Newark’s first dedicated winter shelter for the homeless will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through March.
“One of the challenges that continues to persist is that there are unsheltered homeless throughout our city and those are the individuals that you and I see on a daily basis, from Penn Station to Military and Francisco Park,” said the director of Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness, Mark Wade.
The shelter targets the homeless population by not only giving people breakfast, dinner and a place to stay, but also access to case managers who can refer them to programs that offer help for things like domestic violence, mental health, housing options, drug and alcohol treatment facilities and other needs.
“I wish everybody who walked in here would not be homeless ever again as soon as they came through this building. That’s certainly not the case, right, so obviously we have to provide shelter, but also give them services,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
The capacity listed right now is 100 people allowed in the shelter a night, but the shelter says it won’t turn anybody away. And Baraka says buses will be available to get people to the shelter.
“We’re only a week into this, by the way, and with just a week with very little advertisement, we’re averaging approximately 80 persons a day,” said Wade.
Numbers from Housing and Urban Development show there are over 553,000 homeless people in the United States. Over 8,000 of those people are homeless in New Jersey, and just in Essex County is where roughly 2,000 of them live.
Bobbie Wilson was homeless for four years and has always lived in Newark, where he called Penn Station home.
“Now the situation is you can’t live in Penn Station because they’re going to run you out, so you live on the street. You have people on the street right now. Sleeping on the street as we speak in the cold weather, bundles up and everything,” said Wilson.
For the past six months, he’s been living in an apartment, but he says he’s one of the lucky ones.
Further down the hall at the medical clinic of St. John’s is Tony, who says he is still struggling. He’s been on the low income housing wait list for two years and temporarily lives with family. He says that’s why many people end up on the streets.
“It’s years, it’s not weeks or months, it’s years. So what are you supposed to do in the meantime?” asked Tony.
The wait time for people like Tony might even get worse. The Newark Housing Authority which manages the city’s public housing received federal funding from HUD, which is at risk of losing $6 billion if the budget as it stands gets approved.
“Unfortunately they’ve been cutting back on that which forces the city to play the heavy and try to fill those gaps, but we do need more Section 8 and federal funded housing in these communities,” said Baraka.
The city is trying to fill that gap with shelters like the new one. Wilson is concerned that wait lists will get even longer as Newark continues to develop.
“A lot of us live on a fixed income, and most of us are on disability and Social Security so your money don’t roll like that. You can’t get a place for $800 no more. If you can’t pay $1,200 or more, you’re in trouble. You have to go to the street,” he said.
“We also have to use the wealth that’s being created in the city to reach out to those individuals as well to give them the opportunity to first have a clean place to sleep, some food, you know a piece of mind, relaxation, and then begin to give them the kind of services they need,” said Baraka.
That starts with the new center.