OCEANPORT – Monmouth County officials broke ground at Fort Monmouth on August 9, marking the site of where the new Monmouth County Adult Homeless Shelter will be constructed. Monmouth County Freeholders, Sheriff Shaun Golden, members of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), and the Affordable Housing Alliance were a part of the event.
The site is currently 11,500 square feet of dirt, buildings, parking lots and concrete. Once the site is demolished, it hopes to be a fully functioning homeless shelter by July of next year. The center will offer temporary housing, counseling, and mental health services to its residents to help them get back on their feet.
Located on the corner of Courier Avenue and Murphy Drive within the bounds of Fort Monmouth, the new shelter is a huge step forward for the county in terms of rebuilding after the previous emergency homeless shelter was taken down by Superstorm Sandy six years ago.
The original shelter was also in Oceanport. When it was destroyed, the county relocated the displaced shelter residents into a temporary shelter. The temporary shelter is located in Freehold at the Monmouth County Care Facilities, where they have been working out of ever since.
The property for the shelter was provided to the county by the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA). According to Freeholder Director Tom Arnone, the county only paid $1 for the property.
“The project is about $1.95 [million] but with the architectural well bring it up to about $2.1 [million],” said Arnone. “We came into a lease purchase agreement with FMERA we paid $1 for the land, and they paid all construction costs.”
Arnone noted that it was Fort Monmouth’s responsibility to pay that $1.95 in construction costs by law, even after the Fort closed back in 2011.
“When a Fort is closed…and there was a homeless shelter contained [there] prior to closing, the Fort must provide assistance and services,” said Arnone.
The plans for this new shelter have been in the works for some time by way of a cooperative effort between Monmouth County and FMERA. Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian G. Burry has a personal connection to seeing the project come to fruition as a long-time advocate for veterans, individuals facing homelessness, and member of the FMERA herself.
“Issues surrounding homelessness and life challenges are the essence of my years in elected office, said Burry. “This groundbreaking milestone for a new shelter that will provide a temporary safe haven for homeless adults and lead them onto a path to a better quality of life is what my years of service are all about,” she added.
The new shelter will house approximate 16 individuals. According to Arnone, temporary residency in the shelter is first come, first serve. Residents can stay up to 30 days. Those who stay at the shelter also need to be looking for work and permanent housing. “It’s supposed to be a moving process,” he explained.
With a private area for both men and women, the building will be 4,500 square feet. The men will have a 12-bed dorm, and the women, 4-bed. The space includes separate restrooms and showers for men and women, a laundry room, a clothing sorting and storage room, a counseling office and a security desk. Not to mention, a living room area, kitchen, pantry, a 16-person dining area, a computer nook and seating area with a television.
In terms of facilitating this shelter and its services, that is where the Affordable Housing Alliance comes in. Derrick Griggs, Chief Operating Officer of the AHA, explained the importance of these temporary shelters to the people they serve with a short story.
“There was a young lady we served, her mother has previously left the house; when she turned 18, her father left the house,” said Griggs. “The house went into foreclosure and she moved into a shelter.”
All of this occurred while the young woman was still in high school, while she still had young dreams and ambitions. Struggling with something so seemingly simple as going to the prom, the AHA helped her get a prom dress, moved her into their facilities, and even got her a job.
Part of what the center does is to provide certain services to the temporary residents to facilitate them out of homelessness.
The temporary shelter out of Freehold still provide these counseling and mental health services, however the space is quite limited, according to Griggs. The new shelter will incorporate these same services, with much more space and privacy.
“The mental health association comes in, we have a barber shop day, get everybody haircuts…we get a lot of donations of clothes,” said Griggs.
The shelter’s services will be funded by the County and administered by the AHA.
“Monmouth County has a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves due to any number of circumstances,” said Arnone.