The more than sixty (60) homeless people living in a tent city in Lakewood pleaded their case to the Board of Chosen Freeholders last night. The concerns raised are common not only in Ocean County but also across New Jersey and the entire country. The way to way to end homelessness is to provide homes for the homeless. The way to do that is to develop a ten year plan to end homelessness like Mercer, Morris and Camden counties have done and Hudson, Passaic, Bergen, Sussex and Middlesex are developing.
Unlink our usual poilicy of linking to the press article we reprint this one in its entirety. The link can be found by clicking here.
Ocean county hears bid for homeless aid
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 10/18/07
BY KIRK MOORE. TOMS RIVER BUREAU
TOMS RIVER – Homeless people who live in a forest clearing in Lakewood and their advocates came to the Ocean County Board of Freeholders Wednesday, asking for county government help a few days after Lakewood officials directed the campers to stop using propane gas for cooking and heating.
A presentation by advocates Alice E. Kelsey and MaryAnn Sorenson Allacci touched off a prolonged discussion among freeholders and the homeless, a group that in many cases can’t qualify for more aid under stringent federal rules.
Freeholder Gerry P. Little said the county’s housing aid effort this week has more than 1,000 families in shelter, mostly mothers with children who stay in 38 motels around the county that contract with the Board of Social Services.
But for Christina Jergar, 25, that system isn’t available – despite the fact that’s she’s pregnant.
“They said they couldn’t help me, because my ex put a restraining order on me,” Jergar explained, as social service workers talked to her and the other homeless about their situations.
Little said federal reporting and privacy rules prevent county officials from commenting in detail about why this segment of the homeless population can’t get into publicly funded shelters. That population is estimated at 60 people from Lakewood to Berkeley, according to surveys this year by county workers and Georgian Court University students.
But, as Jergar said, contact with the criminal justice system can be one disqualifier under federal rules. The “chronic unsheltered homeless” problem is one that social service efforts seem unable to fix, both activists and county officials said.
The Lakewood encampment is used “because people feel safe there, and their needs are addressed” with tents for shelter and fuel, Sorenson Allacci said.
For her and Kelsey, the answer is for the county to liberalize its housing policies and for municipalities to build truly low-income housing. “It’s so tight, the housing market, that it’s almost impossible for people not to end up on the street if they make a mistake or get sick,” Sorenson Allacci said.
Camp residents said they’re worried about the upcoming winter after Lakewood code official Ed Mack told them to stop using propane for safety reasons. A fire last winter destroyed a tent at the camp off Route 88, but the occupant escaped serious injury.
“There’s 30 or 40 boarded-up houses in Lakewood,” Jergar said. “Get a bunch of us homeless together and maybe we could fix a few of those houses.”
“There’s no shortage of housing for these homeless,” said Freeholder Director John P. Kelly. “There is funding for anyone who qualifies.”
But those qualifications can be a problem, especially under federal program requirements promulgated during the 1996 welfare reform, Little said.
On Sept. 13, a large group of county workers visited the encampment, and they found at least four people there were qualified for housing vouchers, Little said.
They also counted 13 undocumented immigrants who don’t qualify for aid, Little said. As for the other situations cited by camp residents and advocates, Little said, “often it’s impossible for us to respond” because of privacy rules. “It’s hard to defend yourself.”
“It doesn’t address the problem of chronic homeless who don’t meet the state and federal criteria,” Kelsey said. She told the freeholders they need a “10-year plan” to deal with low-income housing needs.
As for the propane order, Kelsey recalled the words of Steve Brigham, a local minister who supplies the fuel and has said he will risk a summons to keep bringing it.
Last spring, Brigham said, “I thank God no one froze to death last winter,” Kelsey recalled. “The only thing more dangerous than propane is not having propane.”