Category Archives: The Highlight

The Highlight: Trenton Mayor W. Reed Gusciora

For the last several months, New Jersey’s capital has been under new leadership. W. Reed Gusciora, a former state assemblyman and adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey, was sworn into office as Trenton’s 56th mayor in July. With the 2018 Point-in-Time Count finding that overall homelessness has increased in New Jersey, The Streetlight wanted to know how Gusciora is planning to address the issue on the local level. Here is a preview of Managing Editor Jared Kofsky’s Q+A with the mayor, which was conducted in late November.

The Streetlight: Why do you think Trenton has such a significant population of people experiencing homelessness? What do you think the cause [of homelessness] might be on the local level?

Gusciora: On the local level, a lot of it is mental health and addiction services are needed. The other thing is that we’re such a transient town. We have four train lines, people can walk across the bridge from Morrisville, and because it’s the capital, they feel that they can get the most assistance here. We have a lot of churches that offer food assistance [and] we have the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, so there are a lot of outlets that the homeless population can take advantage of.

The Streetlight: The Rescue Mission is the only general population emergency shelter in Mercer County. With Newark adding seven shelters, are there plans to open a city-run shelter in Trenton?

Gusciora: We can look at that but we’re focusing on transitioning to more permanent housing. I don’t think just offering more temporary shelters is necessarily the answer.

The Streetlight: What projects are you envisioning as part of an increase in transitional housing?

Gusciora: The Rescue Mission has a good model where they have rooms for temporary shelter but then they have a long-term temporary shelter where [people experiencing homelessness] have actual rooms assigned to them and they actually have apartments that they can stabilize long term until [clients experiencing homelessness] are able to get off on their feet. The Rescue Mission is not strictly temporary overnight housing and that’s something that we have to look for rather than just offering temporary shelters. The other thing is that we are the state capital so we need the state and the county to be very much a partner because if you look at the other communities that surround us, they offer very few homelessness services and they really need to step up to the plate so that everyone doesn’t just get funneled into the capital city.

The Streetlight: If you could have it your way as mayor, what would that look like to have other communities step up to the plate?

Gusciora: I think that they should have an obligation to offer some kind of temporary housing and bring the services to them directly, whether it be mental health or addiction services, rather than just give somebody bus fare to the capital city. I don’t think that really is responsive.

The Streetlight: Is there any plan specifically for increasing services addressing youth homelessness such as or in addition to Anchor House?

Gusciora: Well there’s other organizations such as LifeTies. A big consequence of homelessness are LGBT youth that seem to be tossed out of their family’s structure and as society gets more tolerant, that will be less of a problem but nonetheless, it’s critical to offer those services as well but there are other organizations that are willing to step up to the plate such as LifeTies.

The Streetlight: Do you think then that homelessness should be addressed by non-profits or should the city government play more of a role?

Gusciora: Well the problem is that the City doesn’t have the resources to handle the problem itself so it does have to rely on faith-based initiatives as well as general non-profits. If the State of New Jersey paid dollar-for-dollar in their property taxes because of all the tax-exempt properties that they occupy, they would give the City $45 million, but yet last year, we got $9 million in transitional aid, so we can’t keep going back to our own tax base to pay for such programs so we really need for the state and the county and even the feds to step up to the plate.

Selected questions and answers have been slightly condensed for spacing purposes.

The Highlight: Essence Scott

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.