TOMS RIVER – There are several places throughout the area that open their doors to the homeless and people who are at risk of being homeless. But one cold day at the end of January was different, because that was the day that helpers were tasked with counting the homeless coming in.
There were two reasons for the day. One was to connect at-risk people with services. The other was to get a head count to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD uses these figures to determine how to provide resources for the homeless in a given area.
However, it’s common knowledge among those who work with the homeless that not all of them want to be counted. So, the number that comes in will be lower than what it really is.
Total counts weren’t available as of press time. That information will be assembled later and provided to the federal government.
The night before the count was a Code Blue night, which meant it was freezing out and shelters were open. That helped the count because volunteers were able to get some of the folks from the shelters and bring them right to one of the sites.
In Ocean County, the sites were:
- Ocean Christian Community Church, 405 Washington St., Toms River
- Lakewood Community Center, 20 4th Street, Lakewood
- Ocean Community Church, 1492 Route 72, Manahawkin
At the Toms River location, the meeting hall was full of food, supplies, and tables for various special services.
Representatives made themselves available from Family Planning, Ocean County Social Services, Legacy Treatment Services, Soldier On, Ocean Mental Health Services, Just Believe, South Jersey Legal Services, and the county library system. Food came in from Fulfill, which was formerly the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
Volunteer group A Need We Feed had brought coats that were the culmination of a nine-week coat drive associated with Burlington Coat Factory. They also brought blankets and dufflebags from Court Appointed Special Advocates of Ocean County.
“Also, we’re providing lunch and snacks,” said Christine Hernandez, COO of A Need We Feed.
Outside, the Ocean County Health Department had a van linking people to medical services. Susan Heil, the ARCH nurse (Access to Reproductive Care and HIV Services) was performing testing for HIV and hepatitis C. They also do training and distribution for naloxone, the chemical nasal spray that blocks receptors in the attempt of stopping an overdose.
“The high-risk populations are people who don’t have access to medical facilities,” she said.
Ocean Christian Community Church is one of a trio of churches – including Toms River Community Church in the downtown area and Shore Vineyard Church across the river – that form a network to help homeless and at-risk people.
“The homeless become your family,” said Betty Santoro of Ocean Christian. She shared a story about how some of them thanked her for her help, but felt bad that they had nothing to offer in return. So, they volunteered to help out the programs.
The church also has regular free family dinners called Abraham’s Tent, put on not just for the homeless but for seniors who are alone.
She and some of the other volunteers at the event kept each other updated on individuals that they have helped.
Robin DeVoursney had a career in nursing before she found herself homeless and needing the help of local services. She used to live in Jersey City and came down to this area for vacation.
The Code Blue
shelter that Toms River just started at Riverwood Park Recreation Center has
been a tremendous help.
“They make it so warm,” she said. She’s also appreciative of all the help she’s received at these churches.
“I had to leave in a hurry,” she said of her former place of residence. She didn’t even have a winter coat when she left.
Simple things that most people take for granted, like a coat, hat and gloves, are very difficult to come by after being displaced, she said. Having delicious free meals on a regular basis can’t be understated.
In Monmouth County, the counts were done at:
- Asbury Park – Jersey Shore Rescue Mission, 701 Memorial Dr.
- Freehold – New Beginnings Agape Christian Center, 133 Throckmorton St.
- Keansburg – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 247 Carr Ave.
- Red Bank – Pilgrim Baptist Church, 172 Shrewsbury Ave.
Food, clothing, health screenings and information about housing and employment services were available.
Statewide, the event was coordinated by the not-for-profit organization, Monarch Housing Associates, that works to fulfill the vision that every person will have quality affordable, permanent housing that fosters freedom, independence and community integration.
It identifies people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, safe havens or with no safe place to go. Volunteers asked people who came in where they spent the night.