By David Cruz
It’ll be some of the coldest weather we have experienced in years. Temperatures dipping into the single digits; wind chills below zero. Not a night to be on the street. In Hudson County, officials have declared a weather emergency. The United Way of Hudson County is the agency responsible for coordinating the effort to get homeless individuals into shelters.
“On nights like tonight, I think everyone really needs to be in a shelter. It’s gonna be very bad; it has been very bad,” said United Way Hudson County President and CPO Dan Altilio.
Local police and sheriff’s officers will be looking out for the most vulnerable populations tonight, letting them know that there is a warm place to stay and arranging for transport to one of Hudson’s three homeless shelters, which are already at capacity on normal nights.
“We then provide transportation. We send buses to the three shelters and we then take them to another location so that, at night, there will be police there. There will be overnight shelter workers and then in the morning we take them out of that location and bring them usually to Welfare, where they can sign up for general assistant if they didn’t have that,” Altilio explained.
St. Lucy’s shelter, downtown, has been providing beds and hot meals for 30 years. They have 80 total beds, but regularly houses more people than that, especially now that it’s contracted to do outreach for the Port Authority, housing many of the homeless who would otherwise be sleeping in PATH stations. Every spare room here — lounges and even dining rooms — are pressed into service.
“This is the dining room. They’ll come in maybe in time to have their meal and for the later outreach run, we’ll save meals for them. Then after dinner is over and we’ve cleaned up the dining room, chairs will be stacked, tables will be folded and cots will be pulled out,” said Catholic Charities Housing Services Director Brenda Pulaski.
The latest homeless census taken by the county puts the individual homeless population at around 950, which most everyone agrees is a very conservative estimate.
“I would say it’s three or four times that, in my opinion. I mean, we’re out there in the vans, driving around, going through the train stations and even other places that we’re driving we’re seeing people, so I think it’s higher than that,” said Shelter Coordinator Tom Johnson.
There are thousands of others, too. The de facto homeless who are sleeping on couches with families or friends, who, when landlords catch on, are often forced out into the street, some with psychological issues or drug abuse problems.
Eric Davenport of Homeless in Jersey City explained what happens when the temperatures reach the single digits. “Well, they’re gonna be in serious trouble, but there are people that are used to it because they’ve been doing it for years, but it hasn’t been down to single digits in years, so they’re going to be in for a shock this time,” he said.
Just not enough beds and too many people without a warm place to stay tonight.