TOMS RIVER – For nine months, many of us have been in some kind of quarantine – stuck in our homes and unable to enjoy our usual activities.
We don’t know how lucky we are.
Outside our doors, the same people who were homeless nine months ago might still be homeless. And the number has increased. This pandemic has showed how we are all on an uneven playing field. Those who were closest to not knowing where their next meal is coming from, or who live paycheck to paycheck, were hit the hardest.
There is a shelter at Riverwood Park in Toms River. It opened a few years back to catch those who fall. But it’s only open at night when temperatures reach close to freezing.
As of this writing, there has only been one significant snowfall. A few days before that, it was short sleeves weather. But that’s during the day. At night, the temperature plummets and people need to get off the street.
Paul Hulse runs the nonprofit Just Believe, Inc. Among other things, the group operates the overnight shelter.
The amount of people who come in fluctuates, he said. One night could be 10, the next could be 20. With social distancing, 20 is about the most they can have.
Nearby, Alive Again Church can take about seven people. So, there’s room for just 27 people in Ocean County. The rest have to go to hotels or just stay on the street.
This is where they are in a bit of a struggle. On one hand, you want to get as many people off the streets as possible. On the other, they have to be socially distant.
The clientele have changed a bit, too. Hulse said he is seeing people who are working, even full time, but still can’t afford a place to live. It’s hard to find housing due to lockdowns and renters don’t want people coming into the buildings.
The shelter is being sanitized morning and night with industrial chemicals, and the vehicles to transport the clients are being cleaned as well.
“At our site temperature checkers and oxygen checkers are mandatory plus wearing masks,” he said. This is in addition to giving them a COVID questionnaire. “We also are practicing social distancing and have set up the cots that way as well marking the floor with blue tape.
“If someone is suspected to have COVID-19 we have multiple options to get them in a safe environment until they are tested and cleared for the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “Or if they do have COVID-19 we will make other arrangements to make sure they are in a safe place. Or getting proper medical care.”
As of press time, they had 22 Code Blue nights. They had nine go into rehab or detox, three into assisted living, and two into permanent housing.
This has become all the more important because there is one less shelter in the area. Lakewood Township sold its community center, which was a Code Blue destination, in a land swap for a new community center which has not yet been built.
Two hotels in Toms River that used to house the homeless have since been closed down by the township because they repeatedly had unsafe living conditions. Also, the homeless were just one portion of their clientele. There were also drug dealers and prostitutes.
How To Help
The biggest need of any charity is cash. Even the smallest donation at JustBelieveInc.com can help with their daily supplies of food and equipment. Gift cards to Wawa for gas would also be helpful.
The organization now runs a thrift shop located at 734 Route 37 West, Unit 5. Any shopping you do here will help fund the group’s efforts.
Volunteering is at a low point right now, Hulse said. A lot of people are worried about being around strangers during a pandemic, which is understandable. This makes their volunteers put in a lot of hours and wear thin.
However, volunteers are needed at the thrift shop, which is open during the day rather than at night like the shelter. If you want to help out in this way, contact Amanda@JustBelieve.org.