In one of the annual reports that reminds us of the importance of ending homelessness,the Star-Ledger today reported on the overflow in shelters across NJ.
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Cold weather pushes homeless shelters to capacity
Facilities around the state make greater effort not to turn people away
Friday, January 04, 2008 BY NAWAL QAROONI, Star-Ledger Staff
The recent blast of chilly weather has brought a surge of people seeking assistance at homeless shelters throughout the state, with some already at capacity and others offering expanded services to combat cold temperatures lingering through daytime hours.
When the mercury dipped below 25 degrees earlier this week, Union County enacted its “code blue” weather declaration, which provides emergency short-term shelter for those who need it, said Wayne Avery, county spokesman. The effort ensures no one gets turned away because of overcrowding, Avery said.
“We have to open our doors for all those folks, without any questions,” said Addy Bonet, president and CEO of the Plainfield Area YMCA, which nearly doubled its overnight residents Wednesday as temperatures continued to drop. The YMCA also suspended its “out by 8 a.m.” policy and allowed people to stay in the facility’s lounge because the chilly weather continued throughout the day.
Temperatures last night were expected to remain in the teens once again and around the freezing mark today. The cold spell is expected to break by tomorrow with temperatures in the 40s for much of the state.
Middlesex County has an estimated 5,000 homeless people, officials said. Local shelters push capacity when cold weather hits, said Stuart Grant, vice president of community interest at United Way of Central Jersey, which funds four Middlesex County shelters.
“It would be no surprise to report that people are seeking shelter indoors or wherever there is warmth when the weather is this cold,” Grant said. “At this time of year, the shelters are under stress in order to meet the needs.”
Bridget Kennedy, director of Middlesex County’s social work services, said shelters make great efforts to make sure no one is turned away.
“Most of the shelters are very good about trying to make room on a very cold night,” Kennedy said. “But in this sort of weather, the homeless problem becomes even graver.”
Meg DeJong, assistant program director for Catholic Charities’ shelters, said turning people away is tough, but sometimes necessary.
“It’s the part of the job I hate the most,” DeJong said, adding that they direct people to other shelters when they hit capacity. “But our services are in high demand, so it’s brutal.”
Hospitals also experienced a slight increase in weather-related illnesses, officials said. Kennedy said homeless people sometimes use hospitals as a temporary refuge.
“Sometimes, it’s just too bitter out so people check into the emergency room,” Kennedy said. “By the time they get to you, you might have made it through the night.”