the world.
All I could think was: how did we come to this? In America, in New Jersey, in Mercer County? I realized that some people want to be there, that some people want to be helped, and others don't. In a country of riches, homelessness is shameful and depressing. We are not talking about a third world country here! In Mercer County, to be homeless and live out in the woods? These are human beings. We have to do better. In the meantime, we do PIT surveys, with the hope that with some tracking/follow-up, if even one person next year is off the street and getting all of the help that they need, we have a success.
Falling Through The Cracks
I met a gentleman at the event that came to this country from Guatemala in the hopes of finding a better life for himself and his family. He is a single parent; his children were born in the United States. He followed all the rules to be able to get the social and medical services for his 3 children. But because he did not have a birth certificate, he was unable to get a photo ID. Thus the 3 children were able to get only minimal services through charity care.
It is our moral duty and responsibility to change the current laws through the efforts of advocacy so that people like him and his children do not continue to fall through the cracks.
Take On The Challenge
As the guests arrived, they were greeted by the warm smiles of our friendly volunteers. Some with a look of being overwhelmed were ushered to the various stations and tables where community agencies were waiting with a wealth of resources. They could choose to have a hot breakfast first, or get a haircut by professional barbers, be fitted for new shoes or select warm clothing.
At one point, both men and women were sitting at a large round table having breakfast, drinking coffee and hot chocolate. They were out of the wet and cold element, and for those few hours, they seemed to forget the burden of being homeless and savored every moment of a day well planned for them.
This was a fulfilling and enlightening day. However, it is time to begin working with our elected officials, community activists and concerned citizens to move the issue of homelessness to the top of the public policy agenda.
Over 450 coats donated from Craft Cleaner customers, Womanspace, Greater Trenton Behavioral Health Care and Rescue Mission were distributed.
Who sponsored the Project Homeless Connect?
United Way of Greater Mercer County is the main sponsor of Project Homeless Connect. Additional sponsors of the event include: Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care; City of Trenton; Mercer County; and Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness.
Participants Included: the City of Trenton’s Human Services and Health Departments including the IMPACT Van; Mercer County’s Board of Social Services, Department of Human Services and Veterans Services, and One Stop Centers; Rescue Mission of Trenton; United Way of Greater Mercer County; Greater Trenton Behavioral HealthCare; Federal Agencies: Social Security, Veterans; New Jersey HMFA; Henry J. Austin Health Center; Catholic Charities; Anchor House; Escher Street SRO; Matossian Eye Associates, Susan Ford, DC; Dr. Biglin, Podiatrist; Mercer Street Friends; Womanspace, Salvation Army; Legal Services of NJ, Community Law Project; Capital Health Services-MICU; Planned Parenthood; Dunham Hall; HomeFront; The ARC of Mercer; Child Care Connection; Fantastic Sam’s Hair Salon; Donte, the barber; Rutgers Cooperative; Federal Veterans Medical Service; Trenton Family Preservation House: Community Innovations; A1 Limo; Princeton Monthly (Quakers), Princeton Friends School; St. Matthews Church; Notre Dame School; Craft Cleaners; Brighter Day Behavioral Health.; Heath Lumber and generous individuals.
What else is Mercer Alliance doing to help the homeless?
New Model for Housing the Homeless
A new housing program commenced outreach to the homeless on January 29th, 2008. Housing First will take the chronically homeless off the street and assist them in getting their own home. Outreach social workers have been offering clients the opportunity to be part of this 3 year project. Under the initiative, the homeless are rapidly housed and provided the diversified support services they need to retain housing and address the issues that caused their homelessness.
Applications for the first seventeen available slots for the Housing First program were due on February 4th at the Rescue Mission, TASK, or Salvation Army Drop-in Center. The clients are currently being contacted by to find housing.
The Mercer Housing First Collaborative is anchored by the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness. It is comprised of select state, county and municipal government agencies, along with private funders and nonprofit organizations. The Collaborative has developed a three-year Housing First Initiative, based on research from across the country that shows Housing First to be a humane and cost-effective approach for ending homelessness for our most vulnerable citizens.
Research shows that 80 to 90 percent of those housed in Housing First apartments remain stably housed after two years, about twice the rate of success in transitional housing programs. The program has been running successfully in New York City for over a decade.
What Can I do?
Volunteer at Project Homeless Connect
This is an annual event seeking volunteers to assist every January for one day. We provide training. Volunteer to make sandwiches and collect items from you FBO, schools or social and service clubs.
Donate Money for ID campaign
Mercer Alliance is launching a new project to raise money to help the homeless get an ID. Experts estimate that the cost to obtain proper ID for an individual is between $50 and $100. The homeless person often never had these important documents or has lost them.
In Jersey, it cost $25 to get a copy of your birth certificate if you were born in NJ. There is a much greater cost to obtain birth certificates from other states. In addition, a Mercer County photo ID costs $20 and NJ non-driver photo ID costs $24.
FREE Tax Prep
Volunteer to be a tax preparer at one of the free tax sites in the county.
For More Information
Please Contact: Tarry Truitt, Communications and Project Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-844-1008