Census event aids the homeless

This was in the Herald News today and covers Passaic county. To read the full article click here.

Census event aids the homeless
Friday, January 26, 2007

PATERSON — Marcia Coleman, 36, carefully scanned clothing racks Thursday, looking for button-down shirts, blazers and slacks that she could wear if she had work.

Coleman suffers from bipolar disorder and has been collecting disability benefits for two years. When the relative she lived with told her to move out two weeks ago, Coleman became homeless and has been staying at Paterson’s Eva’s Village Shelter ever since.

Many of the 194 people who showed up at Passaic County’s Project Homeless Connect event Thursday with complicated stories like Coleman’s shattered the stereotype of a homeless person. The event offered social services and resources to the homeless and dovetailed with a statewide census required every two years by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.

“The homeless in Passaic County are 4 years old, 60 years old, white, black, Asian and Hispanic. They are the working poor. There are no limits,” said Jay Boxwell, housing supervisor at Harbor House, a social service agency for the mentally ill run by St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center. Boxwell spearheaded Passaic County’s Project Homeless Connect, the first event of its kind in the county.

Last year’s census counted 654 homeless individuals in Passaic County, Boxwell said. State results for this year will be calculated by the end of February. In 2005, 11,000 homeless people were found in the state.

Some people found what they were looking for. Coleman walked out with a pile of shirts and sweaters. Others got blankets, haircuts and flu shots, and applied for disability benefits and food stamps. Three were placed in housing at St. Paul’s Community Development Corp.

But some left still needing something that the center cannot yet provide – a job, a sense of worth, an end to the frustration they face every day.

Ronald Manning, 51, worked as a mover until injuring his back and rotator cuff several years ago. Temp agencies have told him he’s better off being on welfare than working the minimum wage jobs they offer. On welfare, he has Medicaid health coverage. If he finds a job, it likely won’t pay much or offer benefits, and a doctor’s visit could wipe him out.

“Your self-worth is gone,” Manning said. “When you’re making money, you’re living like a human being. You felt like somebody … I want a decent job so I wouldn’t have to be going through this, because I’ve always worked throughout my life.”