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.
When it comes to homelessness in the United States, it has long been debated whether the crisis should be addressed by government agencies or societal groups.
In the Trenton area, both categories have long played a crucial role in homelessness prevention, though non-profit organizations and religious institutions continue to operate nearly every food pantry, soup kitchen, and shelter. Although assistance is provided to these groups through county, state, and federal dollars, often for specific contracted services, a look at our Mercer County Resource Guide will reveal that many of the region’s vital resources for individuals and families experiencing homelessness are not run by government agencies themselves.
For instance, while the City of Trenton does operate the CEAS Center in order to assist people experiencing homelessness, the capital region’s only emergency shelter for single adults is operated by the non-profit Rescue Mission of Trenton with the assistance of government funding for services such as shelter stays and case management. Across town, several facilities for young adults experiencing homelessness are all operated by the non-profit Anchor House, Inc. Other major Mercer County organizations like Rise and HomeFront are non-profit groups as well.
Societal organizations playing such a key role in homelessness prevention is common throughout the state and the country. This makes the recent moves by the municipal government in the Garden State’s largest city quite unique and raises questions about whether other New Jersey cities could follow suit. Last December, officials cut the ribbon on the Homeless Emergency Living Partnership (HELP) Center in Newark, a temporary government-run shelter.
“As long as they’re in our community, we’re going to service them,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told The Streetlight, referring to people experiencing homelessness.
The facility, which was operated with the assistance of Emergency Housing Services, Inc., took over a former halfway house. While the building was not in pristine condition when it opened, it allowed people to have a place to sleep during the coldest months of the year. However, the shelter closed its doors in September, forcing its 194 residents to end up back on the streets, according to NJ Advance Media. Then, in November, Newark officials announced that seven year- round shelters for people experiencing homelessness throughout the city would open, receiving funding from both City Hall and local organizations.
Now, Newark is looking to address the homelessness crisis within city limits by creating a homelessness commission. The board will be made up of between 15 and 30 members, at least one of which must have experienced homelessness. City records obtained by The Streetlight show that all members will be tasked with providing “a framework and strategy” for bringing an end to homelessness in Newark. Specifically, the group will not only lead the Point-in-Time Count for the city, but they will recommend services, evaluate funding opportunities, coordinate resources, and conduct advocacy efforts.
Locally, the Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care Program operates the Point-in-Time Count and connects government, non-profit, and religious partners, though the capital region does not have a homelessness commission run directly by a municipality.
Cities in particular continue to battle the homelessness crisis more than other regions. Essex County, one of New Jersey’s densest, is believed to be home of 24 percent of New Jersey’s population experiencing homelessness, according to the 2018 Point-in-Time Count results. In New Jersey, non-profit resources and major public spaces such as train terminals tend to be concentrated in cities.
“You’re not going to get help standing on a corner in Millburn,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told The Streetlight, referring to one of his city’s wealthiest suburban enclaves. “You might go to jail.”
It remains to be seen what Newark’s new commission will recommend and if other New Jersey municipalities like Trenton will open up shelters of their own. Former Governor Chris Christie told The Streetlight that he would have supported such a move on the municipal level during his administration, though NJ Spotlight has reported that current Governor Phil Murphy’s new economic plan calls for having the state government partner with hospitals to construct housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. The future of government’s role in homelessness in the Garden State still remains unclear.
Homelessness appears to be on the rise again in the Garden State. The federally mandated Point-in-Time Count, held on January 23 and 24, 2018, found that the number of people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey has increased by nine percent since 2017, according to the NJCounts report released by Monarch Housing Associates.
The Streetlight participated in the 2018 Mercer County Point-in-Time Count. Volunteers from organizations like Oaks Integrated Care and the Rescue Mission of Trenton traveled throughout the capital city and surrounding suburbs in order to count the number of people believed to be experiencing homelessness and find out how they ended up without permanent housing. Places visited ranged from the Delaware and Raritan Canal to employment agencies to public libraries.
The 2018 Point-in-Time Count shows that there are at least 479 people experiencing homelessness in Mercer County. One of the top causes of homelessness locally was found to be the transition from incarceration to reintegration into society.
The City of Trenton, where the volunteers were based, was found to be home to 75 percent of the county’s population experiencing homelessness, with 21 percent living in Ewing Township. 63 people were unsheltered at the time while 46 percent of those surveyed were classified as “chronically homeless.” 54 people surveyed who were experiencing homelessness were domestic violence victims, and an additional 18 people surveyed were veterans. Slightly more than one tenth of the people surveyed had been experiencing homelessness for more than three years.
Contando la Población sin Hogar
Traducido por Annette Espinoza
La falta de hogar se parece esta aumentando nuevamente en New Jersey. Según el informe de NJCounts publicado por Monarch Housing Associates realizado el 23 de enero y el 24 de enero de 2018, el número de personas que viven sin hogar en New Jersey ha aumentado a un nueve por ciento desde 2017.
The Streetlight participó en el 2018 Mercer County Point-in-Time Count. Voluntarios de organizaciones como Oaks Integrated Care y Rescue Mission of Trenton viajaron por toda la capital y los suburbios para contar el número de personas que se creer viven sin hogar y descubrir cómo terminaron sin vivienda permanente. Los lugares visitados van desde Delaware y Raritan Canal hasta agencias de empleo y bibliotecas públicas.
El PIT Count de 2018 muestra que hay al menos 479 personas sin hogar en el condado de Mercer. Una de las principales causas de la falta de vivienda al nivel local fue la transición del encarcelamiento a la reintegración en la sociedad.
Se descubrió que la ciudad de Trenton, donde se basaban los voluntarios, era el hogar de 75 por ciento de la población del condado sin hogar, con un 21 por ciento viviendo en el municipio de Ewing. En ese momento, 63 personas no estaban cubiertas, mientras que el 46 por ciento de los encuestados se clasificaron como “personas sin hogar crónicas”. 54 personas encuestadas que se encontraban sin hogar eran víctimas de violencia doméstica, y otras 18 personas encuestadas eran veteranos. Un poco más de una décima parte de las personas encuestadas habían estado sin hogar durante más de tres años.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Middleton contributed research for this report.
Shining a light on homelessness in and around Trenton, New Jersey.