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!

Shelter For People Experiencing Homelessness In The Works For Trenton’s West Ward

The new owner of a property in Trenton’s West Ward could allow the premises be used by people experiencing homelessness once again.

A legal notice shows that a firm known as SLM Trenton, LLC filed a use variance application with the Trenton Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) that calls for turning the three-story building at 1212 Edgewood Avenue into a “Class I or II license homeless shelter.” Class I shelters can operate all day and night, according to the notice, whereas class II shelters may only be open at night.

Property records indicate that SLM Trenton, LLC is registered out of a building in the central business district of Mount Holly, Burlington County and that the firm paid $120,000 for 1212 Edgewood Avenue. It is not yet clear what company or organization is behind the LLC, nor is it known how many people would be able to reside at the shelter.

The 40,419 square foot property was once used as a shelter for women, according to the notice, but currently sits vacant. Located adjacent to the Delaware and Raritan Canal opposite Cadwalader Park, 1212 Edgewood Avenue was the site of the Florence Crittenton Christian Refuge Association beginning in 1897, according to the Trenton Historical Society. State records show that Edison Prep Residential Community Home later utilized the site.

The ZBA is scheduled to hear the application by SLM Trenton, LLC on Wednesday, December 18 at 7:00pm at City Hall on East State Street.

College Opens Innovative Food Pantry in Ewing Township

Editor’s Note: Last winter, The Streetlight reported that a food pantry was in the works for The College of New Jersey. In the time since, the facility has opened its doors.

By Hannah Keyes and Brie Wells

The SHOP @ TCNJ is not the typical shopping destination for most college students, but for many, it provides resources needed to get through the week.

Located at The College of New Jersey’s (TCNJ) Campus Town in Ewing Township, The SHOP is a food pantry that provides resources to those who may be experiencing food insecurity. The SHOP offers many different resources such as canned goods, hygiene products, some clothing items, microwavable meals, bottled water, feminine care products, fruits, grains, and vegetables. The SHOP also offers vegetarian and gluten free products for those who may have other dietary concerns.

It is open not only to college students, but also to faculty and general community members who may be in need. There are no questions asked.

Alana Adams, the College Enhancement Intern for The SHOP, mentioned that “food insecurity impacts nearly 40% of college students nationwide, so there should be no shame associated with utilizing the resources your campus or community provides.”

However, there is often a negative preconceived notion surrounding the use of a food pantry and seeking help.

“We don’t know what you’re going through, but we are here to support you in the best way that we can. We want to have an experience with you. We want to provide a welcoming, comforting, inclusive, and safe environment where you are seen as a person,” emphasized AmeriCorps member and TCNJ Garden and Food Security program assistant Horacio Hernandez.

TCNJ students in Mercer County are the catalysts that brought light to the situation that many members of the community face everyday. The inception of The SHOP began when concerned students asked for referrals or file requests to provide emergency aid to those struggling to eat constantly or to find adequate housing. This need became especially apparent during extended school breaks.

“TCNJ has a Student Emergency Fund, which students can apply and receive limited funding for temporary housing or food. With the help of other organizations, the Dean of Students Office launched the SHOP in February 2019, which serves as a more long-term solution to students in need, where they can receive food and other supplies on a weekly basis,” Adams added.

The building space that The SHOP occupies was offered by the chief of TCNJ’s Campus Police and allowed for everything to officially get started.

In order to support the surrounding communities, The SHOP works in conjunction with Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, TCNJ Student and Academic Affairs, and TCNJ Campus Police. According to the Program Associate of the Adult Hunger Programs at Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, Pamela Sims Jones, “The Food Bank is here to support The SHOP with non-perishable and perishable commodities as needed so that The SHOP can continue to support the TCNJ community members who may be food insecure.”

With the aid of Mercer Street Friends Food Bank and the rest of their partners, The SHOP hopes to be able to provide resources to those who do not have access to food and to help end the stigma surrounding asking for help. In the future The SHOP not only wants to provide basic necessities but to also give additional support for various aspects of life.

Donations and offered help are always accepted and valued by The SHOP. Recently there was a Greek Life food drive competition to see which Greek organization could donate the most food to The SHOP.

There are many additions that The SHOP hopes to add services as time goes on, such as extra training for staff members, more partnerships with other organizations, the ability to provide hot meals, and the list goes on. The SHOP has a lot in store for 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.

Code Blue and You: Staying Sheltered in the Frigid Months

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 Gabrielle Wells

There are over 9,000 people experiencing some form of homelessness on a given day in the state of New Jersey, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Back in 2013, the “Trenton/Mercer 10-year Plan to End Homelessness” was formed in order to prevent even more people from experiencing homelessness and to improve the situation of those who are currently on the streets. This plan was originally created to make a system that would assess needs and help connect individuals experiencing homelessness to housing, among other resources. Now, a new law involving Code Blue will continue to allow many of these individuals to seek shelter during the winter.

In Mercer County, individuals who suffer from housing insecurity may find themselves on the street during severe weather conditions, which can be very hazardous to one’s health. Hypothermia occurs when one’s core body temperature falls below approximately 95°F. This drop-in core body temperature can be a direct result of staying out in temperatures around 30°F to 50°F for extended periods of time, especially in wet conditions.

For Trenton’s population experiencing homelessness, this means that suffering from life-threatening conditions such as hypothermia can pose a serious threat. Dr. Rita King, a professor of microbiology at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, explained that when a person is in the cold for a sustained period of time, blood vessels become smaller in order to keep the core of the body and vital organs warmer. This can result in fingers and toes becoming susceptible to frostbite, which can cause gangrene, potentially leading to an amputation of extremities.

“If you’re in sustained cold with constricted blood vessels, your blood pressure can raise which can cause heart attacks,” said King.

New Jersey State Senators Troy Singleton and M. Teresa Ruiz recently created legislation that was signed into law in March 2019, requiring all New Jersey counties to set up homelessness trust funds. These funds would be used to support Code Blue emergency shelter services in order to provide resources and suitable shelter from severe weather conditions.

Code Blue initially was established in May 2017 after legislation was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in efforts to develop a program that would offer emergency shelter to the population experiencing homelessness in times of inclement weather. According to Mercer County’s Office of Homeless Services’ website, in cases of extreme weather where the temperature drops below 25°F without precipitation, or in the case where it is below 32°F with precipitation with a wind chill of zero degrees for a prolonged period of two hours or more, Code Blue alerts are issued.

However, King feels that Code Blue alerts should be issued during times of other temperatures as well. “I don’t know where they came up with 25°F,” said King, calling such an extreme temperature “flat out freezing.”

This new partisan legislation created by Senators Troy Singleton and M. Teresa Ruiz was passed by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. A spokesperson from Senator Ruiz office could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Despite the new legislation, some patrons from the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen such as Reggie Montigue and Crystal Hickmond told The Streetlight that they do not have much trouble finding shelter in the winter. “I have already found my spot,” said Montigue.

Once Code Blue alerts are issued, individuals who suffer from housing insecurity in Mercer County can turn to their designated Code Blue shelter, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, which will be open 24 hours once the Code Blue alert is issued. Additionally, people in need of assistance throughout the state of New Jersey can call 211 for shelter information.

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.”

Shining a light on homelessness in and around Trenton, New Jersey.