All posts by Zion Lee

Is the “What I Need App” a Win?

By Zion Lee

On January 16th, 2020, the City of Trenton released the “What I Need” or “WIN” App for individuals (ages 16-24) who are affected by homelessness. While this app is new to the Trenton-Mercer County area, it already is a resource provided in Los Angeles, California. It is advertised to help link users to resources such as “shelter, crisis, food, drop-in centers, health, legal, hotlines, education, jobs, transportation, benefits, and more”. There are some reviews about the app from users in California we need to know if this is a viable resource here in Mercer County. The Streetlight, decided to download the WIN App and see if it is a useful resource for our readers.

At first, it seems as though nothing could go wrong with the WIN application. The app has an easily navigable menu that is colorful and has images representing the type of resource available to users on the app: such as a phone icon for hotlines and a bed icon for shelters. Each resource is categorized by type of necessity for ease of access. Also, there is a map function that displays the local area and the locations of the programs associated with the WIN app. However, after tinkering with the app we discovered that the app requires an internet connection to properly function. Thus, this app would only be fully helpful if used in locations where internet access is available. Furthermore, the app is targeted at a very narrow age group, specifically marketed to help youth combat homelessness, which leaves out a large population of people who are still affected by homelessness. In addition, whilst keeping the app on our phone, it would only give us notifications from Californian shelters and resource providers, despite selecting the Trenton, NJ option when setting up the app. Such notifications can be confusing for individuals who are not in the California area. Through our observations, it is evident that Trenton’s WIN app clearly needs more time to improve.

As of now, the Trenton WIN App clearly has a lot of potential to become an amazing resource. In due time, the app will likely develop into a great resource for the 16-24 aged individuals who struggle with homelessness and have access to a smartphone with the internet. Furthermore, in times such as the COVID-19 quarantine where everything is remote, The Streetlight recognizes the value of having an electronic resource that is easy to access. No one knows for certain exactly what will happen in the future, however, with improvements such as an offline map that still displays the locations of resources and real-time notifications for the Mercer County area, the app seems to be a great internet tool. However, for anyone that does not fit the age range the app is designed for or does not have access to a smart device with internet, please check out the Streetlight resource guide!

06/02/2020- The City of Trenton has responded to The Streetlight and has “put in a request” to solve the “Win” App’s location issues to ensure there is no “confusion in services”.

Covid Cannot Stop Meals On Wheels

By Hannah Keyes

Meals on Wheels of Mercer County (MOWMC) is one of the more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that seeks to address both the nutritional and social needs of its participants. This includes homebound elderly and disabled individuals who cannot shop for or prepare food for themselves and are often living in hunger and isolation.

According to a new survey conducted by Meals on Wheels (MOW) of America, every 4 out of 5 MOW programs have reported that their demand has at least doubled since the start of COVID-19. Given the current situation of the pandemic, those who are older and more susceptible to sickness are at higher risk and are extremely vulnerable during this time. There are now more seniors staying in their homes and requiring help.

Additional studies from MOW of America reveal that 1 in 4 seniors live alone and 1 in 5 feel lonely. Thus, MOW makes it a priority to see to it that their participants not only receive warm meals but that they are greeted by a friendly face. The program relies heavily on their volunteers who deliver meals as they not only give participants their food but interact with them and form meaningful relationships. Sasa Olessi Montaño, the Chief Executive Officer of the Mercer County branch, as well as a member who serves on the national board of Meals on Wheels of America stated, “Our secret sauce is that daily contact.”

However, the virus has caused the staff of MOWMC to have to adjust their normal operations. All volunteers are now required to wear masks and gloves as they provide a “touchless delivery”, wherein they knock on the participant’s door or window, hang the meal (in a bag) on the door, and walk away at least six feet and wait to make eye contact with the participant so that they know they will get their meal. There has also been a calling feature implemented where more seasoned volunteers will call participants and check-in to see how they are doing. This provides the “secret sauce” of daily interaction that is missing from the new touchless delivery. Additionally, MOWMC is participating in the new “Feed a Senior, Help a Restaurant” and “Hospitality Works” programs. These are a means through which to provide for seniors, local restaurants, and hardworking medical staff.

The MOWMC delivers meals in East Windsor, Ewing, Hightstown, Princeton, Trenton, West Windsor, Lawrence, and specific areas within Hamilton. The program is funded federally, however, it is significantly underfunded and is mostly aided through community support. Private dollars are raised in order to ensure that no one is turned away. MOWMC is partnered with Gourmet Dining at Rider University to provide hot meals to its participants Monday through Friday every week. Weekend meals can also be made available to participants. There are two different meal plan options (A and B), they both consist of one hot meal that includes meat/pasta and two sides, as well as one cold bag that includes milk, bread, salad, and dessert. All meals are low sodium and diabetic friendly and can be catered towards the individual’s dietary restrictions.
Olessi Montaño labels MOW as a “comprehensive nutrition program” rather than simply a social service program. It offers nutrition education and counseling for those who have limited food options or are immuno-compromised. Olessi Montaño states, “Our meals are therapeutic in nature, which means that we work with our participants to identify their diets. Whatever their therapeutic need is, our meals are tailored to it and we work with them on that.”
In addition to home-delivered meals, MOWMC offers several other smaller programs such as their Pet Pantry where bi-weekly pet food bags are distributed to participants who own animals. The Books on Wheels program allows volunteers to deliver books to participants through the Trenton Public Library. There are also “Holiday Meals” for participants who will be alone during the holidays, “Blizzard Bags” for inclement weather, and shelf-stable groceries that are delivered once a month.

If one is interested in being served through or volunteering for Meals on Wheels, please contact through email, info@mealsonwheelsmercer.org, or call (609)-695-3483.

Trenton Water Works Disappoints Once Again

By Gabrielle Wells

There are over 83,000 people living in Trenton, New Jersey alone, and in this densely populated city, thousands of people rely on the Trenton Water Works (TWW) to supply them with clean drinking water. TWW describes itself as one of the largest publicly owned urban water utilities in America. According to their website, they supply 27 million gallons of Delaware River Sourced drinking water per day to thousands of customers located in the Mercer County area. Their geographical reach includes Trenton, parts of Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township, often reaching around 225,000 people.

Although TWW states that their goal is to supply clean drinking water to thousands of residents in Mercer County, they have often fell short of this goal. Over the years, residents have complained about contamination, discoloration, and boil water advisories and TWW’s lack of communication in alerting its consumers about the hazards of their water content. One constant and recurring problem is their repeated Boil Water Advisory Notices. The most recent Boil Water Advisory was issued September 27th, 2019. This notice stated, “Trenton Water Works is advising residents in Trenton, Hamilton Township, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township, and Hopewell Township to boil your water until further notice. Chlorination levels (a water disinfection process) are too low due to an equipment malfunction in TWW’s water-distribution system. TWW personnel are working to rectify the problem.” The notice then went on to advise residents to feed household pets with bottled water, to not swallow water while in the shower, and to continue to boil water in order to make sure that all bacteria are killed.

Even though the boil water advisory was issued in September 2019, residents still complained in December about the quality of water coming from their pipes, claiming that water was coming out of the taps purple or pink, which TWW explained was due to a water treatment chemical that was safe to ingest.
The constant testing has unearthed a much bigger problem, which is the presence of lead in the drinking water. According to TWW’s lead program, lead can get in the water via old lead services lines already connecting older homes and buildings to the water main. As water travels through these service lines, the corrosion on the lines add lead into the treated water leading to contamination of water delivered to consumers. Lead can be very toxic and as a result the EPA requires that every water system must contain no more than 15 parts of lead per billion in tap water. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that no amount of lead ingestion is safe.
According to the Trenton Water Works Annual Consumer Confidence Report for 2019, 12 out of 102 areas tested revealed to have 19.7 parts per billion of lead located in the water from January to June. From July to December, 12 out of 106 areas tested revealed to have 17 parts per billion of lead located in the water. These results are way over the limit of the EPA guidelines and can have damaging effects on the population.

Constant ingestion of lead can have many negative health effects and can even prove to be deadly. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, levels of lead in water systems should be at zero because lead can bioaccumulate over time and become harmful to the body. The most at-risk population to exposure is young children and infants due to the fact that lower exposure than adults can still prove to have significant physical and behavioral effects. The EPA states that lead exposure can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, shorter stature, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.According to the EPA’s website, low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in future behavior and learning problems, lower IQ , hyperactivity, anemia, hearing problems, and slow growth. In rare cases ingestion can cause coma, seizures and even result in death in children. In adults lead exposure can lead to cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems.

On January 9th, 2020 Trenton Mayor W. Reed Gusciora officially started the Trenton Water Works $150-million Lead Service Line Replacement Program in efforts to protect residents from lead in their water. According to TWW website, this program will include upgrades to the water-filtration plant and water-distribution system, decentralized water storage, in-house engineering, improved security, control technology, facilities upgrades, and heavy equipment replacements. Mayor Gusciora stated, “Our plan is to remove all lead services from TWW’s system within five years, in addition to making significant upgrades to TWW’s water-filtration plant, water-distribution system, and facilities.” The new program will replace around 36,700 lead and galvanized steel water service lines within five years. In December, construction has already started to fix the lead lines, ahead of the official announcement from Mayor Gusciora and will continue for the next couple of years. One can only wonder if Trenton Water Works will deliver on its promise or once again fail the people of Trenton and other townships.

The Census Counts on You

By Kristine Spike

Once every ten years, the U.S. government conducts the census. This started back in 1790 and is critical as the census accounts for numerous aspects. Often argued to be the most notable is the fact that the census is responsible for the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives. However, the census also determines the amount of government funding different areas receive. This includes programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP), etc. One issue with the census presents itself time and time again. Are individuals being underrepresented or missed in the census count? This directly correlates to the amount of funding that areas receive, and it is no coincidence that the underrepresented areas are the ones that lack a multitude of resources, as well as areas with a large number of people experiencing homelessness.

For the first time in history the census is now available online. This is revolutionary and makes the census more accessible to millions of people; however, this still poses a huge problem. There are an estimated 19 million Americans who do not have fixed broadband services. That being said, efforts have been made in Mercer County to make sure that everyone is accounted for through Complete Count Committees. People need to know that the census is taking place before they can worry about filling it out. The federal government has commercials, and mail advertisements, but for people with limited internet/TV access and no mailing address, these are not effective measures.

Complete Count Committees in Mercer County have utilized resources such as ad space on billboards,in bus terminals, and on busses themselves, and have canvassed at various community locations. The advertisements are marketed to certain target groups. They specifically incorporate messages for groups that have had low response rates in the past. For example, Black and Latino men ages 15-28, and people with disabilities are featured on the advertisements and billboards due to their lack of representation in the prior census. Also, members of the committee have gone door to door and even to shelters leaving fliers with information on what the census is and how to fill it out. These have been distributed in Spanish and English in order to reach as many people as possible.
After ensuring people know about the census, the second phase is helping people complete it. There are three ways to complete the census: online, by phone, or paper (mail) response. In order to help with online responses, The Complete Count Committees have set up various access centers where people can come in and quickly complete the census. These areas currently closed due to Covid-19 but will reopen when deemed safe. Another option is by phone. By calling 844-330-2020 (English speakers) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish speakers) people are given the option to efficiently answer the questions through the phone. Note there are also 59 other languages the census is offered in, see (2020census.gov for full listing).

The committees have been working tirelessly to ensure that as many people in Mercer county are counted as possible. Currently, the response rate is at 49.2% for the county; however, the closer that number is to 100% the better. Additionally, it is important to note that particular areas fall beneath that number. Trenton for example is currently only at a 30% response rate, well under the current response rate. It is important that all communities within Mercer are counted.

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has made the committees change some of their plans. Tarry Truitt, a consultant for the Trenton Area Nonprofit Complete Count Committee, has called it, “an interesting time.” Recent events have shown just how important representation is. The census is taken into account when roads are built/repaired, where shopping plazas are located, and even where hospitals are built. It is truly crucial that people in Mercer county are accounted for. Since most people are not able to leave their homes currently, the social media that was already being utilized to draw attention to the census is now receiving a second wind. Of course, commercials and videos are being utilized, but there has also been a push to get advertisements in local newspapers as this reaches more of the individuals in the target audience. Plans are being made to reach as many people as possible once the country reopens due to COVID-19.

The census has been extended until August 14th, fill it out- Everyone Counts.

Kimberley Lennon: A Face at ArtSpace

By McKenna Samson

Kimberley Lennon sat at the corner of a work table at ArtSpace, drinking juice from her cup as we began our interview. We began discussing the origins of her artistry. 

“I started doing art when I was five. I really discovered that it was a passion around nine. My Kindergarten teacher bought my first piece of art. She paid $50 for a crayon drawing of flowers. She told me that ‘I know you’re gonna get really big, I want to buy your first piece’…she made me sign it, too.” Lennon said. The support of her teacher, especially at a young age, encouraged her to continue to cultivate her talents and expand her art. 

In 2007, Lennon found herself, a single mother, in a shelter. She made her way to ArtSpace at Homefront. The mothers at ArtSpace were instructed to attend art classesfor stress relief, and that’s where Kimberley Lennon crossed paths with Ruthann Traylor, the Director of ArtSpace. Lennon loved the creative space, as it allowed for her and the other women to channel their emotions and experiences out into a creative, safe space. “It was just really nice to be around like-minded artists. From then on, it just became a wrap pretty much. From 2007 and now, I’ve been at ArtSpace.”

When Lennon is not adding to her expansive and diverse collection of paintings, she is exploring several other avenues of art.

“I don’t just paint…I do poetry, I do free verse. I write music…I do lyrics. I do photography, I sew. I crochet, I paint, draw. I do everything art. Primarily, I am focusing on painting, writing, and photography.” Lennon said, taking a sip of grape juice. She giggled, explaining that her art comes from a place of passion. Her inspiration for her art comes from a place of her raw creativity–her dreams.

“Most of the time, I dream up my art and it’s like an obsession,” she said. “I have to get it out of my head.” Lennon finds herself in different series; she shared that she painted The Purple People series and the Freedom series for some time before moving onto her current Reflective series. We shared a laugh as she noted that the Reflective series has caused her to do a lot of reflection on herself.

Towards the end of our time together, Lennon shared with me two of her favorite poems, “Dear Little Broken Mind” and “I Am,” the latter being a part of her Freedom Series. The intersections of her identity–race, gender, class, ability–all come together to form her poem, a deeply introspective poem. 

Lennon’s work has been in art shows, sold and many of her pieces hang on the walls of ArtSpace, allowing for any and all who come in, to see her signature work. Kimberley is constantly creating art, we are excited to see what work she’ll produce in the future!

Keeping Up With Chidick: A Teen Who Once Experienced Homelessness Begins His College Experience

By Zion Lee

As college admissions dates began to approach in 2018, all eyes seemed to be glued to one very special teenager from Jersey City. Dylan Chidick, a young man full of determination and aspiration, had caught the media’s attention as he had applied to and received letters of acceptance from 17 colleges.

Not only was this a rare feat by itself, but Chidick also had been affected by homelessness during his time as a high school student. At the age of seven, Chidick’s family had immigrated from Trinidad to Brooklyn, before moving to Jersey City when a rise in prices drove them out. His family later was forced to move into a shelter, where his ability to study was bound by curfews and access to light. Yet, against all odds, Chidick showed the world that nothing would stop him from obtaining a higher level of education. Then, the moment Chidick and everyone else who had been following his story came when Chidick announced that he would be attending his dream school, The College of New Jersey.

Chidick’s experience and college application process has been a success story that news outlets covered and people indulged in. Yet, while the end of the news coverage on Chidick’s story seemed to formulate a happy ending for Chidick, his journey through life and in college had only just begun.

The Streetlight had the privilege of speaking with Chidick and inquired not only about his story, but also about what he must do now to get through this time of transition into college.

In an interview, Chidick spoke with great exuberance about the wonderful staff and friends he has interacted with and met at The College of New Jersey. However, he also revealed that he, admittedly, felt “a bit of imposter syndrome” when he sat in a class with other students. He felt as though he did not belong, because he felt that he was less prepared than the other students in his classes. Yet against odds, Chidick has been doing his best and keeping up with his classmates. In fact, Chidick had even ran for a position on the freshman class council for the student government and won a seat. While The College of New Jersey has been academically challenging for Chidick, it is clear that he has found a way to not only manage his work but also stay active in his community.

In the interview, Chidick gave words of wisdom for anyone facing homelessness who has dreams they want to accomplish. He stated that his experience “will always be a part of your life that you can never forget” however, “don’t let it define you.” Instead, Chidick advises that any students experiencing homelessness who hunger for education like he does to “take that situation” and “open your eyes” by becoming more informed and active in your community.

It is clear that while entering college has been a trying experience for Chidick, he has figured out how to stay on top of his work and excel in extracurriculars. While homelessness may have had a huge impact on his life, Chidick says that he will not let that define him as he continues to smile and spreads not only his excitement to everyone he meets but his hunger to learn and achieve his goals.

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen Finishes Expansion

By Zion Lee

The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen has taken upon itself, to serve and assist the people of Trenton who are affected by homelessness and/or poverty. The staff at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) work to help better the lives of many and help smoothly run the operation. With hundreds of patrons coming in every day, TASK is clearly a hub of resources and a valued community for individuals affected by homelessness.

This past summer, renovations were made to the TASK facility on Escher Street. Not only is this change beneficial for the staff, as they now have more offices for administrative work, but there is also a great benefit to the patrons of TASK. A new lounge has been installed with vibrant colored furnishings and natural light pouring through the huge windows that provide a beautiful view of the outside. This allows patrons to get away from all the buzz of the main area and opt for a more serene setting whether it be to rest or study.

Furthermore, there is now a more secluded computer room for any patron who longs to study and take advantage of the technology at hand in peace and quiet. One volunteer had even commented that the expansion has allowed TASK to offer even more help than it had been able to in the past. In addition to the computer room, there are also two classrooms open for tutoring sessions and group events that are filled with works of art from the community and individual patrons. Residents are encouraged to come and see the expansion of the TASK’s facility and pursue the available opportunities that TASK provides to all who desire to both learn new things and conquer the challenge of homelessness.