Category Archives: News

New Jersey to Launch Office on Homelessness Prevention

By Jared Kofsky

As chronic homelessness continues to impact thousands of New Jerseyans in municipalities such as Trenton, the question remains what roles government agencies, non-profit organizations, religious groups, and for-profit entities should play in alleviating this crisis. Although the City of Trenton operates the Coordinated Entry and Assessment Services (CEAS) Center and county, state, and federal dollars often fund contracted services at local organizations, the majority of resources serving people experiencing homelessness in Mercer County are ultimately operated by charities such as Anchor House and the Rescue Mission of Trenton.

Now, could changes be coming to how homelessness is addressed on a statewide level?

The Streetlight has learned that the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) will be moving forward with the development of a new Office on Homelessness Prevention and that the office will be based in the William Ashby Building in Downtown Trenton. Tammori Petty, the Director of Communications for DCA, confirmed to The Streetlight that the office will coordinate between government agencies and external organizations serving people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk.

“The office, which will focus on addressing homelessness among all subpopulations, including youth homelessness, has been tasked with implementing a statewide strategy to address homelessness,” Petty explained. “A major part of the Office’s role will be to engage stakeholders across the state, including people with lived experience of homelessness, throughout the development of the state plan.”

At first, according to Petty, there will be three staff members in the office, including a director, a program manager, and a data manager.

Employment postings issued by the State of New Jersey and viewed by The Streetlight show that the director is expected to be paid between $95,000 and $100,000 annually. The individual will lead the collaborative efforts, analyze data, make recommendations regarding the statewide plan, and serve as an “expert resource on homelessness.”

The program manager would administer contracts with local organizations while earning between $70,000 and $85,000, while the data director would make between $75,000 and $90,000 and would issue reports about homelessness in New Jersey.

Applications for all three positions were due to DCA on October 15.

The establishment of the Office on Homelessness Prevention, along with the upcoming New Jersey Homelessness Prevention Task Force that acts as an advisory board for the office, came after legislation was enacted in April that involved appropriating $3 million to the DCA.

Anchor House Receives Approval for Brunswick Avenue Facility

By Jared Kofsky

A non-profit serving youth and young adults experiencing homelessness could soon be expanding its presence in Trenton’s North Ward.

Anchor House, Inc. received approval on July 17 from the Trenton Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) in connection with its proposal for the premises at 868 Brunswick Avenue. The organization sought a use variance in order to turn the house at the site into “office space on the first floor and residential use on the upper floors for up to four individuals,” according to a legal notice.

The facility would include four bedrooms, a common kitchen, and a living area, the notice stated. All of the residents of the house are expected to be between 18 and 21.

Anchor House already operates a shelter for youth and the Anchorage Transitional Living Program for young adults. The non-profit also facilitates the Anchor Link and Anchor Line spaces at the corner of South Broad and Beatty Streets in Chambersburg.

The ZBA’s decision was memorialized in September, according to the notice. for the proposed adaptive reuse of the building is not yet clear. No updates from Anchor House, Inc. regarding the project were available by publication time.

Could Climate Change Worsen Trenton’s Homelessness Crisis?

This story is part of The Streetlight’s participation in a statewide climate reporting collaboration by members of the NJ College News Commons, a network of campus media outlets working together to cover the climate crisis in New Jersey.

By Joshua Trifari

New Jersey is perhaps one of the states most vulnerable to climate disaster in the upcoming century. Several areas of the Garden State are very low-lying, leaving many neighborhoods, both poor and wealthy, likely to experience flooding.

A disaster like Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was predicted to occur only once every 260 years in New Jersey, according to an article published by Stevens Institute of Technology. However, by the end of the century, New Jersey can expect to see a storm with a similar intensity and impact of Sandy once every five years. This brings serious questions as to how New Jersey would be able to sustain such recurring damages from the storms to come.

In an interview with The Streetlight, Jay Everett of Cranford-based Monarch Housing Associates, stated that the effects of sea level rise can decrease property stock and increase property values, therefore making housing less accessible.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2019 “Out of Reach” report shows that in order to afford to rent a two-bedroom home in New Jersey, a household would need to earn $28.86 an hour. The current minimum wage in New Jersey is $10 an hour, though that is scheduled to increase over the coming years. Everett noted that even families with more middle-class incomes struggle with affording the cost of housing in New Jersey. He suggested that increasing the availability of housing stock that is both affordable and sustainable in places that are not vulnerable to persistent flooding would provide a buffer against the impacts of climate change on homelessness.

In Trenton, some of the potential impacts of climate change have already been studied. In a scenario of one foot of sea level rise, the Delaware River will flood more intensely according to the Climate Central Surging Seas Risk Zone Map, as well as creeks that lead into the Delaware River, such as Assunpink Creek, which runs through downtown Trenton. At two feet of sea level rise, parts of I-195 and I-295 in Hamilton Township, just outside of Trenton leading into the city, will become impassable.

Warmer temperatures are also expected. By 2050, New Jersey is expected to experience 34 “Danger Days” per year according to an analysis by Climate Central, where the heat index will exceed 105°F. Currently, New Jersey only experiences about seven “Danger Days” per year. By 2100, the Summer average temperature in New Jersey is expected to feel like Miami, increasing by 9°F.

Trenton’s population experiencing homelessness has already experienced concerns due to extreme weather. As reported in a previous edition of The Streetlight, the Trenton Free Public Library was forced to close down several times during the summer of 2019 due to the air conditioning not functioning properly.

In an interview, when asked about the city’s concern for the vulnerability of the homeless population, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora’s Chief of Staff, Yoshi Manale, told The Streetlight that “the City of Trenton does a good job of keeping housing prices low and foreclosures low,” which he said helps prevent people from entering homelessness. However, Manale noted that he does not have specific expertise as to how climate change can impact homelessness.

In 2010, the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University prepared a climate action plan for the City of Trenton. This plan includes recommendations for municipal operations, community- wide energy efficiency programs, water conservation, and community waste reduction. Emphasis was placed on making the housing stock in Trenton more energy efficient, while other parts of the report note how planting native vegetation near Assunpink Creek could prevent flooding and describe plans to work with the East Trenton Collaborative to make the area around the creek more resistant to flooding. However, the report makes no mention of the impact of climate change on people experiencing homelessness in Trenton.

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.

New Jersey Cities Differ in Approach to Panhandling Policies

A sign in Newark informing drivers and panhandlers about the new panhandling ordinance in the city. Photo by Jared Kofsky/The Streetlight.

By Kristine Spike

A 2016 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that an estimated 553,000 people are experiencing homelessness nationwide. Some behaviors of individuals experiencing homelessness are being criminalized is by new policies.

Newark, for example, has passed new municipal ordinance to ban panhandling within city limits. Officials with the Newark Department of Public Safety reported that in May 2019, police handed out more than 250 summonses for panhandling, which can have a maximum fine of $500.

Newark Police are also enforcing a “delaying traffic” ordinance, which prohibits drivers from stopping to give cash to those requesting it. In May, 90 summonses were issued. Tickets given for delaying traffic cost $50, plus a court fine.

Newark officials have stated that these policies have been enacted as a public safety effort. In addition, officials report that they have increased outreach efforts. For instance, Newark’s ‘Hope One’ is a mobile police vehicle that offers Narcan kits, detoxification, rehabilitation recovery support, mental health services, and transportation to treatment facilities. Hope One also works to make identification cards accessible to those experiencing homelessness so that the individuals can obtain services such as assisted housing. Trenton does not currently have a Hope One program, though a list of community partners that perform comparable services can be found in The Streetlight’s Mercer County Resource Guide.

The main concern is whether or not such panhandling policies will extend to Trenton and its surrounding areas. Currently, the short answer is no. The City of Trenton has recently revised its policy on begging and panhandling. City legislation states that “the City Council recognizes a constitutional right to beg or solicit in a peaceful and nonthreatening manner.” The legislation in Trenton goes on to mention that “an increase in aggressive solicitation throughout the City has become extremely disturbing and disruptive to residents and businesses.” These findings led to the passing of a new article to update and clarify the panhandling regulation. The recently passed Trenton ordinance goes on to define “aggressive”, stating that following or approaching individuals at night, or near ATM machines, amongst other behaviors, all are considered to be “aggressive.”

This clause reportedly serves to protect the rights of citizens, while aiming to harbor a safe environment. The City aims to keep intact constitutional rights while also reducing the “disturbance” that panhandling can cause when it takes an aggressive form. In a phone interview, New Jersey State Police Trooper Ryon Barclay stated that as it stands, there is no reason to expect change in the current panhandling laws, adding that the current policy is clearly defined and has a goal of “protection of all citizens.”

Trenton Housing Authority Closes Waiting Lists

The line for public housing in New Jersey’s capital city has gotten so long that the Trenton Housing Authority has decided not to allow anyone else to join the waiting list.

City Hall in Trenton. File photo by Jared Kofsky/The Streetlight.

By Jared Kofsky

Trentonians seeking to reside in public housing this summer are out of luck for the time being. The Trenton Housing Authority (THA), which owns and operates the public housing projects throughout New Jersey’s capital city, is no longer accepting applications for most of its affordable apartments and houses.

In a February legal notice, the THA announced that over 6,000 households were on the waiting lists for public housing in Mercer County’s second largest municipality. Federal census records show that Trenton has a total of roughly 27,000 households. Citing the “high volume of applicants,” the authority revealed that it would be closing its “Family” and “Senior/Disabled” waiting lists on March 1.

As planned, the THA stopped permitting new applications to both of these waiting lists at the beginning of March, according to its website. Trentonians interested in residing in public housing in the city who visit the THA’s Apply4Housing web page are now greeted with a message stating in part that “we are sorry, but there are no open list [sic] currently.”

Based in the North Trenton neighborhood, the THA has almost a dozen complexes in Trenton. These facilities range from the 112-unit Samuel Haverstick Homes near the Ewing Township border to the 376-unit Mayor Donnelly Homes on New Willow Street to the Lincoln Homes near Rivera Community Middle School.

Trenton, Princeton, and Hightstown are the only municipalities in Mercer County to operate their own public housing authorities, though the Princeton Housing Authority maintains a total of just 236 apartments while the Hightstown Housing Authority has just 100. When applications for the waiting list are open, the THA’s website states in part that the capital city’s authority requires at least one household member to be an American citizen or “eligible non-citizen” and that applicants must not exceed the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s income limits. For a family of four, annual “low income” is defined as a household earning a maximum of $71,900 while “extremely low income” is considered to be less than $29,650.

The Streetlight has learned that Trenton is far from the only city in New Jersey where there is a far higher demand for public housing than a supply of affordable units.

60 miles northeast of Trenton in the state’s second largest city, the Jersey City Housing Authority (JCHA) has closed both the application list for the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Program, which “is designed to assist eligible low-income families pay their rent,” along with all but one of its “public housing site based waiting lists,” according to the agency’s website.

During the summer of 2018, the JCHA decided to reopen its public housing waiting list to applicants, but only for a one week period. However, a statement from the agency at the time mentioned that not all people who sought to be added to the waiting list would be included since “a set number of preliminary applications [would] be selected using a computerized random selection process.” The sole remaining waiting list in Jersey City that remains open is solely for two-member households where one family member must be 62 years of age or older, according to municipal records. The draft of the JCHA’s 2019 annual plan shows that as of August 2018, there were still 5,564 applicants on the waiting lists.

Meanwhile, the Newark Housing Authority (NHA) had waiting lists with an estimated 19,494 applicants, roughly the entire population of Hopewell Township, as of December 2018, according to the 2018 NHA Annual Report. The NHA, which is the largest agency of its kind in the Garden State, reported that 800 individuals were moved from the waiting lists to public housing in 2018. However, the NHA website shows that 13,303 families and 3,897 disabled applicants are still waiting and only “near elderly, elderly, and disabled residents” are currently allowed to submit applications.

While the public housing waiting lists might not be open at the THA, the JCHA, and the NHA, there are a variety of resources available in the capital region for readers experiencing homelessness to visit. The Mercer County Resource Guide on pages six and seven provides additional information regarding these services.

 

Editor’s Note: This story was written in March 2019.

Care Available for Pregnant Women Experiencing Homelessness

By Hannah Keyes

The Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton facility on North Warren Street in Downtown Trenton. Photo by Jared Kofsky/The Streetlight.

The opioid epidemic has been reaching astronomical levels, as it has been categorized as one of the worst drug crises in the United States to date. According to the Trenton Health Team, a collaborative program that addresses health care in Trenton, “New Jersey continues to be a national leader when it comes to opioid addiction – both in the scope of the impact on the state, and in the public and private response to the disease. More than 1,600 state residents died of opioid related issues in 2016.”

Within this population of drug addicted individuals, pregnant women have not received much attention or care due to a lack of coordination between maternal health and addiction medicine. However, there are now programs that are desperately trying to fight this.

In January 2018, Capital Health, Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton (CCDoT), the Trenton Health Team, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, Henry J. Austin Health Center, and HomeFront introduced a new program called For My Baby and Me (FMBM) that focuses on addressing the needs of addicted pregnant women who are homeless or at risk for homelessness.

The women who are enrolled in FMBM receive plenty of care throughout their stay. Clients receive medical care through all stages of pregnancy, birth and postpartum, medication-assisted addiction treatment, peer recovery and relapse prevention counseling and support, mental health services, housing assistance, transportation, employment services, basic needs such as food and clothing, and child care for dependents. Susan Lougherty, the Director of Operations for CCDoT, mentioned that the program is open to anyone, regardless of their insurance status and operates all twenty-four hours of the day.

After receiving a two-year $4 million grant, CCDoT was able to expand its Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) program in underrepresented areas of Mercer and Burlington Counties. With this significant funding, the agency plans to extend its outreach to those who need it the most, specifically certain populations of people who have repeatedly been denied the help that they need. Not enough recovery programs accept pregnant women due to the complex and specialized care that they require, which can lead to women becoming fearful and unwilling to seek help.

While there are similar programs such as Mother Child in Camden County that assists pregnant women experiencing homelessness, FMBM is unique in its approach since it explicitly aims to help pregnant women overcome their drug addiction in order to become healthy for both themselves and their babies.

FMBM uses a holistic partner approach that allows pregnant women to get the best treatment possible. For example, HomeFront provides shelter and housing, CCDoT provides substance abuse treatment and has the lead on case management, and Rescue Mission answers the 24/7 hotline and provides peer support. Different services are provided by different partners, which makes it a collective effort for a common cause.

“The program [FMBM] is able to achieve results through the holistic partner approach. Each community partner brings strength to this model through their expertise in their specific area and their ability to rapidly scale to meet the individualized needs of all of those we are serving through this system,” Lougherty stated.

FMBM began as a collaboration of healthcare and social service providers in the Trenton area. Doctors at Capital Health recognized that the attention and treatment of the population of pregnant women was being lost. FMBM was able to provide support to Capital Health in their initiative to reduce instances of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). The efforts on both ends have produced positive impacts on many pregnant women’s lives.

To date, there have been nearly 40 pregnant women who have gone through the program, including Sabrina who was able to quit her addictive drug habits and give birth to a healthy child.

“I totally hit rock bottom before I came here. I was really scared once I found out I was pregnant again, especially since I found out so late,” Sabrina explained.

She discovered that she was having a baby 23 weeks into her pregnancy. Before coming to FMBM, she stated that she experienced a lot of judgment from nurses and doctors at some hospitals. However, Sabrina was referred to FMBM and although she was at first skeptical due to it being so different from a generic rehab center, she believes it has saved her life.

“My quality of life has improved tremendously. The program is just great. The nurses here are awesome and very supportive. Without everyone’s support here and my family, I couldn’t have done all of this,” stated Sabrina.

The women who go through the program have to work extremely hard to recover. At FMBM they receive a tremendous amount of support to help get them to a healthy state of mind and being.

In regards to the women who have successfully completed the program, nursing supervisor at CCDoT for FMBM, Lisa Merritt mentioned that “it’s definitely really rewarding for all of the treatment team because we want to set them up for success so that they can sustain the home that we put them in, or the job that they get at the end of the treatment here. You see them slowly grow, even in their appearance one month later, three months later, six months later. Everything improves: appearance, health, and motivation.”


For My Baby and Me

(609) 256-7801

Staff Available 24/7

Newark’s Government Joins Fight Against Homelessness in Their City

By Jared Kofsky

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaks to the media at the opening of the H.E.L.P. Shelter. Photo by Jared Kofsky/The Streetlight.

When it comes to homelessness in the United States, it has long been debated whether the crisis should be addressed by government agencies or societal groups.

In the Trenton area, both categories have long played a crucial role in homelessness prevention, though non-profit organizations and religious institutions continue to operate nearly every food pantry, soup kitchen, and shelter. Although assistance is provided to these groups through county, state, and federal dollars, often for specific contracted services, a look at our Mercer County Resource Guide will reveal that many of the region’s vital resources for individuals and families experiencing homelessness are not run by government agencies themselves.

For instance, while the City of Trenton does operate the CEAS Center in order to assist people experiencing homelessness, the capital region’s only emergency shelter for single adults is operated by the non-profit Rescue Mission of Trenton with the assistance of government funding for services such as shelter stays and case management. Across town, several facilities for young adults experiencing homelessness are all operated by the non-profit Anchor House, Inc. Other major Mercer County organizations like Rise and HomeFront are non-profit groups as well.

Societal organizations playing such a key role in homelessness prevention is common throughout the state and the country. This makes the recent moves by the municipal government in the Garden State’s largest city quite unique and raises questions about whether other New Jersey cities could follow suit. Last December, officials cut the ribbon on the Homeless Emergency Living Partnership (HELP) Center in Newark, a temporary government-run shelter.

“As long as they’re in our community, we’re going to service them,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told The Streetlight, referring to people experiencing homelessness.

The facility, which was operated with the assistance of Emergency Housing Services, Inc., took over a former halfway house. While the building was not in pristine condition when it opened, it allowed people to have a place to sleep during the coldest months of the year. However, the shelter closed its doors in September, forcing its 194 residents to end up back on the streets, according to NJ Advance Media. Then, in November, Newark officials announced that seven year- round shelters for people experiencing homelessness throughout the city would open, receiving funding from both City Hall and local organizations.

Now, Newark is looking to address the homelessness crisis within city limits by creating a homelessness commission. The board will be made up of between 15 and 30 members, at least one of which must have experienced homelessness. City records obtained by The Streetlight show that all members will be tasked with providing “a framework and strategy” for bringing an end to homelessness in Newark. Specifically, the group will not only lead the Point-in-Time Count for the city, but they will recommend services, evaluate funding opportunities, coordinate resources, and conduct advocacy efforts.

Locally, the Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care Program operates the Point-in-Time Count and connects government, non-profit, and religious partners, though the capital region does not have a homelessness commission run directly by a municipality.

Cities in particular continue to battle the homelessness crisis more than other regions. Essex County, one of New Jersey’s densest, is believed to be home of 24 percent of New Jersey’s population experiencing homelessness, according to the 2018 Point-in-Time Count results. In New Jersey, non-profit resources and major public spaces such as train terminals tend to be concentrated in cities.

“You’re not going to get help standing on a corner in Millburn,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told The Streetlight, referring to one of his city’s wealthiest suburban enclaves. “You might go to jail.”

It remains to be seen what Newark’s new commission will recommend and if other New Jersey municipalities like Trenton will open up shelters of their own. Former Governor Chris Christie told The Streetlight that he would have supported such a move on the municipal level during his administration, though NJ Spotlight has reported that current Governor Phil Murphy’s new economic plan calls for having the state government partner with hospitals to construct housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. The future of government’s role in homelessness in the Garden State still remains unclear.

Newspaper Serves Italians Experiencing Homelessness

By Jahnvi Upreti

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Editor’s Note: TCNJ Bonner Community Scholar Jahnvi Upreti is studying abroad in Italy and filed this report that gives an international perspective on media for individuals experiencing homelessness.

While The Streetlight has been serving local communities for nearly a decade, this publication is far from the world’s only media outlet published for and with people experiencing homelessness. In Bologna, Italy, another outlet not only serves as a newspaper for the city’s population experiencing homelessness, but has become an institution for local residents.

Within the heart of Bologna’s town center, at the corner of Via Antonio di Vincenzo and Via Francesco Albani, lies a small storefront with a brightly decorated chalkboard reading “Happy Place.” A social space provided by the municipality of Bologna, Happy Center is managed by the Piazza Grande cooperative. Piazza Grande is an incredibly respected organization in the city of Bologna that actively provides social spaces and services for Bologna’s homeless population. However, not many today realize that the expansive and well-known organization was once only words written on paper.

In 1993, the first publication of the original Piazza Grande newspaper was released in Bologna. The paper’s intention was threefold: to allow marginalized individuals within Bologna to express themselves through art and writing, to provide them with a means of financial self sustainability, and to battle social exclusion and affirm the rights of the homeless population. Those who contribute to the newsletter include individuals experiencing homelessness, volunteer journalists, and professionals from the social services field.

Since 1993, the grassroots newspaper has evolved from a platform for individual self expression and sustainability to the established organization recognized today. Though these chronicles were a step towards greater autonomy, they were not enough to allow for greater agency within society. These individuals decided to pursue the resources needed to create a space where they could not only share ideas and stories through a paper, but where they could find solidarity through common experiences like socialization and art. With help from the Municipality of Bologna, Piazza Grande was created by those who needed it most.

Piazza Grande provides a number of services to people in the margins of Bologna, such as housing, social services, vocational support, counseling, and more. Its sub-organization, Happy Place, was designed as a community laboratory for individuals experiencing homelessness, but open to anyone. Happy Place provides a space where people can participate in group activities, such as English-Italian language exchanges on Wednesdays and musical sessions on Fridays. Happy Center also allows individuals to simply utilize the space, no participation in specific group activities are required.

Salvatore, a frequent visitor at the Happy Center, elaborated further on the importance of spaces such as those provided by Piazza Grande for marginalized populations. As an individual who has experienced homelessness, Salvatore delineated how Happy Place allows him to “work” by providing him with a space to create his art: specifically jewelry and mirror designs.

“I find copper on the streets, and I make it into rings and bracelets… from something thrown away, I create life.”

Since the start of the Piazza Grande publications in Bologna, the newspaper has slowly shifted from a platform designed solely by the homeless communities of Bologna, to one co-opted by greater newspaper organizations, such as the Bologna Press. The publications of Piazza Grande have been suspended since the summer of 2018, until this coming December in order to revamp the publication and focus on the voiceless once more. Experts in social journalism will be working with members of Piazza Grande to recommit to the initial goals of tackling social exclusion by placing the voices of marginalized individuals at the forefront of the newspaper. The publications have also adapted to include a new goal: to fight racism, specifically in regards to migrants.

Leonardo Tancredi, editor of the Piazza Grande publications, states that “… Piazza Grande could be the first newspaper in the world [that is] the result of a participatory process.”

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen Expands

By Joshua Trifari

The new wing of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Photo by Jared Kofsky/The Streetlight.

An air of excitement looms over the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). The many noises that accompany construction provide a backdrop to the daily business of the soup kitchen and oftentimes interrupts tutoring and meal service. The 3,400 square foot expansion was expected to be completed by the beginning of the winter.

There are some disappointments, as some eager staff harp lightly about their parking spaces being displaced. Overall, however, patrons and employees alike are excited for these new changes, just in time for the festivity of the holiday season.

“I am very excited,” said Phyllis Blassingame, a longtime patron of the soup kitchen. She participates in the adult GED program and also volunteers, helping with meal service. “I am looking forward to having a classroom where we can learn.”

Dennis, another patron who is friends with Blassingame, expressed a similar sentiment. “I am just looking forward to having more space,” he told The Streetlight.

However, the path to expansion wasn’t necessarily easy.

“We thought we were going to renovate before we expanded,” said Melissa Rivera, TASK’s Manager of Internal Operations.

Now, renovations will take place after expansion. According to Rivera, most of the operations will be transferred into the new building while renovations will be taking place in the original building.

The expansion will help improve many of the programs that the soup kitchen already offers. Classrooms will be added, along with a computer lab and a testing center, all of which are expected to greatly improve the adult education program, though no new programs are currently slated to be added, according to Rivera.

Reed Gusciora, Trenton’s new mayor, toured the construction site in November.

“They’ll have the capacity to serve more of the homeless population in the near future,” Gusciora told The Streetlight.

The expansion comes at a time when the latest Point-In-Time Count of people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey concluded that homelessness increased between 2017 and 2018.

TASK has been at its Escher Street location since 1991. Since then, it has served over a million meals, whilst simultaneously offering programs that are designed to improve the quality of life of its patrons.

“I’m optimistic that the expansion will increase our capacity to serve the community,” Rivera said.

A grand opening celebration has been scheduled for May 3, 2019.