“You wouldn’t call somebody ‘lung cancer,’ so why label people as ‘homeless’? It’s an impermanent condition, and should be regarded as such.”
― Tarry Truitt
By Tiffany Teng
Project Homeless Connect is a one-stop event for those experiencing homelessness, providing access to housing and legal services, medical care, clothing, haircuts, and food. Approximately 300 people attended the event, and were surveyed.
Downstairs in the Samaritan Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, patrons received services and free items. Trial sizes of Mary Kay lip balm, Palmolive hand soap, and other toiletries populated the tables while massages tables, blankets and heavy winter coats lined the perimeter of the basement. Blue tablecloths indicated housing services, red for health and green for social services. Crisis Ministries, Catholic Charities, Henry J. Austin Health Center, St. Francis Medical Center, Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, The Rescue Mission and Social Security were among the services represented.
As a volunteer surveyor, I had the rare opportunity to interview the patrons and ask questions such as, “Where will you be spending tomorrow night?” and “What happened to land you in this situation?”
A few specific cases stood out. At over 80 years old, one Vietnamese woman was pushing a metal cart doubling as a walker with a couple boxes of cardboard—in her frustration, she ripped off a piece to scribble down her name “Nguyho” as I tried helplessly to speak to her in English and Chinese, neither of which she understood. A 26-year old woman with three children was bitter about Hurricane Sandy because she was still displaced after Hurricane Irene. General assistance welfare, food stamps and Medicaid were not enough to sustain her family—she needed permanent housing and employment. Another man said he had been homeless for all of his 60 years.
Others I surveyed ranged from ages 30 to 60. Some suffered drug abuse problems, high blood pressure, mental issues, and poor physical health. Some were not actually homeless or jobless, just in need of more social services to support their families.
All of them had two things in common: compelling stories and dwindling strength. This is what they are telling us, this is what is true. Without basic human needs, these people are desperate for aid and are lucky to have access to programs such as Project Homeless Connect.
Homelessness knows no boundaries. Some are fighting to survive while others are transplanted from friends to families to shelters. It hardens them and it erases identity. One learns to discard embarrassment for a chance to become better.
During my time as Editor-in-Chief of the Wall, I finally understood the gravity of the homelessness issue in Mercer County. And this is just one sliver of the silent voices that continue to struggle for survival.
Annual Point-in-Time Count
The Point-In-Time Count, mandated by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), sent teams out starting Wednesday, January 30 at 5 P.M. for exactly 24 hours.
During the overnight time the Rescue Mission of Trenton sent teams out looking for street homeless individuals.
Starting at 6:00 A.M., there were teams at Turning Point United Methodist Church, Salvation Army Drop-In Center, and street teams across the county, in which 110 surveys were completed. In addition, each agency completed surveys for anyone in shelters or in transitional housing.
The annual results are posted on merceralliance.org and are provided to HUD as part of reports and requests for funding.
During the year additional information is collected by the shelters and agencies in the Homeless Information System which is reported to the Continuum of Care for planning purposes.