On January 25, 2022, there were 1,695 residents without addresses were counted in Newark as part of the federal Census Point in Time (PIT). That’s about 20% of New Jersey’s total. More than one-third of these residents experienced long-term homelessness and/or chronic illness. There were 134 people who were made homeless, and while this number may seem low compared to the total, it is still unacceptable. Unfortunately, those who remain homeless are the most vulnerable. The failure to provide opportunities for our residents to move into permanent housing demonstrates a deficit of humanity in society and a disturbing callousness to the suffering of others.
We are better than this.
While our ability to shelter over 90% of people who find themselves homeless on a cold winter night is commendable, our goal is to end homelessness, starting with chronic homelessness.
As I have said many times before on this subject, there is no excuse for the residents of the richest country in the world to live indecently on the streets.
We have just released a report entitled “The way home: “Collaboration in our community” aimed at ending chronic homelessness in Newark. This plan will focus on our most vulnerable residents.
The city cannot create and implement this strategy alone. Cities that have developed successful solutions use systems approaches to implement integrated strategies. This means that a joint framework is in place to work across sectors such as health, housing and the workforce. Clear goals are set, progress is monitored, and results are communicated to the public.
The plan we developed in early May 2022 with more than 100 public, private and nonprofit partners represents a wide range of voices, including those of sheltered and unsheltered residents. It is the result of months of meetings, conversations and interactions with these partners.
We have established working groups designed to enhance collaboration and communication between partner groups to prevent duplication of effort. We will also rely on all these partners to work together during implementation.
The first key strategy is to better serve people experiencing street homelessness through outreach, create multiple service access points including better coordination with mental and social services mobile vans, launch a crisis response hotline and deploy real-time dashboard to assess our homeless. and places where they gather. The main result was the creation of real-time data that can be shared to tailor care to residents who need it most. It is designed to change the culture of our homeless services and find pathways to affordable, permanent housing.
The second strategy is to improve access and services through the shelter system and transform the culture from simply offering a bed for the night to a welcoming one-stop shopping experience for case management, counselling, employment opportunities and housing referrals.
A third strategy is to significantly expand homelessness prevention and affordable housing through eviction prevention services, greater landlord participation in government programs to increase housing affordability for the homeless, and additional rental vouchers. We will create more low-barrier housing, such as one-bedroom units, and develop follow-up programs to help those most at risk adapt to permanent housing.
We have already implemented some of these ideas. We opened the Miller Street Pathways to Housing Center in February 2021, transforming the school into a 24,000 square foot community service center and emergency shelter to help homeless residents find permanent housing. The facility has 166 transitional beds for men and women and families. It includes an on-site commercial kitchen to prepare meals for shelter residents and train them in food production to support their employment goals. It also includes a daily reception center that has tables, chairs and televisions, as well as individual bathrooms with showers, washers and dryers. The center allows people to get back on their feet, get a job, receive treatment, and move to permanent housing.
Steps have already been taken
Additionally, last year we opened Newark Hope Village, a project using refurbished shipping containers with private spaces that serve as temporary shelter. It includes robust case management, essential services and support to transition these residents into permanent housing. We have opened 20 units and will increase to 70 with at least one more Village of Hope planned.
Both Miller Street and Hope Village use a low-barrier shelter model, meaning there are few strict rules, such as curfews, that often deter unsheltered people from coming inside.
Homelessness is a dire situation in cities across our country, with increasing numbers of people finding themselves on the streets or in tent cities due to a clear lack of affordable housing and available mental health or addiction treatment services. This is social exclusion and we should not accept it.
We believe that the strategies described above, if implemented with urgency and a determination that we have a moral obligation to help our most needy residents, will make it possible for those currently living on our streets, as well as for future generations, to transition to safe, permanent living conditions and reintegration into society. This is the vision. Strategic, purposeful collaboration will make this a reality.