TOMS RIVER – A local councilman is renewing his plea to have a homeless shelter built in Ocean County.
Currently, the county places the homeless in temporary housing. This solves the short term problem of shelter, but not the root cause of homelessness, Councilman Terrance Turnbach said. While in these motels, they continue to have access to drugs and alcohol; any behavioral issues are not checked.
“If we do not address the underlying issues causing an individual to be homeless, we are akin to hamsters running on a wheel. It is time to admit that providing money for people to stay in motels is not a plan that will meaningfully address chronic homelessness,” he said.
Toms River opened Riverwood Park Recreation Center off Whitesville Road for Code Blue during nights in the winter. This is a statewide regulation that opens shelters when the temperature reaches freezing. It is run by the nonprofit Just Believe, Inc. According to their figures, there were 193 different people who stayed in the Toms River shelter overnight last winter. During the winter of 2018-2019, that number was 178. These figures do not include those who stayed in other places that were open for Code Blue.
Based on these numbers alone, Turnbach said the county’s plan is not working.
“Respectfully we must reset our approach to addressing homelessness. The end goal cannot be providing temporary shelter. The end goal must be transitioning individuals into permanent housing,” he said.
A shelter would provide people with not only a roof over their heads, but supervision and services that address the reasons that they are homeless in the first place.
Part of the problem with homeless shelters is that people don’t want them in their back yard. The site would also need to be near jobs and public transportation, which means it wouldn’t be hidden away.
Turnbach said the ideal location for a transitional housing facility would be where a shut down hotel presently is.
The Parkway Motel, formerly the Americana, is located at 925 Route 166. It is near the intersection of Route 9 and Route 37.
When inspectors came in 2019, they found parts of the ceiling missing, mold, electrical hazards, and trash littering the property. The building was deemed unlivable.
Despite being unlivable, there were 18 people living there at the time. Most of them had jobs but couldn’t afford a safe place to live on minimum wage jobs, especially while paying $250 a week (and in some cases more) to live in substandard housing.
The neighboring Hana restaurant is also shut down and for sale, and the combination of both properties would be ideal, he said. It’s within walking distance of a grocery store, a pharmacy, and other social services.
And since it’s in a commercial zone, not a residential zone, there are fewer neighbors to say “not in my back yard.”
There’s a cost in taking care of people.
Turnbach pointed to studies that showed that it’s cheaper to provide transitional housing programs rather than Band-aid measures.
He had spoken with the county to establish a Homelessness Trust Fund, but the county disagrees with this. It would set aside money funded by a fee of a few dollars spent by people filing documents with the county.
Currently, the Code Blue shelter is run by volunteers, but they are not the only ones. A network of religious and social services groups are in constant contact with each other and the homeless and food insecure people in the area. One of them, he said, is even in the process of acquiring a grant to buy the Parkway Motel property.