True Vine Shelters Growing Homeless Population

Pastor Rhetta Jackson operates the Code Blue shelter at TrueVine. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  BERKELEY – There’s a line of people to get in before the shelter officially opens. A bus stop on Route 9 brings people in, and sometimes, they get picked up by a staff member before spending the night.

  TrueVine ministry is located in a strip mall, at 340 Route 9 in Bayville. In the evenings, it opens its doors to the homeless population.

  They started as a church in a community center in 2017, Pastor Rhetta Jackson said. The Code Blue portion of it began last year. Code Blue is the state program that allows temporary shelters for homeless in the winter.

  “My husband and I’s vision is we want the whole person healed,” she said.

Beds are set up in the church overnight. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  There are 22 beds every night regardless of the temperature from November through March. If they fill up, they will call Toms River or Lakewood. Men and women are in separate rooms.

  Some are regulars that come every night, she said. Some lost their jobs because of COVID. There’s a senior couple who just can’t afford to find a place to live in Ocean County on Social Security.

  While the homeless are there, they get visited by people who can offer job training or services of that nature. Each person is evaluated to see what they need. As a drug and alcohol counselor, Jackson said that some of them are dealing with mental illness and addiction.

  “Every case is different. If we don’t treat the whole person, they will wind up back here,” she said. “We can’t just provide a bed.”

  The first thing that has to be addressed is their physical needs: shelter and food. Then, they can find out what comes next.

Photo by Chris Lundy

  Since they are one of the most southern areas in the county to have Code Blue, they get a lot of folks from as far as Little Egg Harbor or Manahawkin. That’s not to say other churches don’t want to have a Code Blue in those areas, but they are facing challenges.

  “Our desire is to have a year-round shelter. Ocean County will not allow that, so we follow the state of emergency regulations,” she said.

  Ocean is the only county in the state without a homeless shelter. Many of the people who care for the homeless have said that a small fee of $5 on every real estate transaction would pay for it. Burlington County does this, for example. The County Commissioners have said that they don’t want to charge that. The Atlantic City Rescue Mission sued Ocean County in 2011, seeking reimbursement for millions of dollars it spent taking care people coming there from Ocean.

Fulfill provides ready-made meals for the shelter. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  Jackson has said that she has come to five different mayors around the county who have told her they are not in support of a year-round shelter.

  A year round shelter would also protect people from the summer heat that can be just as deadly as the winter cold, she said.

  “This is what a church is supposed to do. That’s what Jesus did when he walked the Earth. We’re doing what God wants us to do,” she said.

If You Need Help

  If you need a roof over your head in the winter, call 732-608-7706 or 848-251-2546.

If You Can Help

  True Vine is in need of volunteers as well as cleaning supplies, toiletries and other needs. Call 732-910-3155 if you’d like to donate time or money.

  “Fulfill has been very generous,” the pastor said. They provide pre-cooked meals since there is no cooking on the premises.