The Streetlight is covering the 2018 general election, specifically races here in Mercer County and the Garden State. As a member of the New Jersey College News Commons, our reporting is being conducted in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and NJ Spotlight. Live results can be found here and you can watch the live broadcast, which will feature information about The Streetlight, here.
If you are looking to contribute writing to a growing multimedia platform for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, now is the time to get involved with The Streetlight! We are looking for TCNJ students to pitch story ideas and write articles for our website and for the Winter 2018-19 edition of our print publication.
Your work would be distributed at over 60 locations in one of the largest media markets in the country, including at government buildings, libraries, hospitals, food pantries, and shelters throughout Mercer County, New Jersey and parts of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It will allow readers who are experiencing homelessness to learn more about local resources, legislation, and organizations and will cause readers who are not currently experiencing homelessness to learn more about this crisis in the Trenton area.
To learn more about contributing to the only newspaper of its kind in New Jersey, please contact us at email@example.com. If you are not a TCNJ student but would like to learn more about getting involved with The Streetlight, feel free to contact us as well.
By Jared Kofsky
Despite its small size, Trenton is home to a large number of agencies and organizations aiming to address poverty in the capital region. Yet despite the efforts of these organizations, homelessness continues to impact hundreds of Trentonians.
From senior citizens spending the night inside the Rescue Mission of Trenton to young adults sleeping under bridges, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before every individual experiencing homelessness in the city is housed.
For many years, despite there being a variety of stakeholders in the fight against homelessness in Trenton, representatives from each non-profit, government, and religious organization lacked a place to inform their colleagues of the progress and challenges that they were facing.
However, in the time since the City of Trenton opened its Coordinated Entry and Assessment Services (CEAS) Center at the corner of Perry and Ewing Streets, that is all beginning to change. Every month, CEAS Center Director Janet Kleckley-Porter now hosts a meeting of the CEAS Coordinated Mobile Outreach Team to discuss matters related to unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness.
Each gathering attracts approximately a dozen officials, representing organizations like SoldierOn, Catholic Charities, and Oaks Integrated Care. During each meeting, every attendee shares how many families the group that they represent were able to find housing for that month, and information is released about upcoming outreach events and housing opportunities in Trenton.
Attendees regularly discuss not only their efforts within city limits, but also how they intend to or are already addressing homelessness in the suburbs. For instance, the Men’s Mission House in Ewing and the regional Point-in-Time Count effort were addressed when The Streetlight attended one of the group’s meetings in December.
Other topics of discussion change based on each gathering. In December, one major subject of concern was a sudden increase of Puerto Rican families experiencing homelessness in the city who came to the mainland United States after being displaced dur- ing Hurricane Maria. Although most of these families were not believed to be unsheltered, representatives discussed how many of them could not afford their own place to stay and were going between the beds and couches of relatives and acquaintances in Trenton. Attendees discussed a need to work with these displaced families in order to provide them with housing of their own to avoid the risk of possibly not having a place to stay at all at some point.
Although homelessness is still a crisis in Trenton and cities all across the country, officials hope that by having this gathering of organizations, their efforts can be maximized and a greater number of individuals can be supported in their journey to finding and securing permanent housing.
City of Trenton CEAS Center
511 Perry Street, Trenton, NJ
By Kristen Frohlich
Essence Scott began experiencing homelessness at eight years-old. Now 27, she is a homeowner attending Mercer County Community College. Essence is a dedciated community columnist for The Streetlight who has written numerous pieces about her experiences with homelessness. We sat down with her to share more of this story.
The Streetlight: At what age did you realize that you were homeless? How did you make this realization?
ES: I did not realize that I was homeless until I started getting involved with Homefront at age 13. I thought it all seemed normal even though at some level I knew it was not. I was confused as to why my parents never described our situation as “homelessness”; every time we had to get up and move, they just said that we had to go somewhere new. Getting involved with Homefront made me realize that there was a word for my situation: homeless. Now that I realize there is a word for this situation, I am choosing to give it a loud, clear voice and to recognize it for all its unique facets.
TS: What sorts of emotions did this realization evoke? How did those feelings change as you got older?
ES: I felt like an outsider especially when I first found a word to describe our situation. When I was living in Lawrenceville, my peers lived in fancy places, had their own bedroom, owned decent TVs, and could eat anything that they wanted to. I felt very envious of them because I wanted to have those things. When I got older, I didn’t want these things as much as I began wanting a space to express myself.
TS: We read your article “Connecticut Avenue” from the Spring 2016 issue. When did the motel housing start? What was the hardest part of living in a motel?
ES: We began living in motels when I was about 16 years old. At that time, it was my mother, brother, and sister all living in a small, cramped room. I was beginning to feel very depressed at this age and I wanted, desperately, to be by myself all the time but I could not find space to do this unless I went to the bathroom or sat outside. It was challenging.
TS: We understand that you worked with HomeFront and some of their programs while experiencing homelessness. Can you tell us a little more about this?
ES: I was a part of the first generation of a program called Triumphant Teens at HomeFront. This was my first experience working and it certainly taught me a lot about the value of independence and hard work. Both my parents are very hard working people and working with the program helped me appreciate their efforts so much more. There were very few programs out there for children in similar circumstances but I was lucky to find such a great mentorship with HomeFront.
TS: Who or what helped you the most during your time experiencing homelessness?
ES: My writing helped me a lot. I started keeping journals when I was 12 and I felt a lot better after that. I could be whoever I wanted to be in my writing—I could be happy, I could have more friends—really anything. Writing helped me to stay afloat a little longer.
TS: What did you learn about yourself while experiencing homelessness? What did you learn about others?
ES: My experience taught me the power of my own resilience. I am tough and that it takes a lot to wear me down. I know that I can handle a lot because I did for so many years. Others taught me that there is a lot of good in the world—more than you would expect—and sometimes we just are just looking in the wrong places. The night before Christmas Eve one year, my friend walked through the door with toys that her family had bought for us. I was not expecting this and I remember the feeling that I got when I saw her. It was truly incredible.
TS How did you transition from not having a home to being a homeowner?
ES: Before I met my boyfriend, I was living with my family in another apart ment. It was a sudden transition for my family and me as we were going to be evicted from a hotel. I then decided to ask someone at HomeFront for help since we were really about to be homeless and he helped us find and secure a home on Connecticut Avenue. I think I was too excited and overwhelmed at the time for it to really sink in. And for months after that, we were nervous about becoming homeless again. Once you experience the security of your own home, the last thing you want to do is lose it and return to an unfamiliar hotel room.
By Jared Kofsky
To some youth, the day that they turn 18 or graduate from high school are moments that they await for years, since it allows for increased independence. However, for many of the thousands of teenagers in the Garden State’s foster care system, their 18th birthday or high school graduation date signals an end to a way of life that they have known for nearly two decades, resulting in uncertainty about where they will sleep, eat, and work.
From aging out of the foster care system to surviving domestic violence to not being allowed to purchase or rent a home, a variety of factors are continuing to cause homelessness to remain a crisis impacting youth between the ages of 18 and 24 in the Trenton area and across the state.
State records show that 10,994 children in NJ public schools are known to be experiencing homelessness, but the number of young adults in Mercer County without housing is unclear. Volunteers found that 78 people under the age of 25 were experiencing homelessness in Mercer County during the Point-in-Time Count (PITC) in January 2017, but the actual number is likely far higher.
Some young adults who do not have their own home routinely alternate between the homes of acquaintances or relatives, but three percent of Mercer County participants in the PITC told
surveyors that this resulted in them turning to shelters or the streets upon running out of places to stay.
Subsequently, many turn to emergency shelters. The lack of an emergency shelter specifically for young adults experiencing homelessness in Mercer County can result in unsheltered youth, according to Anchor House Director of Outreach Services Ben Thornton. These individuals often end up sleeping in parks, transit hubs, and baseball stadiums when they cannot find anywhere else to go.
Aging out of the foster care system is one of the primary causes of homelessness for adults under the age of 25 in the Garden State. In fact, according to Covenant House New Jersey, 30 percent of their clients use their services after having nowhere to go when they turned 18 since they are often unable to afford or denied the opportunity to rent or purchase a home.
The New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council reports that “without the benefit of family and community support systems, their [youths] risks for homelessness and human trafficking are at a much higher rate than the general population.”
Locally, some steps are being taken to address homelessness among youth by non-profit organizations such as Anchor House, LifeTies, Isles, and the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, but they often lack the resources to meet the demand for services. Anchor House serves some youth who have aged out of the foster care system through its Anchor age Transitional Living Program on Centre Street in South Trenton and hosted a Youth Connect outreach event in January for youth experiencing homelessness following the 2018 Point-in-Time Count. In addition, this 40-year-old organization operates a Street Outreach Team and the Anchor Link drop-in center at the corner of South Broad and Beatty Streets.
However, unlike nearby cities, the capital region has yet to see a comprehensive investigation and proposed solution to the crisis by any government agency. Philadelphia has its own Office of Homeless Services which operates a Youth Homelessness Initiative while the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development has a team that researches and funds housing, shelters, and outreach services for young adults experiencing homelessness.
Meanwhile, although the City of Trenton does operate the CEAS Center for people of all ages who lack housing and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families started a Connecting YOUth Project a few years ago, there are very few active municipal, county, or state-operated facilities that specifically tackle the issue of homelessness among youth.
Our hope is that this investigative series will prompt a change in our approach to this growing problem. If you are a young adult experiencing homelessness who would like to tell your story in the next part of “’Aging Out’ into Homelessness,” please contact The Streetlight at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Middleton contributed research for this report.
By Paul Mulholland
Many Trenton residents receive food assistance across the Calhoun Street Bridge in Morrisville, P.A. One such food program is run by the Morrisville Presbyterian Church (MPC) at 771 North Pennsylvania Avenue.
The program is open from 9:00am to 12:00pm every Wednesday, and from 7:00pm to 8:00pm on the first Tuesday of the month for working families. Clients may only come once every calendar month.
The center serves well over one hundred families every week on a first come first serve basis. Potential clients are interviewed and are expected to have photo identification, proof of residency, proof that their children live with them, and income verification. Mercer County IDs, passports and bills are accepted as proof of address for adults, while school records can be used for children. Residency documents are not necessary for individuals experiencing homelessness.
MPC is able to give donated bags of fruits, vegetables, pasta, and high quality proteins to its clients. They are often stocked with chicken, beef, tuna, peanut butter and other protein items as well. The center will give one, two or three bags of protein depending on the size of the family.
Clients should have a plan to transport these bags to their home. A parking lot is available to clients with a car. The center also has volunteers that help carry food out as most receive far too much to transport alone.
Morrisville Presbyterian also carries basic household and hygiene items such as toothpaste, pet food, and garbage bags that are available upon request.
By Josh Tobia & Andrew Nebbia
There are three supermarkets serving approximately 84,000 Trenton residents, making it difficult to access nutritious, low cost food within city limits.
On the other hand, Trenton has more than 75 bodegas that sell primarily unhealthy meals and a limited supply of fresh produce at a high cost.
This makes it increasingly difficult for city residents to maintain a well-balanced diet.
A study conducted by Rutgers University in 2010 determined that nearly half of children ages 3-18 growing up in Trenton are either overweight or obese, nearly twice the childhood obesity rate in the nation.
Rutgers attributed these statistics to the consumption of too few vegetables and too many high-energy foods.
Capital City Farm, a project of the D&R Greenway Land Trust at 301 North Clinton Avenue in Coalport, works to address this increasingly problematic reality in ways that are sustainable.
Both a profitable business and a model for urban agriculture, the farm is a beneficial addition to the community. Urban farms, like Capital City Farm, grow fresh produce and supply it to local corner stores.
After years of being a food desert, Detroit has used urban agriculture to address rather similar concerns.
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative transformed unused land into gardens for fresh produce, which expanded businesses, provided jobs, and helped circulate healthy foods across
Capital City Farm is following a similar trajectory. Kate Mittnach envisioned a farm that would create “a place of beauty that grows food for people that need it.”
It has done exactly that. John S. Watson Jr., Vice President of the D&R Greenway Land Trust, sees the farm as a “green oasis where fresh produce and flowers are grown.”
Watson explained that approximately 30 percent of the greens that they produce are donated to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK).
According to Watson, the other 70 percent of the food grown on the farm is sold to the Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market and Capital City Farmers Market in Mill Hill Park, and they are actively working to find more places to sell their product.
The farm’s website advertises that plots of land on the property will be available for local citizens to rent out and use for personal gardens
Their mission, however, is to serve and thus, the farm has set up canvases in neighborhoods around the city to learn what residents want grown and supplied.
In addition to serving the local community, Watson explained that one of their goals is to “create a sustainable and replicable agricultural model that can be created in other cities around the state and the nation.”
Capital City Farm
301 North Clinton Avenue, Trenton, NJ
By Noah Hasko
The digital divide continues to adversely impact neighborhoods throughout the city of Trenton. A number of organizations are working to address this growing problem and the Trenton Free Public Library (TFPL) is at the forefront of the movement.
The library provides respite to individuals experiencing homelessness in the daytime and access to amenities that they need. Richard Jutkiewicz, the Community Outreach Librarian at the library attested to their ongoing efforts to support city residents.
Jutkiewicz has seen the impacts of the digital divide on individuals pursuing employment opportunities. Many find it difficult to access online applications and other resources for jobs while others enter the field with little understanding of and expertise with technology, making it difficult for them to maintain and grow in their positions.
Jutkiewicz explained this reality as he has seen it: “It has been eyeopening for me to see there are families where the head of household is out of work, and are applying for a job to a company or an organization that only accepts a digital application. They don’t have an email account, or had one but are not sure how to access it.”
With the ongoing efforts of those at local organizations in partnership with public resources such as those at The TFPL, efforts to address the digital divide are far-reaching.
Although the Briggs, Cadwalader, East Trenton, and Skelton Branch Libraries have been closed since 2010, the main branch of the TFPL is open Monday through Thursday from 9:00A.M to 8:00 P.M and Friday and Saturday from 9:00 A.M to 5:00 P.M. The TFPL is free for all to use with the acquisition of a library card and is located at 120 Academy Street. To contact the library, go online at www.trentonlib.org or call (609) 392-7188.
Managing Editor’s Note: The library is often closed during days with extremely high temperatures. Check with the library’s social media platforms if possible before visiting.
By Jasmine Green & Némy Thomas
Many parents rely heavily on school hours and after-school activities as a time when their children have somewhere to be safe and cared for. The problem is that most schools run for only nine months a year, leaving many children with working parents with nowhere to go for over eight hours during the remaining three months.
This leaves parents struggling to work and to find adequate and appropriate care for their children. This is where programs such as UrbanPromise Trenton come into play. In addition to running an afterschool program, the organization hosts a summer camp.
The UrbanPromise Summer Camp offers a welcoming and nurturing environment for over 150 children from all over Trenton at several locations. In the West Trenton location, the program takes place for six weeks and the location in East Trenton is offered for eight weeks beginning the week after the fourth of July. Michael Lovaglio, Academic Director of UrbanPromise Trenton, explained that UrbanPromise requires applications for many of its programs and with the limited funding that the organization has, they struggle to accommodate all applicants but try their best to support the greatest number possible. There is also a wait list available to those who do not make it.
UrbanPromise offers fun in the sun but unlike many other camps, it combines these activities with educational enrichment. According to Lovaglio, the camp builds on students’ academic skill sets and knowledge and preserves learning so that students do not experience the dreaded “summer learning loss.”
UrbanPromise not only provides a space for younger children to grow, but they also offer employment opportunities for teenagers in which they can acquire valuable leadership and collaboration skills. Teens can serve as “Street Leaders” in the program and receive a small stipend. UrbanPromise also provides $1,000 to each particpant when they go off to college. The program has a 100 percent high school graduation rate and it teams up with local organization, Mercer Street Friends, to provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches.