By Lauren Wanko
“I love it here. It’s so nice because everything is here for me,” said Charles Walichnowski.
Walichnowski used to be homeless until he found a home at Center House in Asbury Park — a non-profit that provides permanent, supportive housing for single adults living with HIV or AIDS.
“Bottom line is that they’re living far beyond the poverty level until they could not afford any kind of decent housing. If we want them to get better, if we want them to stay clean, if we want them to be able to deal with their disease, then they’re gonna have to have housing,” said Rev. Robert Kaeding, executive director of The Center in Asbury Park, Inc.
Center House relies on funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide services like their kitchen, which provides three meals a day to their 25 tenants, case management and drug counseling. HUD awarded more than $38 million in grants to homeless programs throughout the state. Center House got about $136,000 — a decrease from the more than $188,000 they received in fiscal year 2012.
“Which turns out to be one full-time employee that we had to lose under this funding,” said Center House Director of Resident and Client Services George Lowe.
Monmouth County administers the HUD grants. A spokesperson tells NJTV News the county is redirecting funding locally from their service providers, like Center House, into what the county describes as more permanent housing solutions.
“We have to then obviously have to scramble to look for funding elsewhere,” Kaeding said.
Because of the loss in funding, Center House decided to open a thrift store nearby in Belmar. Volunteers just began filling these boxes with clothing, household items, even artwork. They hope to open the thrift store called Center Square by May 1 with all of the proceeds going back into the program and the services offered here.
Robert Craven’s been HIV positive for more than 30 years.
“When you are HIV positive, it’s a mental disease too, because people look at you as a leper back in the old days,” he said.
Today though, he’s proud to be drug-free and in his own apartment.
“It feels good. Cause this way I gotta a place to live, I’m more responsible today for my actions,” he said.
Monarch Housing Associates‘ Taiisa Kelly says statewide homelessness is increasing. The economic downturn is just one of the factors.
“A person would need to work three full-time jobs if they had minimum wage wage salary in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the state,” Kelly said.
Kelly says communities across the state identified 13,900 homeless individuals and families on a single night in January last year. Center House’s Lowe says the solution is more services and more trained professionals providing those services to the homeless.
“As far as we’re concerned, one is too many,” he said.