Homelessness: We need to start thinking differently

SYMPOSIUM: Puts face on needy; tells what’s available

HOMELESSNESS: “We need to start thinking differently’
Fight poverty? Woman says change system
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/13/07

TOMS RIVER — Some said housing would make a difference. Others said a link must be established between existing services and the people who need them. And one person said the entire system must be revamped.

Those were some of the solutions proposed to combat poverty at the Ocean County Regional Poverty Symposium. The symposium, hosted by the group Ocean Community Economic Action Now, or OCEAN Inc., was held at the headquarters branch of the Ocean County Library Thursday.

Representatives from social service agencies from across the Ocean County and New Jersey spoke to each other about their efforts to help the poor.

“We have poverty here because we allow it to happen,” said Connie Pascale of Legal Services of New Jersey .

Pascale called for attendees to advocate in Trenton and Washington for initiatives such as universal health care, affordable housing and an increase to the minimum wage.

“The solution is to change the system,” Pascale said.

Alison Recca-Ryan, of the Corporation of Supportive Housing, said that homeless people often have mental health, medical or substance abuse issues. But she said “housing is what makes the difference. People need to be in housing so that they can address all those issues.”

Homelessness is “not necessarily someone’s fault,” Recca-Ryan said. “We need to start thinking differently and getting the community to think differently.”

Other speakers included representatives from Catholic Charities, the Division of Youth and Family Services, the Ocean County Board of Health, Ocean County Board of Social Services and Ocean County Division of Senior Services , among others.

“It’s good to have us all in one room,” said Theresa Berger, executive director of Ocean Health Initiatives Inc . She said the forum would help social service providers know what other services are available for their clients.

Linda Murtagh, of the Ocean County Board of Social Services, said the board administers about 60 programs, including a one-stop career center, a food stamp program and Family Care. The board served more than 78,000 people in 2006, she said.

“With collaboration, we continue to try to make a difference, get the word out about what is available and break the barriers,” she said.

Theodore Gooding, president and CEO of OCEAN Inc., the group that sponsored the program, said the symposium was important to not only help put a face on poverty, but also to understand what programs are available. “If you don’t see it, you don’t know it,” he said.

“Many families don’t get services, or they don’t know about services,” Gooding said.

Gooding said some of the largest problems facing the poor in Ocean County are the lack of housing and medical care and the lack of dental care for children.

Gooding said the symposium was held to bring people together to discuss such issues.

Lauren O. Kidd or (732) 557-5737