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.
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.”
For the last several months, New Jersey’s capital has been under new leadership. W. Reed Gusciora, a former state assemblyman and adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey, was sworn into office as Trenton’s 56th mayor in July. With the 2018 Point-in-Time Count finding that overall homelessness has increased in New Jersey, The Streetlight wanted to know how Gusciora is planning to address the issue on the local level. Here is a preview of Managing Editor Jared Kofsky’s Q+A with the mayor, which was conducted in late November.
The Streetlight: Why do you think Trenton has such a significant population of people experiencing homelessness? What do you think the cause [of homelessness] might be on the local level?
Gusciora: On the local level, a lot of it is mental health and addiction services are needed. The other thing is that we’re such a transient town. We have four train lines, people can walk across the bridge from Morrisville, and because it’s the capital, they feel that they can get the most assistance here. We have a lot of churches that offer food assistance [and] we have the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, so there are a lot of outlets that the homeless population can take advantage of.
The Streetlight: The Rescue Mission is the only general population emergency shelter in Mercer County. With Newark adding seven shelters, are there plans to open a city-run shelter in Trenton?
Gusciora: We can look at that but we’re focusing on transitioning to more permanent housing. I don’t think just offering more temporary shelters is necessarily the answer.
The Streetlight: What projects are you envisioning as part of an increase in transitional housing?
Gusciora: The Rescue Mission has a good model where they have rooms for temporary shelter but then they have a long-term temporary shelter where [people experiencing homelessness] have actual rooms assigned to them and they actually have apartments that they can stabilize long term until [clients experiencing homelessness] are able to get off on their feet. The Rescue Mission is not strictly temporary overnight housing and that’s something that we have to look for rather than just offering temporary shelters. The other thing is that we are the state capital so we need the state and the county to be very much a partner because if you look at the other communities that surround us, they offer very few homelessness services and they really need to step up to the plate so that everyone doesn’t just get funneled into the capital city.
The Streetlight: If you could have it your way as mayor, what would that look like to have other communities step up to the plate?
Gusciora: I think that they should have an obligation to offer some kind of temporary housing and bring the services to them directly, whether it be mental health or addiction services, rather than just give somebody bus fare to the capital city. I don’t think that really is responsive.
The Streetlight: Is there any plan specifically for increasing services addressing youth homelessness such as or in addition to Anchor House?
Gusciora: Well there’s other organizations such as LifeTies. A big consequence of homelessness are LGBT youth that seem to be tossed out of their family’s structure and as society gets more tolerant, that will be less of a problem but nonetheless, it’s critical to offer those services as well but there are other organizations that are willing to step up to the plate such as LifeTies.
The Streetlight: Do you think then that homelessness should be addressed by non-profits or should the city government play more of a role?
Gusciora: Well the problem is that the City doesn’t have the resources to handle the problem itself so it does have to rely on faith-based initiatives as well as general non-profits. If the State of New Jersey paid dollar-for-dollar in their property taxes because of all the tax-exempt properties that they occupy, they would give the City $45 million, but yet last year, we got $9 million in transitional aid, so we can’t keep going back to our own tax base to pay for such programs so we really need for the state and the county and even the feds to step up to the plate.
Selected questions and answers have been slightly condensed for spacing purposes.
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.
An air of excitement looms over the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK). The many noises that accompany construction provide a backdrop to the daily business of the soup kitchen and oftentimes interrupts tutoring and meal service. The 3,400 square foot expansion was expected to be completed by the beginning of the winter.
There are some disappointments, as some eager staff harp lightly about their parking spaces being displaced. Overall, however, patrons and employees alike are excited for these new changes, just in time for the festivity of the holiday season.
“I am very excited,” said Phyllis Blassingame, a longtime patron of the soup kitchen. She participates in the adult GED program and also volunteers, helping with meal service. “I am looking forward to having a classroom where we can learn.”
Dennis, another patron who is friends with Blassingame, expressed a similar sentiment. “I am just looking forward to having more space,” he told The Streetlight.
However, the path to expansion wasn’t necessarily easy.
“We thought we were going to renovate before we expanded,” said Melissa Rivera, TASK’s Manager of Internal Operations.
Now, renovations will take place after expansion. According to Rivera, most of the operations will be transferred into the new building while renovations will be taking place in the original building.
The expansion will help improve many of the programs that the soup kitchen already offers. Classrooms will be added, along with a computer lab and a testing center, all of which are expected to greatly improve the adult education program, though no new programs are currently slated to be added, according to Rivera.
Reed Gusciora, Trenton’s new mayor, toured the construction site in November.
“They’ll have the capacity to serve more of the homeless population in the near future,” Gusciora told The Streetlight.
The expansion comes at a time when the latest Point-In-Time Count of people experiencing homelessness in New Jersey concluded that homelessness increased between 2017 and 2018.
TASK has been at its Escher Street location since 1991. Since then, it has served over a million meals, whilst simultaneously offering programs that are designed to improve the quality of life of its patrons.
“I’m optimistic that the expansion will increase our capacity to serve the community,” Rivera said.
A grand opening celebration has been scheduled for May 3, 2019.
Designed with the purpose of assisting all students across the state, especially those who have grown up in and aged out of the foster care system, Beyond Expectations is a New Jersey community multimedia organization for these students. The group’s goal is to teach students marketable skills in film, media, and science–through hands-on film projects–which will enable them to use such skills to obtain a career.
For youth aging out of the foster care system, the possibility of continuing onto a secondary education or finding a profitable career is slim. Children in the foster care system do not always have a stable education or living environment. In fact, “40-63% [of youth in foster care] did not finish high school,” according to Children’s Rights.
This lack of a steady education can hinder the ability of youth to obtain a steady job and income. It is believed that between 25-55% of youth that have aged out of foster care are unemployed, according to Children’s Rights, and those who have found employment have average earnings below the poverty level. Due to circumstances beyond their control, at-risk adolescents in and aging out of foster care are set on a path for disadvantagement.
Leontyne Anglin, the executive director of Beyond Expectations, started as a parent volunteer at the birth of the organization. Seeing the lack of college preparation resources at her teenage daughter’s school events, in 1999, she gathered a group of parents and set out to make opportunities for middle and high school students.
“50 people showing up to the event would make it a big deal. 200 people showed,” Anglin reminisces. As the organization continued, Anglin began to realize that teaching students skills to properly market themselves in professional and secondary education settings would best benefit them.
“One of my favorite aspects of the program is the amount of engagement with the students. The skills they’re taught are hands-on. The staff lets the students make all of the decisions in their projects and fully produce them,” Anglin told The Streetlight.
While Beyond Expectations in open to all students in Burlington and Mercer Counties, foster students are able to find a support system within the organization.
“Foster students are an invisible group,” Anglin explained.
One of the first projects produced by Beyond Expectations, 18 and Out, highlights the stories of youth aging out of foster care. Anglin cites this film as one that has resonated with her for years, even convincing her to take a media approach for students in Beyond Expectations. Even ten years after the short film was made, Anglin references it when providing examples for newer films.
Beyond Expectations is working to reach students all over the Garden State. The organization currently has two office locations–one in Bordentown and one in Trenton. The program works to support students emotionally, socially, and educationally. Beyond Expectations has five key areas for students to explore; media production, service leadership, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and sports media. These areas allow students to diversify their options and find their key area of expertise. Students are encouraged and guided to create their own film projects, edit, and screen at film festivals.
The success of this media-oriented program can been seen in its results, according to Beyond Expectations, with students from the program being accepted to over two dozen colleges and universities. The organization’s Young Professionals Leadership Initiative helps to build resumes for students, teaching them about job opportunities and ways to market themselves for careers.
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.
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
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
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.