Since it first opened its doors in 1915, the Rescue Mission of Trenton has been offering support services to men, women, and families in the Mercer County area who are in need of shelter, food, and clothing; happily embracing the “homeless, the hungry, the transient and the addicted” of Trenton and surrounding towns. In addition to its emergency services, the Mission offers an adult education program, and outpatient and residential services, among many others.
Back in October, the Mission held a “clean out” sale in preparation for its 100th anniversary. More events are projected to be held throughout the year, including a celebration in mid-April. According to the Mission’s website, the theme of the celebration will be “Rebuilding Lives — Making Miracles Happen.”
The Mission and all those involved with its many projects continue to be an integral part of the Trenton community. After 100 years of dedication to reshaping a struggling city, we wish them nothing short of 100 more!
For the last 12 years, HomeFront has provided short-term emergency housing for over 1,800 families at their Family Preservation Center. This summer, HomeFront will be taking its efforts to new heights.
The new HomeFront Family Campus will be housed on an 8.5-acre decommissioned Naval base in Ewing, NJ. Featuring a 42,000-square-foot building with 38 dorm suites along with two ancillary buildings, the venue will serve as a one-stop social service center for its visitors. The space will allow HomeFront to expand the reach of its current programs such as ArtSpace and WorkFirst as well as create new opportunities for its clients such as: 24-hour childcare, a beauty parlor, teaching kitchen, outdoor gardens, and satellite offices for Womanspace, Family Guidance and a Wellness Clinic. By establishing this spectrum of support services, HomeFront is seeking to help families overcome the obstacles that often times prevent them for achieving self-sufficiency.
The history of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can be traced back to 1933 when the Agricultural Adjustment Act was signed, which gave support to farmers who fell on hard times during the Great Depression.
Over the decades, laws and regulations evolved, eventually leading to the creation of SNAP to help combat the Recession of 2008.
Today, SNAP is the largest food assistance program in the nation, assisting 14 percent of the country that are in need of food and better nutrition.
According to Rucha Gadre, the Director Mercer Street Friends’ Food Bank, their SNAP facility alone helps 10 to 15 households per month in Mercer County.
The government ensures the stamps are not used for foods that do not promote good health or considered luxury goods.
In order to get into SNAP there are certain requirements that need to be met. Gross income, family size, assets such as vehicles, housing and legal status, are looked at when someone applies.
Even though SNAP was made to help people who are in need of assistance the program has been criticized. There have been many cases of fraud and exploitation of the act. People sell the food stamps and in many cases that money is used on illegal or destructive substances.
The SNAP program is not perfect as there are multiple regulations and requirements that can be very detrimental to those in need. For example, according to the Congressional Research Service July 2014 report, the SNAP-eligible gross monthly income is $1,245 or less per person. For a household of four, the SNAP-eligible gross monthly income is $2,552.
While these numbers seem very reasonable, the gross monthly income is the amount before any deductions are taken out such as taxes.
Say a single person working a very low paying job earns $1,300 of gross income monthly. Once taxes, social security and other deductibles are taken out, the actual dollar amount that the person is left with is only going to be around $1,000.
Think about trying to be an adult and feed yourself and provide yourself with basic needs and all you have is $1,000 per month. Not the easiest thing to do.
However, in certain permitting areas, some eligible candidates (elderly, homeless or disabled patrons) can actually go to a restaurant and get a free or discounted meal. This can be very valuable for people who are not always capable of cooking their own meal. Gadre detailed another flaw in the program that just appeared recently.
“What happened after October 2014 is that the utilities allowance was taken away from a lot of families,” said Gadre. “So the utility bill was not necessarily in their names. When you have an added expense which is not being accounted for and are getting less benefits, it is becoming harder for families to get by from paycheck to paycheck.”
Gadre agrees that the citizens are not completely satisfied with what SNAP has to offer.
Many people across the country rely on SNAP every single day. The program has evolved and continues to adapt to new regulations and social aspects. However, there are some things the program can do to improve and push the program to even greater heights.
Imagine it is the middle of winter, it is 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside on this particular day, and including the windchill, it feels like -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people hibernate in their homes with the heat on full blast, wrapped in a blanket sipping hot chocolate in the warmth. Now imagine a delicious, extravagant home-cooked meal. There is juicy steak, savory mashed potatoes, salad and a colorful assortment of steamed vegetables. But you can only have one: heating or food. Imagine choosing between having heat in your home and having food. Which would you choose?
According to the N.J. Federation of Food Banks hunger survey “49% of emergency food clients in N.J. report having to make the decision between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel.”
Making the decision between paying for food and paying for utilities is not the only struggle people face. The difficult decisions people are also forced to make include paying for food or paying their rent or mortgage, as well as deciding between food or medical care.
Putting food on the table should not mean sacrificing other necessities. People use the money provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for other reasons besides purchasing food. Granted that there may be some loopholes within SNAP, the program has positive aspects that work toward the overall goal of ending hunger.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally paid program that provides food purchasing aid for low to no income individuals and families living in the United States. This program is one of the largest in domestic hunger safety. So large, that about 48 million people utilize the program.
The program aims to help eligible people in assisting them to make nutritional and informed decisions about food. SNAP recognizes that New Jersey is one of the largest populations of SNAP recipients in the country, with numbers nearly doubling nationwide in times before a recession.
According to the website, www. povertyprogram.com, half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits before age 20, proving how much of an impact this program has on people.
On the other hand, as stated previously, many people do not have the means to provide both food and heat in their homes for their families. According to the 2012 USDA Analysis of FNS’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Fraud Prevention and Detection Efforts, many recipients take advantage of the SNAP program by trading their benefits for cash or such things that are banned by SNAP, like cigarettes and liquor.
Moreover, such fraudulent accounts may occur due to the fact that SNAP denies recipients hot foods. Go back to that cold winter night; a hot bowl of soup or a warm meal would certainly make a huge difference in someone’s life. Because there are no hot meals being served, it is arguable that the food SNAP does offer does not meet optimal nutritional standards.
In addition, SNAP has recently been under scrutiny for changing their requirements for eligibility. This change is so drastic that about a third of families will be affected, and no longer qualify for their food purchasing assistance services.
According to Hank Kalet, a writer for N.J. Spotlight, “The change in eligibility … is the result of the cancellation of a utility allowance for about 159,000 New Jersey Families.” That is a huge number of families that are left without a way to put food on the table.
No child should wonder when their next meal will be and no parent should have to worry when they will be able to put food on the table for their loved ones. Being forced to make the decision between paying for warmth in one’s own home and food should no longer be a reality.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is aimed at helping people not only get food, but also to have access to quality information about food. Despite recent complications with eligibility, SNAP is making progress to end hunger across the nation.
The experience with homelessness I remember most clearly was when my family lived in the Trails End Motel when I was eight and a half, almost nine, years old.
Imagine: You are in the middle of nowhere, on the side of the highway. A few minutes up was a diner. Nothing in the way of grocery stores or laundromats. New Jersey Transit didn’t serve this area of New Jersey we were in, so getting into Trenton, where we were from, was difficult. The only way we could get to Trenton was by taking a cab, and that was pricey: $60 for four people.
When we were homeless, people were kind, which made the experience less painful.
My room mother from my elementary school came to the motel my family was staying in and gave us toys. Things had gone wrong with the money my mom had saved up that Christmas. It was our first Christmas in a place not quite a home, and we weren’t expecting to have anything. This mother and her daughter, who was one of my friends, came at night and bought us all these toys. I will never forget that. I think that’s the kindest thing anyone has ever done for my family.
My school nurse gave us gift certificates, which we used at the diner up the street.
We ate at that diner every time we got a certificate and we would order breakfast: pancakes mostly, but anything was a break from the canned goods we ate daily. The diner was small, but everyone there was really nice.
While homelessness is clearly nothing that should be celebrated, I remember my mom had made the experience a little less hard on my siblings and me.
We couldn’t do much because we were in the middle of nowhere. But the memories I do have are of my mom working hard at being a cleaning lady, of visiting one woman who also lived in the motel, of playing with the occasional child who lived there, the people on the outside who would help us.
I was never abused or neglected, and living in a motel is not something I am eager to experience again, but I remember my mom who was always trying to make it a little better for us.
Getting our own apartment after that was like stepping into an air-conditioned room in the middle of August.
We could have meals like meatloaf or meatballs. We could have ice cream. We could have cereal and soda and whatever else we wanted because we finally had a refrigerator. We had our own beds. We had cable — lots of channels, most I’d never heard of. Soap Network? HBO Family? An East and a West channel, meaning I could watch the same show twice?
All of this was so strange, so surreal. But I loved it. Finally, a bed to myself! More space! What could be better than that?
Written with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Trenton, New Jersey area.