Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced last that after nine months of work with the local Homeless Task Force, government agencies, private companies, and non-profits, several new programs will be launched in the coming months to help mitigate, prevent, and compassionately help those who are homeless or may become homeless.
A three-pronged approach will include 25 housing vouchers for homeless individuals, a new all-inclusive food pantry in Hoboken, and programs to help those most at risk to get jobs and care.
As part of the strategic plan, Hoboken will launch the Familiar Faces Program, which will provide 25 housing vouchers for homeless people in the county, primarily from Hoboken and Jersey City.
Through a partnership between the Hoboken, the State Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), the county, Hoboken University Medical Center, Jersey City Medical Center, and the non-profit organization Garden State Episcopal, the city secured an annual commitment of $250,000 from Hoboken University Medical Center and Jersey City Medical Center for the vouchers.
This funding model is the first and only one in the state to include state, county, and municipal governments partnering with for-profit hospitals and non-profit charitable organizations.
According to Bhalla’s chief of staff, John Allen, the 25 recipients of the vouchers, administered by the DCA, were selected based from “familiar faces lists” the two hospitals keep on file — as homeless individuals sometimes check themselves into their emergency rooms for a place to stay.
“The investments through these two hospitals [will] provide housing to literally take these people off the street and give them a home and ancillary services,” said Bhalla.
Through this pilot program, the nonprofit Garden State Episcopal will provide supportive services such as home furnishings and moving assistance, substance abuse recovery, physical therapy, financial literacy, mental health rehabilitation, and more.
According to Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante, in 2016 the official count of homeless people in the mile-square city was 215. Although the county did another head count earlier this year, the city has yet to receive the new numbers.
He said he believes the number homeless people has close to doubled, considering how affluent the city has become.
Rents have risen steadily, and buildings offer apartments at $5,000 per month or more. (The city has many “affordable housing” buildings dating to the 1960s, but turnover is low, and some pass the units on to their children and grandchildren.)
He added in that in Hoboken, people are generous, which also may have something to do with the increase.
He said that homeless people from places like Georgia and Philadelphia have come to Hoboken as recently as this summer.
People will be able to use credit cards to donate at “donation meters” around town.
Bhalla said that while it’s good to get people off the streets, it’s “better if people are not homeless in the first place, and that’s where prevention comes in.”
To that end Hoboken, will become the new home of Easterseals New Jersey, a non-profit that provides services to those most at risk of becoming homeless: the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Easterseals has been operating nationally since 1934 and has existed in New Jersey since 1948.
Annually, more than 9,000 people statewide with developmental disabilities including autism, physical disabilities, mental illness, and other special needs receive services from Easterseals’ programs designed to help them work toward achieving independence and full community integration.
Easterseals also focuses on workforce entry and re-entry programs. Career coaches provide training and support, including resume writing, computer training, certification support, job placement, and more.
If approved by the City Council, Easterseals New Jersey will rent 1,000 square feet of city property in the Harlow building at 14th Street and Willow Avenue, a luxury condo building that’s located near Fox Hill Gardens (an affordable senior housing building). The rent will be $1. The city was granted the space years ago as a giveback from the developer for being allowed to build on that corner.
Bhalla said, “There is no single silver bullet or cure to homelessness, so we are also looking at means of financial assistance because we realize we have to do more.”
Thus, the city will open its first food pantry at the YMCA (where people can donate and pick up food), and will install eight “donation meters” in town. At the meters, people can donate money to the local needy via credit card or other means.
Funds raised via the donation meters will go to the Hoboken Shelter and other homeless initiatives in town and will be distributed by the United Way, to prevent money from comingling with the city’s general fund.
MBS, the owner of the former YMCA on 13th and Washington streets, is anticipated to open Hoboken’s main, all inclusive food pantry in mid-October.
They will partner with the public school district to help with food drives and fundraising to support the new pantry.
The city has also created a task force on homelessness, which meets monthly and includes the Hoboken Shelter, GSE, Hospitals, County, United Way, Interfaith Coalition, Hudson Pride Center, MBS, library, and police.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.