Homelessness close to home

We found this story to be an example of how it takes all of us working together to understand and then solve the crisis of homelessness in NJ. Then we read the comments in the Asbury park Press and felt unsure. To read the comments on the Asbury Park Press click here. To post a comment on this Blog click here.

Pt. Pleasant Beach students provide assistance to needy
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/17/07

BY TRISTAN J. SCHWEIGER, TOMS RIVER BUREAU

POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Until this month, 16-year-old Ali Glass said she always thought of homelessness as a faraway problem.

It’s something she said she associated with big cities, not the Jersey Shore. But that changed when she visited homeless camps in Ocean County. Over the last two weekends, a group of students from Point Pleasant Beach High School traveled to camps in Lakewood and Toms River as part of a community service effort.

“It was really different than everyday life. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t think there would be homeless people living so close to where I live,” said the Point Pleasant Beach teenager who is a junior at the high school this year.

Glass was one of more than 50 students from the high school who joined Steve Brigham, a Lakewood minister who provides assistance to the homeless of Ocean County. The two-weekend service project was organized by Point Pleasant Beach Police Officer Andy Gunning, who is the school resource officer at the high school.

Gunning runs a program called the Coalition of Police and Students, or COPS. Usually, Gunning said the focus of the program is building good relationships between youth and police, and that COPS aims to expose teenagers to various law enforcement activities. However, after reading about the work Brigham does in the newspaper, Gunning said he wanted to help.

“The story kind of stuck with me, and I was like, “What else can we do to help them?’ ” Gunning said.

The students helped Brigham set up showers in the camps, and also distributed food and clothing. Local businesses donated food — both to give to the homeless and as lunch for the students — and water, Gunning said.

Students like Glass who participated in the project said that it gave them a greater appreciation for what they have and what others do not.

“It was depressing to see all the homeless people staying in tents,” said Henry Dollman, 14, a freshman from Point Pleasant Beach.