On January 4, 2018, Michael Fleming, 57, a homeless man was found dead in a parking lot in Vineland, New Jersey. He died out in the elements during a snowstorm and freezing temperatures.
That day, Robin Weinstein used the story of the tragedy of Fleming’s death to draw attention to the housing crisis in New Jersey – the lack of affordable housing causes homelessness. Unfortunately, we will keep hearing about similar tragedies until enough affordable housing is available.
Weinstein is also the head of the Housing First Collaborative in Cumberland County. To date, twenty-five formerly homeless individuals have moved into their own apartments in Cumberland County. And an additional seventeen individuals experiencing homelessness are waiting for affordable housing.
“I’m disgusted on so many levels that the system is so broken,” Weinstein said. “All we are doing right now is applying bandages to the problem (by providing temporary shelter).”
Code Blue shelters play an important role in keeping the homeless safe, warm and out of the elements on dangerously cold nights. But we should also be working to provide a more permanent solution – affordable housing for all New Jerseyans in need of housing.
“Enabling the homeless to get housing of their own is the real solution, he says. With a home, those once on the streets can move on to getting a job and building a new life.
‘The best practices are there, the solution is there,’ Weinstein said. ‘We just have to have the political will and the individual resolve to just get it done. Until we do that we will keep hearing stories of people dying on the streets.'”
Unfortunately, as the article and quote from Vineland Police Lt. Lenny Wolf points out, not everyone experiencing homelessness agrees to the available emergency shelter and other services that are available to the homeless on frigid nights. Barriers such as addiction and mental health issues may prevent some homeless individuals from accepting assistance.
“There is a systematic failure on every front,” Weinstein said.
He said Friday he believes not enough people are truly dedicated to ending homelessness.
“The volunteers, we are all doing the best we can,” according to Weinstein. “I want to know where is the government response, the church response, the response from average people. Everyone has the responsibility to be their brother’s keeper.”