The Streetlight is covering the 2018 general election, specifically races here in Mercer County and the Garden State. As a member of the New Jersey College News Commons, our reporting is being conducted in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and NJ Spotlight. Live results can be found here and you can watch the live broadcast, which will feature information about The Streetlight, here.
If you are looking to contribute writing to a growing multimedia platform for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, now is the time to get involved with The Streetlight! We are looking for TCNJ students to pitch story ideas and write articles for our website and for the Winter 2018-19 edition of our print publication.
Your work would be distributed at over 60 locations in one of the largest media markets in the country, including at government buildings, libraries, hospitals, food pantries, and shelters throughout Mercer County, New Jersey and parts of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It will allow readers who are experiencing homelessness to learn more about local resources, legislation, and organizations and will cause readers who are not currently experiencing homelessness to learn more about this crisis in the Trenton area.
To learn more about contributing to the only newspaper of its kind in New Jersey, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are not a TCNJ student but would like to learn more about getting involved with The Streetlight, feel free to contact us as well.
By Jared Kofsky
In our last issue, we brought you the story of Morgan Wilson, a lifelong Mercer County resident who reunited with his long-lost son outside of the Rescue Mission of Trenton. In the time since the story was written, much has changed. Here is Part II of The Streetlight’s exclusive series, Morgan and Morgan.
“The bond that we have is incredible. I just wish he wasn’t so far away.”
That was how Trenton Area Soup Kitchen patron and lifelong Mercer County resident Morgan Wilson described his relation- ship with his son Morgan West Jackson in an interview with The Streetlight last spring.
After being seperated for 24 years, Wilson and West Jackson reunited after running into each other outside of the Rescue Mission of Trenton. When both men realized that they shared the same first name, they engaged each other in conversation.
“I listened to his story that day and I realized that this was my son,” Wilson explained.
Sure enough, through the assistance of Rose Bernard, his case manager at Oaks Integrated Care, Wilson confirmed that West Jackson was his long lost son, the man he had long hoped to see again following a period of incarceration.
Wilson, West Jackson, and Bernard were not the only people excited about the reunion. Word soon spread throughout Oaks Integrated Care’s Trenton-area offices and eventually to West Jackson’s adoptive brother, Darby, Pennsylvania firefighter Eric West Jackson. His brother told The Streetlight that he was very pleased that West Jackson reunited with his father after so many years apart.
Although the father and son saw each other for the first time in over two decades in New Jersey’s capital city, West Jackson was raised in suburban Philadelphia and later lived in New York and Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Despite being seperated by over 140 miles, Wilson and West Jackson continued to communicate frequently over the phone and over the internet. West Jackson signed his father up for Facebook, and the two strived to stay in contact for the next two years, hoping to regularly see each other in person as frequently as possible.
Now, the two Morgans no longer have to wonder when they will be near each other once again.
In late 2017, West Jackson returned to the city of his birth to live near his father for the first time in 26 years. In addition to residing near each other, both Wilson and West Jackson’s living conditions continue to improve.
Wilson recently passed his driver’s test and received his license. He also moved out of transitional housing and is now renting his own apartment in the suburbs, where he lives with his girlfriend and four-year-old son. Meanwhile, West Jackson is now employed locally and sees his father on a regular basis.
Both Wilson and West Jackson have been through quite a journey since West Jackson was born in the early 1990s, with both men experiencing different kinds of successes and failures.
From Wilson’s experiences in transitional housing to West Jackson’s frequent relocations for employment across the Northeast to their surprise reunion encounter outside of a local shelter, their experiences have each been quite memorable, resulting in plenty of stories for them to share with each other.
Clearly, after a quarter century apart, Morgan and Morgan are grateful to be together in Trenton once again.
By Jared Kofsky
Despite its small size, Trenton is home to a large number of agencies and organizations aiming to address poverty in the capital region. Yet despite the efforts of these organizations, homelessness continues to impact hundreds of Trentonians.
From senior citizens spending the night inside the Rescue Mission of Trenton to young adults sleeping under bridges, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before every individual experiencing homelessness in the city is housed.
For many years, despite there being a variety of stakeholders in the fight against homelessness in Trenton, representatives from each non-profit, government, and religious organization lacked a place to inform their colleagues of the progress and challenges that they were facing.
However, in the time since the City of Trenton opened its Coordinated Entry and Assessment Services (CEAS) Center at the corner of Perry and Ewing Streets, that is all beginning to change. Every month, CEAS Center Director Janet Kleckley-Porter now hosts a meeting of the CEAS Coordinated Mobile Outreach Team to discuss matters related to unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness.
Each gathering attracts approximately a dozen officials, representing organizations like SoldierOn, Catholic Charities, and Oaks Integrated Care. During each meeting, every attendee shares how many families the group that they represent were able to find housing for that month, and information is released about upcoming outreach events and housing opportunities in Trenton.
Attendees regularly discuss not only their efforts within city limits, but also how they intend to or are already addressing homelessness in the suburbs. For instance, the Men’s Mission House in Ewing and the regional Point-in-Time Count effort were addressed when The Streetlight attended one of the group’s meetings in December.
Other topics of discussion change based on each gathering. In December, one major subject of concern was a sudden increase of Puerto Rican families experiencing homelessness in the city who came to the mainland United States after being displaced dur- ing Hurricane Maria. Although most of these families were not believed to be unsheltered, representatives discussed how many of them could not afford their own place to stay and were going between the beds and couches of relatives and acquaintances in Trenton. Attendees discussed a need to work with these displaced families in order to provide them with housing of their own to avoid the risk of possibly not having a place to stay at all at some point.
Although homelessness is still a crisis in Trenton and cities all across the country, officials hope that by having this gathering of organizations, their efforts can be maximized and a greater number of individuals can be supported in their journey to finding and securing permanent housing.
City of Trenton CEAS Center
511 Perry Street, Trenton, NJ
By McKenna Samson & Engy Shaaban
The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) has provided services to thousands of those in need for the past 35 years and has become one of the area’s leading nonprofit organizations in the process. In addition to meal services, the kitchen houses an Adult Education Program, an Arts Program, and Case Management Services. In the past five years, TASK has provided over 1.1 million meals and its program services have increased by 30 percent.
TASK relies on the help of volunteers to keep many of these programs running, and only receives three percent of its funding from the federal, county and state resources. The kitchen benefits from donations and the meals are served entirely by volunteers, so it remains largely a community-run effort.
To maximize their efforts, TASK has recently announced that it will be expanding its building and beginning renovations to update already-existing portions to better accommodate its patrons and staff. Executive Director Joyce Campbell spoke of the project’s timeline and explained that although there have been a few “starts
and stops”, the expansion is expected to be done in August and the renovations in September. She noted that TASK will continue to serve meals and provide services during all phases of the project.
The expansion is set to include additional rooms for partner organizations to offer on-site services. In addition to increasing capacity in the dining room, this will also provide a more private
setting for confidential conversations, more space for eye exams and blood pressure readings. A multipurpose room will be built to house TASK’s Adult Education and will also serve the arts programs, allowing them to operate year-round. Four additional computer stations will be added in a private testing and intake area for students. A walk-in refrigerator will be brought in to increase storage for perishable foods. On-site storage for TASK records will be established which will eliminate the cost of off-site storage and allow for these funds to be dedicated elsewhere. And finally, a space for administrative staff to work will be built which will free out office space for direct service staff working with patrons.
Building renovations will allow for an office for the Kitchen Manager to coordinate kitchen operations more effectively and efficiently. It will also move the Patron Services office and enlarge it to address privacy concerns; provide volunteers with space to store their personal items and to change for meal service; and double the space for the storage of personal hygiene and other basic needs supplies. This enlarged space is particularly important as it will accommodate the large number of holiday donations that TASK receives. The renovation will also include a reorganization of the patron computer lab; new, sturdy work surfaces; and proper storage for extra equipment.
The majority of the space will receive a new coating of paint and flooring. Campbell explained the importance of the latter and the impact that these changes will have on TASK employees: “Staff morale begets positive patron service and patron success.”
The expansion will provide 3,679 square feet of additional space dedicated to advancing TASK’s mission of feeding body, mind, and spirit. Campbell told The Streetlight that “the expansion will certainly impact the community very positively.”
“It will allow us to bring in more services. We will have designated spaces for these services and service providers so it will allow for more privacy and efficiency. It will also allow us to provide services during the evening and on weekends; and it will allow outside providers to run programs when the soup kitchen is closed and we are not there. This will all build on our community-centered approach to the work that we do,” Campbell explained.
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen
72 1/2 Escher Street Trenton, NJ
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.
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 email@example.com.
Jessica Middleton contributed research for this report.
By Jessica Middleton
Pastor Erik Lydick, sitting near the entrance to the Trenton Transit Center, immediately stands outin his black hoodie with the words “God’s Got This.” Lydick works at Restoring Hearts Ministries and is a very active part of the Trenton and Ewing communities.
He explained that at the Ministries, “the guys are sitting down, they are being taught the Bible,and everybody gets a breakfast sandwich”. Lydick and his fellow workers are able to talk to roughly 100-125 patrons each week in these Bible study groups. They also spend some time providing food for unsheltered individuals xperiencing homelessness roughly five times a week wherever the need is.
Lydick has a series of goals for his program aimed at making sure that those experiencing homelessness are receiving the care, guidance, and resources that they may not find through state-run organizations and initiatives.
First and foremost, his main goal is to make sure that these individuals know that someone cares about them.
“You guys have probably had some kind of interaction with homeless folks, people struggling in homelessness, so you understand that for the most part they really feel like they’re not valued. That nobody really loves them. That’s kind of one of our main goals. Our motto really is: work hard to establish trust, so that we can establish a relationship,” Lydick emphasized.
One of the newest projects that Restoring Hearts has taken on is a housing project on Ewing’s Iowana Avenue, which aims to offer safe housing to those who need it. Its functions surpass those of a typical recovery house.
More specifically, Lydick wants it to feel like home. While there is no limit to how long residents can live in the house, they must follow program guidelines during their stay. And while the house can technically house 14 individuals, it is being limited to only five.
This is in an effort to bring about that feeling of having a home, as opposed to simply some place to rest your head. Lydick proudly proclaimed the effect that this has had on those who have stayed in the house:
“In three short weeks, you start to see a change. They go from folded into themselves to initiating conversations with each other and joking around. Their personalities start to resurface.”
Lydick discussed his long term goals for Restoring Hearts over the next decade. He hopes to continue being able to maintain this feeling of family among his residents even as they create their own families and move into their own houses. He also hopes that more people come to recognize the group’s efforts and join them. He also wants create a location for Restoring Hearts within Tren- ton’s city limits, making it easier for those he serves to go here as opposed to needing transportation for the home in Ewing.
By Paul Mulholland
Many Trenton residents receive food assistance across the Calhoun Street Bridge in Morrisville, P.A. One such food program is run by the Morrisville Presbyterian Church (MPC) at 771 North Pennsylvania Avenue.
The program is open from 9:00am to 12:00pm every Wednesday, and from 7:00pm to 8:00pm on the first Tuesday of the month for working families. Clients may only come once every calendar month.
The center serves well over one hundred families every week on a first come first serve basis. Potential clients are interviewed and are expected to have photo identification, proof of residency, proof that their children live with them, and income verification. Mercer County IDs, passports and bills are accepted as proof of address for adults, while school records can be used for children. Residency documents are not necessary for individuals experiencing homelessness.
MPC is able to give donated bags of fruits, vegetables, pasta, and high quality proteins to its clients. They are often stocked with chicken, beef, tuna, peanut butter and other protein items as well. The center will give one, two or three bags of protein depending on the size of the family.
Clients should have a plan to transport these bags to their home. A parking lot is available to clients with a car. The center also has volunteers that help carry food out as most receive far too much to transport alone.
Morrisville Presbyterian also carries basic household and hygiene items such as toothpaste, pet food, and garbage bags that are available upon request.