Soon there will be more beds available in the local homeless shelter that serves Union City and nearby towns, but it is not enough.
On Oct. 15 the Union City zoning board approved an expansion to the second floor of their location on 37th Street, where the offices and storage are currently located. An additional 21 to 25 beds are expected to be located there once construction is completed.
“It will create more shelter beds and services for women,” said Executive Director Carol Mori. “We’ve seen an increase in women coming to PERC this past year.”
However, homelessness is growing. That’s the clear conclusion in Hudson County, as the number of individuals and families seeking shelter has risen.
Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation (PERC), the nonprofit that provides shelter as well as a soup kitchen and food pantry for those in need, has seen demand for their services increase, even during the summer months.
This summer, not only were all the PERC bunk beds consistently full, but an additional 30 to 40 individuals per night received overnight shelter in the dining hall.
To raise awareness – and funds – PERC and its parent organization, Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation (GSECDC), is holding its third annual Longest Night Campaign Kickoff on Thursday, Nov. 12 at Casino in the Park, 1 Lincoln Park, Jersey City.
Last year PERC provided 24,239 shelter nights and served 102,460 meals to the needy of Hudson County.
Tickets to the Longest Night Campaign Kickoff cost $100 and include dinner and entertainment. The event launches a month-long campaign that includes various drives designed to make the public aware of the tragedy of homelessness, as well as to raise funds and collect supplies for the needy.
The month concludes with the Hudson County Homeless Memorial Service near the winter solstice – the first day of winter and literally the longest night of the year. The memorial takes place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17 at Old Bergen Church, 1 Highland Ave., Jersey City.
“It’s an interfaith service,” said Mori about the event, taking place on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. “People mourn individuals they lost to causes related to homelessness.”
A holistic approach to tackling homelessness
The National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that the economic recession ended in June 2009. But statistics in Hudson County tell another story.
Last year PERC provided 24,239 shelter nights, up from about 21,000 the year before. They served 102,460 meals in 2014, an increase from about 96,000 in 2013.
The food pantry, which travels to a different location in the county every Wednesday, provided groceries to 13,643 low-income recipients last year.
Tom Harrigan has been the program director at PERC for about 21 years, overseeing the emergency shelter programs, case management, and related programming and referral services. He also coordinates homeless outreach through GSECDC.
“We go out into the community to find the most resistant population, the chronically homeless, who are not really interested in going to shelters,” he said. “We do that daily.”
In October 2013, PERC became a subsidiary of GSECDC. Both are 501(c)3 nonprofits. Described as “non religious but faith-based,” GSECDC’s goal is to provide longer-term affordable housing and social services.
“The end goal is secure and permanent housing,” said Mori.
Rooms for families
Since PERC became a subsidiary of GSECDC, things have become more efficient, according to Harrigan. “We’ve been able to move people out quicker,” he said. “The PERC case managers work with Garden State case managers to empower clients and get them into some form of permanent housing.”
The thrift shop located in front of the shelter is closing, to be replaced by additional family housing, because of the increase in homeless families.
The second floor of the building is already a three-bedroom emergency shelter. The first floor, currently occupied by the thrift shop, will be converted into a two-bedroom emergency family shelter unit within the next year.
“We accept two-parent families, husband and wife,” said Mori. “We’re the only ones in the county that do that. We believe in keeping the family together.” Families will be housed for a limited time in the units until a permanent home can be found.
Due to the increased number of people in need, the shelter has also extended the hours when showers are available, now beginning at 3 p.m. and accommodating 70 people or more per night.
How to help
Although they receive limited government funding, “we’re continually asked to do more with less every year,” said Mori. “We can only stretch the staff so far.”
Many of their initiatives are supported in part by donations. Recently, Popular Community Bank and Oritani Bank conducted food drives, while volunteers are helping to paint the soup kitchen.
On the PERC website is a list of items they need, including toiletries, socks, underwear (especially men’s), new or gently used warm clothing (hats gloves, scarves, thermals, sweaters, and coats), non-perishable foods, bath towels, bedding, paper towels, toilet paper, sanitary napkins and tampons. Items can also be purchased from Amazon by searching for “PERC shelter” under “find a wish list.” Due to space limitations, they cannot accept toys, books, or furniture.
Attending the upcoming Longest Night Campaign Kickoff event is another way to contribute. The theme this year is “Ending homelessness, become the solution.” Tickets must be purchased in advance from percshelter.org or gsecdc.org.
Anyone wishing to make a donation can contact GSECDC at (201) 209-9301 or PERC at (201) 348-8150 or visit their websites.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.