Patricia Mercado first spoke on her difficult childhood. Her mother abandoned her family and her father was an alcoholic, so she had few resources to build a strong future. At fourteen, Patricia was living in friends’ houses without a home of her own. After being in an abusive relationship, she was forced to live on the streets and ended up in jail.
Once released from jail, she was still homeless. She tried to go back to school and get a job, but she couldn’t do this while she was unhealthy.
Patricia eventually received services from Advance Housing. They helped her improve her mental health and apply for a housing voucher, which she now uses to obtain affordable housing.
She admits, “I’m happy that I have a place to call home.”
Patricia is focusing on improving her health and quality of life. She states that she can now, “Get my license, go to school, get a job.” None of these things would be possible without affordable housing.
Later in the afternoon, Leroy Wiggins shared how he became homeless on multiple occasions after being released from prison. He has spent over four decades of his life incarcerated.
After being released from prison the first time as a young man, he had nowhere to stay. Without a job or shelter, he became a drug dealer and returned to prison. This cycle happened several times.
After sleeping outside, on buses, and other public places, Leroy finally found a homeless shelter in Paterson. NJCDC helped him find housing where he now resides.
Leroy explained how if people don’t have a place to stay, they return to drugs and crime.
He stated, “They turn to drugs they turn to alcohol, and that’s why crime increases because they have no place to stay so they try to survive.”
Leroy is 75 years old and has heart problems and therefore can’t work. He needs welfare and food stamps in order to survive. He is so thankful for the help he has received and urges his elected officials to not cut funding.
Lastly, he urged his listeners to “Please vote. Voting changes things, believe me.”
Congressman bill Pascrell then spoke on all of the efforts he is taking to improve affordable housing. Currently, he is working to provide strong funding for both housing vouchers and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants.
Congressman Bill Pascrell thanked everyone for attending, and assured his audience, “People will listen to you when you come to Washington. Sometimes they’re frightened not to.”
He continued, “So your position here is not simply to sit in a chair. You have a major function. And that is to make sure that we through democratic debate make our case… that we need housing in our society.”
Congressman Bill Pascrell continued to explain how some of the highest numbers of homeless Americans are our most vulnerable populations- veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Even more so, how so much homelessness can still be attributed to housing discrimination.
He encouraged the audience to keep fighting for the right to housing, as everyone should be entitled to a place to sleep at night.
In reference to funding for affordable housing, he concluded, “This could be the difference between life and death. And I’m not exaggerating at all.”