The Herald News, the hometown newspaper in Passaic County, published an editorial on Monday about the outreach by the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) and the Paterson Housing Authority to develop the waiting list for permanent affordable and supportive housing developed by NJCDC on Birch Street. The fact that the waiting list identified over two hundred (200) eligible applicants for the fifteen housing units is a sign that much more work must done to achieve the critical goal of ending homelessness. As exciting as Birch Street will be, it is merely the first important step in the long journey that we will need to travel to end homelessness not only in Passaic but all of New Jersey!
As hundreds of homeless people make their way in Passaic County, their presence poses stark questions: How did they get that way? How did we?
Was it bad luck, bad decisions, bad behavior or some combination of the three that has put those men, women and children on the street? Are Garden State rents and mortgages too high? Are salaries in too many jobs too low?
In what ways do our homeless people reflect the cracks in our criminal justice, welfare, foster care and mental health systems?
Would doing a better job of helping our military veterans come home, especially from the battlefront, lessen the number of homeless? If there were more ways to help alcoholics and drug addicts overcome their demons, would there be fewer people on the streets?
And what’s to be inferred from the many in the Garden State and across the country who respond to homeless people by holding their noses, averting their eyes and quickening their steps?
What does it say when only the secular saints among us really try to do something about the “homeless problem?” What does it say when welcome, innovative but modest efforts to address homelessness make news?
Last Tuesday, the Herald News ran a front-page story about people entering a lottery for one of 15 new single-occupancy apartments in Paterson. The $5.7 million New Jersey Community Development Corp. project is slated to open in April.
Only those who have been sleeping on the street or living in a temporary shelter or in an institution can apply for the small efficiency apartments set to open next month on Birch Street. A 200-person waiting list has been compiled by the Paterson Housing Authority.
The lucky ones will gain the opportunity to live in one of the gleaming units with their new kitchen appliances and bathtubs.
The others will have to continue to rely on their “survival skills,” as they make their way among Passaic County’s unwashed and unseen.