“At a homeless shelter on a cold winter night during a Code Blue activation, guests and volunteers talk about the homelessness situation in Cumberland County.”
The article reminds us that being homeless brings with it a feeling of hopelessness and that homelessness can happen to people we all may know – co-workers, relatives or neighbors.
The M25 Initiative is working to end homelessness in Cumberland County with its Housing First initiative. But many of the County’s homeless population have immediate needs while they wait for permanent housing including the youth homelessness crisis and drug addiction including opioid addiction.
Cumberland County community members, some who have experienced homelessness themselves, volunteer at the County’s Code Blue warming centers providing overnight shelter and a warm meal. “These volunteers are a special kind of people.”
“Giving back is very important,” says Tyronne Mason, a volunteer during a recent Code Blue activation in Bridgeton. “We should have more people to give back and maybe we wouldn’t have homelessness.” Warming centers in Cumberland County operate in Bridgeton, Vineland and Millville.
At the Bridgeton warming center in Grace Bethany Church, “Aaron Carella, siting with his young wife at a cafeteria-style table, was less than a day out of jail and dealing with opiate addiction/withdrawal. He says that he and his wife and been homeless for a few months.
“I’m homeless,” says Carella, 23, of Bridgeton. “(But) trying to do the best we can. When we don’t have a Code Blue, we are sleeping in abandoned houses or the woods.”
Many of the County’s homeless population are left with no shelter on nights when the Code Blue warming centers are not activated. And warming center’s regular volunteers, including Lisa Carter Smith whose day job is with the Cumberland County Department of Corrections, get to know their regular “guests.”
“It’s rough out here if you don’t have anything,” Carella adds. “I don’t have family support me and help out. When I do work, it’s small jobs, odd jobs. It’s rough. I’m young. I’m only 23 and just trying to make it and not do criminal activity to do what I have to do.”
Homeless individuals at the warming shelter tell us what we already know. Rents are too high for very low-income households, even those who are working. And many who are homeless face barriers beyond high rents.