By Erin Delmore
Project Homeless Connect Day in Essex County brings health and wellness services to a population that’s notoriously hard to reach.
“There’s no question it’s hard because they don’t want you to know that they’re homeless — there’s no question. But we actually have to go out onto the street and reach out to them and to bring them in. Now, this is something that they expect every year here in Essex County. But it’s just not one day a year. We have do this 365 days a year,” said Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.
The annual event — now in its 11th year — gives homeless and needy residents access to services like shelters and recovery centers, plus health screenings, haircuts and manicures and food and clothing.
“For us, this is a real coming together of different organizations throughout the county, whether they’re nonprofits, Federally Qualified Health Centers, municipal governments, the city health department is an active partner and a number of county agencies that provide essential services for our homeless here in the county,” said Newark Councilman Anibal Ramos, director of the Essex County Department of Citizen Services.
“I think we provide a lot of comfort. That sense of ‘I can’t get these services,’ so we bring the services to them. At the end of the day, people are apprehensive about the services so here there’s no intimidation. You know, I come in, I don’t have to worry about giving an ID. The things that they wouldn’t have on a day-to-day basis,” said Project Homeless Connect Day Coordinator Nicole Broadnax.
Essex County’s neediest residents say it’s a day they look forward to every year.
“It helps us to keep us confident to know that people do care. They’re out here trying to help us, giving us research on things that can help us in the future,” said Essex County resident Shiheema Johnson.
“It is hard. It’s hard, you know. I sign up for low income housing and, you know, they put you on a wait list. To me it’s not good to live in a shelter because it’s cold out there and, you know, that’s all I can say,” said Essex County resident Beverly Tookes.
And for providers: a chance to get their goods and services into the right hands.
“We provide case management. We help individuals obtain ID, refer them to other local agencies and help them that way,” said Bridges Outreach Project Connect Case Manager Madison Ricks.
“We’re promoting our after school program, our summer camp and our nutrition class and there are a lot of other programs that our agency’s involved with,” said Rose Stevenson-Teat of the East Orange Community Development Corporation.
Essex County is no stranger to large-scale outreach events. It hosts “Open House” for all residents and a senior wellness event. But this is the largest program for its homeless residents.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.