Category Archives: The Streetlight Investigates

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”.

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.

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.

Extreme Weather Continues to Plague Trenton Library

By Jared Kofsky

With temperatures in the capital region this summer reaching as high as 96 degrees, Mercer County residents sought shelter indoors during the day from the excruciating heat. In local suburbs, if residents lacked air conditioning on some of the warmest days of the year, local libraries were places to spend the day indoors. In fact, the New Jersey 2-1-1 Partnership recommends that “libraries… and other public air-conditioned spaces are good alternatives in every county if you are looking for a place to cool down.”

However, for residents of Trenton, particularly those experiencing homelessness, such an option did not exist on days when temperatures were at their highest. The Trenton Free Public Library (TFPL) on Academy Street, part of which was built in 1902, was shut down frequently, with closures coinciding with high temperatures.

An analysis by The Streetlight of online announcements by the TFPL found that the library was closed on 12 days during this summer alone due to concerns over heat in the building. On 12 additional days, the TFPL closed early, meaning that for nearly an entire month’s worth of days, the municipal library in New Jersey’s capital was either shut down for all or part of its usual hours of operation.

Patrons who sought the library’s services during the day were often greeted with a sign reading “the library is subject to close at any time during the day due to the temperature within the building.” On Facebook, there were regular posts this summer warning potential visitors that the library will be shut down for the day “due to the excessive heat and humidity in the building.” Although posts on July 25 and 26 and on August 1, 3, 4, 6, and 9 mentioned that “HVAC engineers are on-site working on this issue,” there were closures on excessively hot days throughout the summer, from the end of June until the beginning of September.

Following these shutdowns, it appeared as though an end to the weather-related closures was near, with the TFPL posting online at the end of the summer that a new HVAC system was installed, replacing a previous system that was set up over four decades earlier. The library also thanked the Trenton City Council for assisting with funding the new system.

Yet, just a few months later, extreme weather impacted the TFPL again. On three frigid days before this winter even began, the building was closed to the public due to concerns over the climate control system on the premises.

The Streetlight took the concerns over the closures to Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who stated in an exclusive interview in late November that the problem was being addressed.

“We’ve actually been working on the HVAC system and we are making facility upgrades to the library,” said Gusciora. When asked what was causing the delay, the mayor cited “contractor challenges” and added that secondary fixes are on the way.

“We hope to correct any problems with the library facility in the very near future,” he explained.

The capital is far from the only city in the United States where residents experiencing homelessness rely on libraries for services and shelter during the day. A Washington Post investigation described libraries as the “front line of America’s homelessness crisis,” highlighting San Francisco, Denver, and Philadelphia as examples of municipal libraries that are hiring their own social workers for individuals experiencing homelessness.

In Trenton, while there are a handful of other resources that are open to Trentonians experiencing homelessness, such as the Rescue Mission of Trenton’s Day Center. This facility, which is open daily, serves lunch and offers case management services. However, the TFPL remains a common place for individuals to spend the day safely indoors when it is open.

Unlike other similarly-sized cities in New Jersey, Trenton currently has only one municipal library branch. Although the TFPL used to operate the Briggs, Cadwalader, East Trenton, and Skelton Branches in four of the city’s outer neighborhoods, all four were closed in 2010.

According to Mayor Gusciora, City Hall is figuring out how those libraries can be reopened. When asked for additional details, the mayor stated that the City would require non-profit partners to operate each of the old library branches, such as how Howard’s Healthy Choices is operating in the former Briggs Branch Library.

Facility upgrades are needed, Gusciora explained, mentioning that the City is in discussions with Mercer County officials about possibly having Trenton become involved with the Mercer County Library system.

Still, nearly a decade after the branches were shuttered, when it comes to the TFPL, finances remain a concern.

“The library budget used to be $8 million. It’s down to $2 million so you can readily understand why the branches had to close,” Gusciora told The Streetlight. “The City can’t afford to do it all.”

“Aging Out Into Homelessness”: A Garden State Crisis (Part 1)

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 thestreetlightnewspaper@gmail.com.

Jessica Middleton contributed research for this report.