TDI: Connecting the Capital

Article by Odalys Quito

“Trenton makes the world takes” can be seen by anyone who passes the Lower Trenton Bridge. The powerful slogan represents the historical significance of a city that was once a landmark for business and opportunity. Today, while the city is still alive with the same vivacious spirit, it is also home to high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and poverty.

For many of the individuals who experience these adversities, access to the internet, technology, and a basic understanding of how a computer works underlies many of these problems. Fortunately, programs in the capital such as the Trenton Digital Initiative are working tirelessly to provide these same individuals with an opportunity to overcome such modern challenges.

TDI receives donations that are then renovated into functional computers and laptops. Their mission is to get a computer into every home in Trenton, where over 17,000 families lack access to the Internet. As of today, TDI has provided over 580 computers and laptops to families in the community

Although TDI does not provide families with direct Internet access, they have partnered with Comcast to implement the Internet Essentials Program (IEP). Families who have a child enrolled in the federal lunch program are eligible for IEP, which provides internet access for the price of $10 per month.

According to the City of Trenton, 62 percent of K-12 public school students in the city are enrolled in the federal lunch program and a large majority of these students now have access to the internet through IEP. Families receiving housing assistance are also eligible for the program.

Dave Zboray, the program’s cofounder spoke of the importance of Internet access to many of these families and children: “Imagine for a day, let alone a year, that you don’t have access to your laptop. What does that mean? You don’t have access to education.” For children in particular, the lack of access to this important resource can hinder academic success and achievement. Zboray also discussed the lack of public technological resources in the city, citing the city’s few libraries as a limited source of access.

Zboray’s work continues to make a positive impact on the residents of Trenton. He cheerfully recounts the experiences of the residents that he has worked alongside. For example, an unemployed single father of two received a computer from TDI. The same day that he received the laptop, he started to apply for jobs on the internet.

Zboray elaborates on this experience by stating that “the father calls me and says ‘I got an interview at The Cheesecake Factory. A week later, he tells me that he got the job.”

With technology and the internet become more and more of a necessity, programs like TDI are moving the lives of many forward and working to close the gap one computer at a time.


Trenton Digital Initiative

(609) 689-9960 x16

(609) 203-9064

tdi@midjerseychamber.org


Photo by Jared Kofsky

Organizations Deliver Food to Local Homebound Residents

By Shradha Suresh

In addition to families, single parents and children, many of the elderly in our communities are faced with food insecurity. According to Feeding America, about 8% of households (2.9 million seniors who are above the age of 65) experienced food insecurity in 2015. The Mercer Street Friends Food Bank’s website states that oftentimes the elderly have to chose between food and medicine. Food insecurity has a dangerous impact at any age, but it can be particularly problematic for the health of the elderly.

There are a number of problems that contribute to the rising number of elderly faced with food insecurity and the gravity of the issue. The website of Food Insecurity and Aging Adults states that “the elderly feel that food stamps are reserved for the young and would be judged if they used them. They also lack transportation and are unable to prepare food.”

The Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly is combating the problem on two fronts, providing access to satiating, nutritional meals and an opportunity for these individuals to engage with their communities.

“This program is quite different from other programs because they stress on the importance of socialization; it is a program that is catered for the elderly to get a warm meal,” says Jenifer Williams, the program’s Executive Director.

The program is also unique in that it provides these same services to those who are homebound and immobile, as well. The program, which is both locally and federally funded, runs from Monday to Friday. The only requirement is that the client or his/her spouse must be over the age of 60.

Kamille Munger, a client of the program, said that she started visiting the program with her husband years ago. Today, the same location is where she seeks closure for her husbands and daughter’s deaths through an extensive network of friends that she first met there. In this way, the organization has helped her work through a challenging period of grief and depression.

Another organization that delivers similar resources and support to individuals who are homebound is Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. With the help of a large base of committed volunteers, the organization delivers meals to these individuals.

Patrons may receive one hot meal and one cold meal per day on Mondays through Fridays. There are also a small number of weekend meals available to weekday meal recipients. In addition to these services, the program offers nutrition education, shelfstable groceries once a month, ‘Blizzard Bags” during inclement weather, and pet food for those who need them.

Although the program only requires that patrons be over the age of 21, Sasa Montano, the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, said that the program finds that it is serving an increasing number of elderly residents who are immobile.

The program allows patrons to can choose the day, meals and length of the services that they need. A nutritionist determines all the ingredients and meals provided on a daily basis. Additionally, the program uses federal poverty guidelines to determine if patrons require a subsidy.

According to Joyce Stilwells, the Director of the Lawrence Township Meals on Wheels Program, “the delivery system is like a check with the elderly where they still have their independence and dignity but through which they can connect to people.”

Moreover, they provide these individuals with the independence and nutrition that they need. These two programs serve as an important resource to an often-overlooked population in the community.


Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly  – (609) 989-6650

Meals on Wheels of Mercer County – (609) 695-3483

East Trenton Organization Brings Housing To City Residents

By Maksymilian Popinski

On 794 E. State St in Trenton is the Martin House, the building from which Father Brian McCormick of the Catholic Diocese first established his non-profit organization, Better Community Housing Trenton (BCHT) in 1972. Fa ther Brian McCormick, known as Father Brian within the community, devoted his life to building the organization into what it is today: A non-profit that restores dilapidated and neglected homes and sells them strictly to struggling families in the region.

According to their website, the purpose of BCHT is to provide home ownership and ownership skills to those who fall below the poverty line.

The Martin House itself was designed as a clothing store, in which members who qualified for and purchased a home had to volunteer one day of service to the Trenton community.

In the store, individuals can purchase a grocery bag of clean clothes for eight dollars, and those with special conditions (behavioral issues, burn victims, physically disabled) receive this clothing at no cost. Martin House receives the majority of their inventory from donations, a portion of which is from locals moving out of the area.

Originally, the bulk of the building housed only the Martin House, but when the organization started to expand and sell homes, Father Brian McCormick decided to use the adjacent buildings (through very generous donations from the community) to add new wings to the Martin House. Likewise, the staff originally consisted only of Father Brian, a few priests who resided in the bedrooms, and a few secretaries.

Now the former bedrooms and wings are used for recreational or Martin House sponsored events. These events embody the vivacious spirit of the East Trenton community, attracting individuals from across the state including actor Martin Sheen who attended a program in 1989.

Along with the Martin House is the Martin House Learning Center operated by Ms. Sheila Conway. Conway devotes her time to hosting a number of educational, recreational and social activities including boy/girl scouts, a preschool, and afterschool programs. In conjunction with these educational initiatives, parents were invited to study for their GED alongside their children as they complete their schoolwork.

In 2011, BCHT completed a project on the 900th block of E. State Street where they built twelve new homes. This was the last project by Fr. Brian McCormick who reached the age of 70 and retired as per the regulations of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately for the Martin House, the only tie that the Diocese had to the organization was Father Brian McCormick, and without a new priest to take up the reins, Martin House no longer has access to a $120,000 stipend from the Catholic Diocese.

Unfortunately, this has taken a toll on the home rehabilitation operations. Despite not having the help of the Diocese, many of the organization’s Catholic affiliations are still very much involved with BCHT’s efforts.

The Martin House is currently headed by Pearleen Waters. Waters, the Chief Executive Director of Operations, became a homeowner as a result of the Martin House several years ago. Waters spends her time sharing the organization’s rich history and advocating for individuals’ equal opportunity to own and maintain their own home.

“With housing in general, a basic necessity in life, it is very upsetting that some people cannot even maintain a roof over their heads,” said Waters.

Despite the humanitarian merit of the organization, Waters admits operations have become difficult without the funds from the Diocese, and Martin House requires a contractor and bookkeeper in order to continue with home rehabilitations. Martin House accepts donations of all kind and encourages those who may have spare furniture or clothing to stop by and donate.


Better Community Housing Trenton

802 E. State St. Trenton, NJ 08602

Phone: (609) 989-0271

www.bchtrenton.org

Free IDs for Residents Experiencing Homelessness

Article by Jason Kantor and Rob Nason

For the past several years, of voter identification has been a major issue on both sides of the political spectrum. Many feel that photo identification should be required to vote. Similarly, a valid photo ID is crucial to anyone who is trying to get a job, or receive many supportive services. With that being said, there are many people who do not have a driver’s license, and cannot afford the necessary fee to obtain a government issued photo ID.

While voters are not required to show a photo ID to vote in New Jersey (something that residents of several other states do not have to do), there are still many everyday situations in which they do need to present a photo ID. If one cannot get a photo ID, it becomes increasingly difficult to perform basic tasks or to receive many of the services that all Americans are entitled to.

A recent New Jersey law works to correct this. The law, which starts in August, will interrupt the cyclical nature of poverty that occurs when a photo ID is required but inaccessible. The law removes the $24 fee that makes it hard for individuals experiencing homelessness or insecurity to obtain these ID cards.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji notes that the fee was very worrying for these individuals: “The administration fee is the only thing preventing many homeless people from acquiring identification, when shelters and social services organizations are willing to help these citizens.”

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora also spoke of the importance of the new law in a statement posted in January on the website of the New Jersey Assembly Democrats: “Waiving this fee will make it easier for a homeless person to get the identification they need to get a new start. It is a simple but effective idea,” Gusciora said.

The process for obtaining these IDs remains the same. Not including the fee, the steps to obtain one includes providing proof of identity and address, filling out an application either in person or by mail, and having a photo taken. Recipients must visit their local Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) agency to get the identification card printed. Individuals fourteen years of age and older can apply for a non-driver identification card.

The MVC has Mercer County locations at Bakers Basin at 3200 Brunswick Pike/Route 1 in Lawrenceville and in Downtown Trenton at 120 South Stockton Street.


Photo by Jared Kofsky

City Agency Keeps Trenton Residents Healthy

By Maksymilian Popinski

For many, the past few months have been about scrambling to get the flu shot and scheduling checkups before the fall weather goes from brisk to frosty. For individuals experiencing homelessness in Trenton and elsewhere in the state, the reality is very different.

Compared to 2015, the homeless population in New Jersey has declined by over 12 percent, but this is not the case in Trenton. Currently, the number of individuals seeking assistance as a result of  homelessness. “People come on the River Line from other areas because we have the Rescue Mission and we have the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen,” Director James A. Brownlee of the Department of Health and Human Services for the City of Trenton said.

A number of these individuals are experiencing substance abuse problems or other mental health issues. And Trenton is having an increasingly difficult time accommodating the influx. The Trenton Department of Health and Human Services is a member of the Trenton Health Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that includes Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, and the Henry J. Austin Health Center (their only federally qualified health center). The four entities collaborate to provide medical services for individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the county.

Together, these entities locate and provide medical evaluations of incoming homeless patrons, and continue to track them throughout the year. They also coordinate an outreach program that seeks out at-risk individuals who are on the brink of experiencing homelessness, have deteriorating medical conditions, or are at the mercy of inclement weather.

The Department of Health and Human Services works alongside the different groups to monitor communicable diseases (such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis) within the city’s homeless population, as well. It also works to contain infection and helps individuals procure antiretroviral drugs, antibiotics, or other medicines they may need, as well. Its initiatives also address a wide slew of chronic conditions, including cardiac disease, diabetes, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Those who have these serious medical conditions are put in touch with Henry J. Austin Health Center. As a federally qualified health care clinic, Henry J. Austin is partially funded by the federal government to provide primary, as well as preventative health care, to individuals experiencing homelessness. These services include oral health, psychological/behavioral health, and specialized geriatric care for the increasing number of elderly persons experiencing homelessness.

The Department of Health and Human Services also collaborates with Anchor House, a non-profit that locates and supports juveniles experiencing homelessness who may also be facing dangers like abuse/neglect, pregnancy, and susceptibility to illicit substances. Anchor House coordinates with the Trenton Health Team to provide medical services to the adolescents that the organization works with.

As the cold winter weather approaches, the Department of Health and Human Services works around the clock in partnerships across Mercer County to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness are receiving the medical supports they need to be healthy.