By Desirée Taylor
The bitter cold is driving many to seek shelter.
“I was out on the bridge last night freezing my butt off,” said Richard, who is homeless. “I’ve got four or five blankets on me at night, keep my butt warm or try to, so far I’m surviving but don’t know how much longer.”
Richard is finding help at Eva’s Village. Whether it’s a hot meal or shelter, this non-profit social service agency serves hundreds of working poor and homeless every day. With these extreme temperatures, advocates are especially worried about the homeless.
“It’s very dangerous for people to be outside. That’s why we’re trying to get everyone in. In our shelters last night in men’s, went eight over capacity, women’s went one over capacity because no one can be turned away. This kind of weather, you don’t want anyone to freeze to death and that’s a possibility when it’s going down to negative 10 feeling with the wind chill,” said Eva’s Village Executive Director Marie Reger.
Israel Rodriguez is among the residents staying at one of the shelters here.
“The shelter is awesome. They help people out in whatever they need. If you need clothes, a place to stay, they help you out,” Rodriguez said.
Like most counties in New Jersey, Passaic County doesn’t operate a shelter. So it partners with Eva’s Village. Bergen County is the only one in the state that runs its own facility. And demand is high there too.
“We have 18-year-olds that come here, an 80-year-old gentleman that came the other night. These are our neighbors, they are not people that we would expect to be homeless,” said Bergen County Housing Director Julia Orlando. (PLEASE CHECK TITLE)
The average stay at the shelter is 90 days. Seventy-year-old Steven Karavitis and his family have been here two months.
“It’s surprising how nice we like it. They give us clothes, a lot of things we need, the food,” said Karavitis.
The shelter is a temporary solution. The long term goal is help the homeless become self-sufficient. And there are success stories.
“We’re proud we’ve housed back into community over 600 people since we opened in 2009 and we’re continuing that goal for our county,” Orlando said.
The staff also helps at-risk individuals get the funding they need to avoid becoming homeless. But for those already on the street, the immediate goal is to get them inside and out of the cold at least temporarily.