Category Archives: Uncategorized

Resuming School in a COVID World

By: Abby Duff

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen school closures across the country. The closures are taking their toll on student’s education, attentiveness, and mental health. Many schools have reopened their doors for the 2020-2021 school year, while others have chosen to go completely online, however that decision has been more difficult to make for schools like Sprout U School of the Arts in Trenton, NJ.

Sprout is an institution that values diversity and embracing culture, and the way they learn has been very hands-on, so the pandemic has been a major shock to their usual system. However, after getting a chance to speak with Danielle Winslow, known by her students as “Miss. Danielle,” the founder and principal of the school, it is clear that they are well-underway this school year, and are operating in the best, most normal way they possibly can.

At first, she said it was a challenge to develop an attainable AND affordable plan that could accommodate all of the students at school, as there is a wide age range stretching from preschool to high school. The majority of the students were unable to afford computers and headphones to support the new virtual learning environment, however generous community donors were able to provide them with the proper technology for classes. Because of this, students can learn online both at the school and remotely if need be. 

Another issue she encountered while developing the reopening plan was that many of the teachers resigned for fear of getting COVID. Because of this, she had to find an affordable, yet an engaging way for her students to continue their education both online and as normally as possible. Ms. Winslow was able to receive a grant from Pearson Online Academy, an online school program that provides both live and self-completed lessons. This program allows everyone to keep learning in person, as well as work from home on days off.

The students have class at the school every day except Wednesday. On Wednesdays, a cleaning service comes in and deep cleans the building to prevent the spread of COVID among the students and teachers at Sprout, and so far they (thankfully) have had no cases this year!

Even though the circumstances are different this year, Ms. Winslow has still found ways to allow her students to continue pursuing their artistic and creative passions. A few days week groups of students travel to dance lessons, and other days, an organization brings in instruments for the students to use and learn how to play at the school. They continue to perform plays and musicals, socially distanced of course, and the spirits are still high at Sprouts. I have been volunteering at Sprouts for the past few months, and have seen firsthand how optimistically and gracefully Miss Danielle and her students are handling this transition year! 

TASK Tackles Quarantine

By: Zion Lee

It seems life has taken a sharp turn with the global pandemic brought by COVID-19. Yet, as time has gone on, society has proven to be able to adapt as the unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19 have become a new normal. Even in the face of adversity, some things never change: like needing to eat. Fortunately, one place in Mercer County comes to mind when thinking about a reliable spot to eat, The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). Whilst COVID-19 has forced many businesses to close, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen has weathered the storm by adapting to these trying times to provide essentials to those in need.

As COVID-19 closed millions of businesses and changed the lives of billions of lives around the world, The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen has done its best to maintain a consistent meal schedule, serving thousands of patrons each week. While indoor dining was halted due to safety concerns, TASK has been able to provide almost 40,000 meals each month through packaged hot meals, prepared lunch and dinner, given out the front door of the facility. 

In addition to the hot meals, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen also has continued conducting social work help over the phone and has begun offering its beloved art and music programs again. In an interview with Jaime Parker of TASK, she shared that TASK’s focus is to “get everyone’s immediate needs met”. Now more than ever, it is the “perfect time for people to work towards their high school diploma” even despite the hardships at hand. And while “the digital divide is a big problem” for many patrons, TASK works to “close the gaps that exist” to this day. Individuals interested in receiving assistance from the case manager have been able to reach them over the phone and in the new tent patio at the TASK location to provide assistance to individuals who do not have cell phones with COVID-19 safety restrictions in mind. TASK has also been providing individuals with guidance on how to set up Zoom accounts for online interviews and even secure jobs with companies like “Amazon”. In addition, as the winter approaches, TASK is working with Homefront to create a warming tent for individuals who are looking for a place to stay when the months get colder.  

Even despite the threat of a global pandemic, it seems that the staff at TASK have been able to develop a plan that would ensure maintaining optimal service for their patrons. Anyone interested in receiving meals or social work help should head to TASK at 72 Escher St, Trenton, NJ 08609. The effective plans deployed by TASK such as providing packaged food, offering social services over the phone, and working to hold art classes have displayed the dedication and adaptability of the staff at TASK in the face of COVID-19.

 

Here is a link to TASK’S Official COVID Response

Update On the Census, What You Need to Know

By: Gabrielle Wells

Outlined by our nation’s constitution, the Census counts the population of the United States and the five U.S. territories known as Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Every ten years the U.S. The Census Bureau takes on this task to understand the makeup of the United States and where each American lives. 

This count of the U.S. population not only counts the amount of people in the U.S. but it will provide information which will be used for federal funding, community funding, the appointment of representatives, and other programs which will help build public property such as schools, roads, and hospitals. In the 24th Census, the same problems have arisen, like it has done time and time again with undercoverage of different communities in this nation. Undercoverage is a situation that typically occurs when surveying a sample size, in which some groups of the population are not represented or are left out of the survey. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the threat of undercoverage is even greater among the Trenton community, when it results in putting safety before practicing our constitutional rights.

Since March 12th, 2020 all United States households have received detailed information from the Census Bureau in the mail. The Census Bureau provided information on the different ways that the Census can be taken which includes by mail, phone and for the first time, online. On April 1st known as “Census Day,” the Census Bureau took account of how many people responded and devised plans to reach out to those who had yet to respond to the Census. As a result census workers went out into the community to ensure that the address list of the bureau was updated and that everyone has received an invitation to answer the census. 

Although The U.S. The Census Bureau prides itself on trying its best to accurately count the entire U.S.population, it abruptly ended all counting efforts for the 24th Census on September 30, which is a month earlier than expected. As of October 3rd, 2020 the U.S. Census website put the national average of self-response at 66.7% and reported that 98,500,00 households have been counted. In Mercer County, there is a 70% self-report rate and in Trenton, NJ there is a self-report rate of 47.7%. Overall in the state of New Jersey, the self-report rate is 69.1 % ranking it 19 out of 50 states for self-reporting. Although 2,700,000 households have self responded to the Census in NJ, with NJ estimated population around 8,882,190 that means many members of the population may still not have been counted even with a 99% enumeration rate. With 47.8% of the population of NJ using Self Reporting via the internet it begs the question of how much of the population who does not have access to the internet and is at risk for being undercounted, will be included in the Census.

According to four former Census Bureau Directors,” the lack of extending the Census reporting deadline will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country.” Former Census Bureau Directors Vincent Barabba, Kenneth Prewitt, Robert Groves, and John Thompson all put out a combined statement on August 4th, 2020 urging Congress to extend the legal deadlines for the 2020 Census and stating that the Census Bureau should be required to continue all data collection operations through October 30, 2020. Originally before the pandemic, the counting of the Census was supposed to be complete by July but the deadline was extended to October and recently concluded in September. 

With the 2020 election still being contested, proper allotment of representatives and federal funding is even more important, now more than ever to ensure the fairness of the United States democracy. As for now, according to the Census Bureau, the results of the 2020 Census will be available March 31st, 2021 but until then it is up to the American people to decide their opinions of the legitimacy of the 2020 Census.

ArtSpace in the Age of a Pandemic

By: McKenna Samson

In March 2020, Governor Murphy ordered citizens in New Jersey to stay at home and abide by a state-mandated curfew. Shortly after, many individual businesses were shut down to abide by the state health orders. Suddenly, life as we all knew it changed indefinitely. Now, in October, businesses and essential social services, such as Homefront, are adjusting to a new normal. 

Ruthann Traylor, the executive director of Homefront’s ArtSpace and SewingSpace, oversaw all of the changes the programs and its artists had to make in the time since New Jersey adjusted its health guidelines for the COVID-19 virus.

The Pandemic has affected HomeFront’s ArtSpace like many art programs. We had to assess how we could deliver our service while following safe guidelines.” Traylor stated. Some of these guidelines included limiting the number of people participating in ArtSpace and requiring masks to be being worn at all times throughout the HomeFront agency. For further protection, they were able to install plastic shields between tables, sanitize regularly, and make art bags filled with supplies, so families could keep their own supplies.

Though the implication of the safety and health guidelines changed the appearance of ArtSpace, it did not change the artistic spirit. “We felt art was imperative that ArtSpace participants were able to create, so we adjusted, shifted how we work, and embraced the time to innovate/create in ways that were safe to all.”  Traylor continued. “One of the outcomes we started to work outside and created the beginnings of an Art Garden, built movable walls to create our own exhibition space in a Blue Garage located on the premises of HomeFront’s Family Campus in Ewing. We also did weekly art supply drop off for artists that needed supplies living in the community.” 

Though in the midst of this global pandemic, ArtSpace artists have channeled their emotions to continue to create pieces. 

“For the participants that were involved–former residents, too–they needed to be able to create more than ever. As so many of us were stuck at home, artists needed an outlet to channel the emotions. I was amazed at the amount of work many of the clients living in the community created while home. I could see that the art was their pastime, outlet, their passion too. I think in some ways uncertain times challenges people to pivot how they work and think creatively, problem-solve, and embrace innovation.” Traylor continued.

 

 “For me personally this has been a very creative time as I love challenges and how to use innovation to problem-solve and grow,” said Traylor.

Though social distancing guidelines and mandatory masks are enforced, outside volunteers are not allowed into the facilities. ArtSpace is still operating under, otherwise normal circumstances. The artists will be participating in ArtJam from November 14th – December 12th. The ArtSpace artists will be selling Holiday cards, benefitting Homefront families. Please consider sending a holiday wish to family/friends that will impact lives in our community information regarding the holiday cards can be found here:  www.homefrontnj.org/artspace/

Homelessness-Jail Cycle: An Endless Fight for Incarcerated Individuals

By: Amanda Nunes and Dana Tocel

Homelessness and the criminal justice system profoundly connect. Many incarcerated individuals are homeless because of the lack of resources provided to them before and after their sentence. Additionally, many find themselves in jail due to arrests for low-level offenses. They disconnect from their support system, and many of them face job and housing discrimination, further establishing a homelessness-jail cycle.

Specifically, this cycle disproportionately affects minority groups, including Black, Indigenous, and Latinx, because they overrepresent groups of homelessness and those in jail. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice found that between the ages of 18 and 19, Black males were 12.7 times as likely and Hispanic males were 3.3 times as likely to be imprisoned compared to white males. Many incarcerated individuals’ convictions lead to them losing their jobs, housing, and personal relationships. Therefore, after their release and completion of their sentence, many do not have support.

In addition to having no resources to adapt to a new life outside of prison, they are also highly discriminated against when trying to acquire housing and employment, which leads to this cycle of incarceration and subsequent homelessness. Many formerly incarcerated individuals end up entering homeless shelters, overwhelmingly due to the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 does not stipulate that intentional discrimination occurs if a housing provider treats individuals differently because of their criminal record.

Much of the homelessness of incarcerated individuals is due in part to the multiple convictions that these individuals acquire. The Prison Policy Initiative found that those with multiple convictions are ten times more likely, and those incarcerated only once are seven times more likely to become homeless compared to the general public.

Homeless individuals are more likely to interact with police due to nonviolent offenses. The California Policy Lab found that unsheltered homeless individuals surveyed between 2015 and 2017 reported ten times the number of interactions with police in the past six months compared to reports by people living in shelters. Individuals experiencing homelessness were nine times more likely than individuals in shelters to have spent one night in jail.

Essentially, this cycle of jail leading to homelessness does not help individuals get access to housing and services, which they are in dire need of. Instead of providing incarcerated individuals with substance use treatment or mental health services which they might need, the “homelessness-jail cycle” persists.

To make matters worse, there are recent reports that state incarcerated individuals are suffering from COVID-19 prior to their release. As of October 9th, 33 NJDOC employees tested positive, eighteen incarcerated individuals tested positive, and none have passed away from the virus. According to The Trentonian, these facilities are failing to provide incarcerated individuals with the necessary amount of masks for their safety, they have been given only two masks and are told to reuse them.

During a recent interview with The Trentonian, Edward Peoples, an incarcerated individual, states, “Every time someone comes to my cell and drops a tray off, I wonder if the virus is on there…This is mental torture…We’re not being treated as we should.” Aside from Governor Murphy and officials disregarding the health of many incarcerated individuals who are displaying COVID-19 symptoms, most of the prison population does not qualify for release under Murphy’s edict. Not only do these ongoing issues affect them from potentially contracting COVID-19, but they also impede their chances of returning home.

In the past few months, with the impact of COVID-19, the way that police interact with individuals experiencing homelessness has changed. Those incarcerated individuals who unfortunately do not have a home to come back to are often in search of shelter in the form of housing but need to, first, get a job to support that endeavor. Undoubtedly, though, studies have found that formerly incarcerated individuals earn approximately 52% less than others after their return, and for those individuals with felony convictions, 22% less. However, that is only the case for those individuals who can get past the application stage since many employers discriminate against incarcerated individuals. Also, with the pandemic, job availability is already scarcely low, and the OECD expects unemployment to reach 10% by the end of 2020.

Due to the prejudices, discrimination laws, and the recent impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated individuals, the “homelessness-jail cycle” persists. Incarcerated individuals not only face obstacles involving reinstating themselves into society following their incarceration, but they also face the harrowing struggle of a lack of resources and opportunities, which overall perpetuates the cycle further.

The COVIDquences Affecting Mass Incarceration in NJ

By: Jocelyne Guzman and Neerjah Upreti (Jones Farm)

The Jones Farm Bonner team tackles the social justice issues of mass incarceration, adult education, and reentry. They are partnered with the Petey Greene Program and volunteer as GED tutors for students who are incarcerated. They do their service at Jones Farm Correctional Facility located in Ewing, NJ. 

Jones Farm is a minimum-security facility that doubles as a work farm. Incarcerated individuals have the opportunity to take GED classes to obtain their GED. The Jones Farm Bonner team enters the facility and tutors students in math and English. Due to COVID-19, the team has not been able to enter the facility because of the preventative measures and halt in the GED and other educational programs throughout the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC). The NJDOC has been doing its best to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the facilities. In an attempt to slow the spread, a senate bill was introduced that will impact the lives of many incarcerated individuals.

During this pandemic, many people have been worried about themselves, their loved ones, and those around them. It is natural to instantly worry about family and one’s own wellbeing, but who is worrying about the many incarcerated individuals who do not have the same access to tests and healthcare? 

According to the NJDOC website, as of phase two of testing in NJ, 2,885 incarcerated individuals tested positive for COVID-19. The Senate No. 2519 bill “requires public health emergency credits to be awarded to certain incarcerated individuals during public health emergencies; requires notice to the victim and entry of “no contact” order upon release of inmate awarded credits.” This bill would call for the release of thousands of incarcerated individuals in New Jersey. Being in prison, social distancing, and proper sanitizing is almost impossible considering how many incarcerated individuals, correctional officers, and general staff work in those places.

Prior to the release of the incarcerated individual, according to the S2519 Senate bill, the individual must be tested for COVID-19. They will also be provided with the following information: eligibility for Medicaid, housing information, identification information, and eligibility for any other benefits and services. The incarcerated individual will also be provided with a compiled list “concerning organizations and programs, whether faith-based or secular programs, which provide assistance and services to [incarcerated individuals] reentering society, after a period of incarceration.” Governor Phil Murphy was planning on cutting the budget for reentry programs by 43%. Instead, the new budget shows an allocation of money towards these programs.

Even with the new budget and million-dollar grants towards the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, Mercer County Reentry Pilot Program, the Reentry Coalition of New Jersey, and others, formerly incarcerated individuals may still experience homelessness. Usually, housing plans are solidified before an individual is released, but with the number of individuals being released by this bill, this may not be the case. Nonprofits and reentry programs may not have the needs and the ability to assist every individual who does not have a housing plan. Especially with the pandemic, these individuals may have difficulty finding housing and this could increase the population of those experiencing homelessness throughout NJ.

“I think these reallocation[s] of funds is necessary, but I always wish there [were] more,” said Ayanna Lyons, a New Jersey Division Manager for the Petey Greene Program. “Right now thousands, if not millions, of Americans are facing a housing crisis and so many folks are not able to pay their rent and mortgages. While folks that are involved in the justice system have historically had a hard time finding housing, in this pandemic, without the right resources the issue will be exacerbated. I’d like to see a more intentional focus on preparing folks before they’re released and following up with folks, holistically, post-release as navigating housing, employment, and education can be stressful.”

The S2519 Senate bill will heavily impact incarcerated individuals and the NJDOC. Many are interested to see how the state will conduct this bill and the effects on the individuals, their families, and also nonprofits. This bill is an important aspect in how New Jersey is tackling COVID-19 in prisons and jails.

Trenton Free Public Library Aiding Those Battling Homelessness

By: Lauren Dilloian, James Clemente, and Abhi Vempati

According to the NJ 2-1-1 program, the number of people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey has dropped by 439 people between 2018 and 2019, leaving the current average at nearly 9,000 individuals (https://www.nj211.org/homeless-new-jersey). Though the statistics regarding homelessness in New Jersey have decreased, they have not disappeared, and are not going unnoticed. Organizations across the state are working to provide free facilities for these individuals to use free of charge. One of those organizations is the Trenton Free Public Library (TFPL) that works tirelessly to offer resources to those in less than ideal circumstances.

In an era so dependent on technology for daily tasks, those experiencing homelessness are at a disadvantage as they do not have access to such assets. The past few weeks especially have perfectly demonstrated the reliance we as a society have on the internet. With the outbreak of the Corona Virus, schools and businesses globally are shutting down as a means to practice social distancing and encourage quarantine. This has been made possible by online applications that allow groups to meet virtually, rather than face to face. The question that then presents itself is: How will those experiencing homelessness suffer from this shift? Lack of access to these free public venues could translate to a lack of ability to work and learn for this community.

Unfortunately, given the circumstances of the mandatory shutdown, we were unable to conduct an interview with a representative of the Trenton Free Public Library. However, we were able to collect copious information from their website alone. Prior to the worldwide pandemic, organizations like the Trenton Free Public Library offered free access to resources such as computers, wifi, books, databases, DVDs and countless others. With a free library card that can be acquired with any proof of identification of living in Trenton, people have access to all of the library’s amenities. To touch on the digital aspect of the library, computer time slots ranging anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours give individuals the chance to complete online job applications, partake in the library’s e-tutoring programs and much more.

With much uncertainty in the current climate of the world, it is hard to say how those experiencing homelessness will be disadvantaged by the effects of the Corona Virus. We hope to acquire more information on their plan moving forward for reopening and how the community can access resources elsewhere. For more information or any unanswered questions, the Library is located at 120 Academy Street in Trenton, New Jersey 08608 and can be reached by calling (609) 392-7188 or through https://www.trentonlib.org/.

 

 

* This article was written by TCNJ’s very own Writing 102 Students.