For eight years, The Wall has been published by Bonner Community Scholars at The College of New Jersey with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in Trenton and surrounding communities in Mercer County, New Jersey. Since our first issue was released in 2010, we have been providing our readers with a guide to local resources, news about local organizations, information about laws impacting residents experiencing homelessness, op-ed pieces, human interest stories, artwork, poetry, and more.
However, the latest edition of The Wall that can now be found throughout Mercer County and eastern Bucks County is also the last edition of The Wall. Fortunately, although the name that this publication has used since the first issues were distributed nearly a decade ago is coming to an end, the content that you have come to expect from us is not going away. In fact, there will soon be even more of it.
The team behind The Wall is excited to announce that we are officially changing our name to The Streetlight. The changing of our name, which was approved by our Editorial Board in November 2017, will also come with a new website, a new email address, a new logo, a new resource guide, community events, and more! Stay tuned for the Summer 2018 edition of The Streetlight and for additional announcements coming your way.
As always, we welcome your involvement in what is now The Streetlight. To learn more about joining our publication, click here.
Editor’s Note: This is the first part on an exclusive two-part series about Morgan Wilson’s surprise reunion with his son. Part 2 will feature the story of what has occurred in the time since this story was written. It will appear in our Summer 2018 edition, which will be known as The Streetlight.
Between his first and second days working at the Rescue Mission of Trenton as part of his new job at the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen patron and lifelong Mercer County resident Morgan Wilson crossed paths with an individual that shared a unique connection to him.
Wilson remembers the echo of this young man’s name that drew him out to the lobby that day in September 2015. There, in the entrance where many young men like him walk in and out for the services at the Rescue Mission, was someone named Morgan too.
“I’m sitting down and I’m looking at him like a baby,” Wilson recollected in an exclusive interview with The Wall.
“I said ‘your name’s Morgan? My name’s Morgan too,” before stepping outside to continue conversing with the other man.
As he soon realized, that day, after searching for him for over two decades, the young man who Morgan had run into was none other than Morgan West Jackson, his long lost first son.
As Jackson spoke about how he was adopted at a young age, and never knew his father, Wilson became increasingly confident.
“I listened to his story that day and I realized that this was my son,” he explained.
Twenty-four years filled with trepidation and loss had separated Wilson from Jackson.
“I didn’t want to be absent, I didn’t want to be like my father,” Wilson told The Wall.
However, in the early 1990s, Wilson’s struggles with drug use and subsequent periods of incarceration ended up dividing him from his child, but he always knew that Jackson was out there somewhere. As Wilson moved into transitional housing, a need grew within him to reclaim his family and reunite with his missing child.
In his mind, Wilson was haunted by an image of his deathbed and his wondering of who would carry his casket. Who would attend his funeral? And what would be said about him? This rang a need to leave a legacy; a legacy of positivity and hope, and a legacy for his sons to carry on.
Now, Wilson, who has a four-year-old son as well, describes himself as a man with so much more at stake and so much more to live for. He is proud of his story and his efforts to be a better, more positive person for the people that depend on him.
Wilson and Jackson were inseparable after their encounter. Although the feeling of being called ‘dad’ by a 24-year-old man was surprising to Wilson, it introduced him to a love like no other—a love that stemmed from an understanding and forgiveness from Jackson.
“He is a good kid,” Wilson remarked, “better than me when I was his age.”
The more that Wilson spoke with his son, the more he learned about the son’s life over the previous 24 years. Jackson had been adopted by a suburban Philadelphia family as a young child. He later lived in both New York and New Jersey, before recently returning to the Keystone State, settling in Scranton and finding a new job as a hotel dishwasher.
“Working hard is in the bloodline,” according to Wilson, “I am so proud of him for never giving up.”
Although Scranton lacks direct public transportation to Trenton, and visits between Wilson and Jackson are rare, both speak frequently, especially since Jackson’s adoptive mother, Frances, passed away in 2014.
“He is very protective of me, said Wilson. “I am the only person he has left.”
Wilson describes how his son “got me in the loop” by signing him up Facebook, and speaks fondly of Jackson coming to the capital city recently to sleep over, share drinks and stories, and discover additional commonalities between the two of them. As it turned out, both Wilson and Jackson had overcome a variety of obstacles in their lives, developed an interest in boxing, and shared a sense of ambition to be better men.
“When he heard about all of the things I had overcome, he said ‘Dad, you’re the greatest’,” Wilson recalled.
Although in the two years since their first reunion, Wilson continues to miss Jackson, he is not the only one. Wilson’s four-year old son asks for his brother consistently, as do his sisters, his cousins, and his grandmother, who were equally excited about regaining a family member when Wilson shared the news with them back in 2015. His two sons, despite being from different marriages and having a 22 year age gap between them, play together and are mentors to each other. He hopes that his sons will continue to strive for positive and healthy relationships, and that they will remain family oriented and protective of one another.
Wilson’s case manager at Oaks Integrated Care since 2014, Rose Bernard, remembers the text message she received from Wilson that fall day two years ago. He wrote that something “unbelievable” had occurred to him and that she had to meet with him immediately. They met outside of Trenton City Hall that day and Wilson explained the heartwarming news.
“I’m supposed to help him, but I think he’s helped me more,” said Bernard, describing Wilson’s story as one of inspiration. “
Although you go through some hellish situations sometimes, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” says Wilson. “You’ve just gotta’ keep pushing.”
So what does the future hold for Wilson and all of his relatives? After putting himself together again “like a puzzle,” Wilson is enjoying the joys of life with his sons and his entire family by his side. In fact, Wilson is ready to grow the family and hopes to be a grandfather. For now, though, Wilson looks forward each year to March when both of his sons celebrate their birthdays and Jackson comes back to his birthplace, Trenton.
“The bond that we have is incredible,” said Wilson. “I just wish he wasn’t so far away.”
While a number of innovative organizations and programs are working to provide food services to individuals experiencing homelessness and food insecurity, one newly implemented effort stands out: The Salvation Army’s Mobile Canteen.
The initiative first began in October 2015 through the combined efforts of the then Corps Officers of the Trenton Citadel Corps, Captains Moises and Jackie Rivera as well as Salvation Army employees, Shanique Taliaferro and David Simmons and two dedicated volunteer chefs, Chris and Nico Cappuccino.
Today, the initiative is comprised of a service unit truck that travels around Trenton on Friday nights to deliver a warm meal to residents. The canteen serves hot, nutritious meals and gives access to information regarding social services/programs offered by the Corps on a consistent, weekly basis. When available, it also provides residents with personal items such as grooming kits, books, and socks and Poetry hats in the winter. It serves approximately 150 Trenton residents every Friday.
Over the past several months, the service has become a vital resource for individuals experiencing food and home insecurity in Trenton. The initiative was first started in response to a need in the Mercer and Trenton communities: the most prominent soup kitchen in Trenton is closed on Friday nights, leaving a number of city residents without access to their final meal of the day.
The Mobile Canteen works to meet this need, “It is a great way to supplement the efforts of the other hardworking non-profit organizations in the area. It is also a great way to do community outreach, identify needs, and to try to implement a plan to help an individual or family,” said Danielle Focarile, the Special Events and Communication Manager of The Salvation Army of Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset Counties (West Central Region).
The Wall recently accompanied the Mobile Canteen as it traveled through the capital city on a frigid Friday evening. Every time the vehicle, covered with The Salvation Army’s logo, pulled up to one of its four stops, crowds of Trentonians, including children and senior citizens, approached, hoping for a warm meal.
At each of the locations, which included Walnut Avenue, Carroll Street, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, and the corner of Oakland Street and Hoffman Avenue, a variety of items were distributed, from cheeseburgers to copies of The Wall.
After each stop, the group linked arams with community members who stopped by, said a prayer together, and moved on to the next neighborhood.
In a short period of time, the project has made a significant impact in the Trenton community. For those working the canteen, they are not only serving food, they are also engaging and building relationships with neighbors and community members.
“The initiative has impacted the Trenton community by showing them we care. We are accomplishing our mission of ‘doing the most good’ in these neighborhoods. A child running up to our canteen each week happy, excited knowing that they are going to have a good meal that night makes the initiative impactful to us and those we serve.” said Taliaferro.
After many months of successfully serving Trenton residents, the team is looking to expand its impact in the community.
“Our current goals are to identify those who are in need and to try to help them the best we can. While providing a nice meal once a week is a good start, it is our long-term goal to provide the tools and opportunities for those who are reliant on us to become independent and contributing members of society,” said current Corps Officer Major Elijah Kahn.
To learn more about the Mobile Canteen and volunteering for The Salvation Army, contact Shanique Taliaferro: shanique.taliaferro@ usa.salvationarmy.org (609) 599-9373 x114
For the last several years, the historic house at 300 South Clinton Avenue at the edge of Trenton’s Chambersburg neighborhood has been an eyesore in the community.
The three-story property has stood on the corner of Tyler Street in the North Ward for well over a century, according to NJ Parcels data; but those who walk by the building today will often see the first floor windows boarded up and covered with weeds and garbage scattered across the front sidewalk. Even the front door is no longer visible.
This house was once occupied by Dr. Arthur M. Barrows, according to an early 20th century medical directory, a 1920 Trenton City Directory, as well as local students and professors. It was later home to the Lifeline Emergency Center, but the home has continued to sit vacant over the years. However, The Wall has learned that the days of 300 South Clinton Avenue remaining in its current state are numbered.
In September 2016, with assistance from Mercer County, the City of Trenton sold this property for $1 to the 112-year-old Rescue Mission of Trenton in an effort to increase housing for individuals experiencing homelessness in the capital region. Now, the Rescue Mission’s plans for this five-bedroom 4.5 bathroom house have been revealed.
According to Barrett Young, the Rescue Mission’s Chief Operating Officer, the house is slated to be rehabilitated and converted into a shared living space once again with one bedroom for each of the five residents. The one-bedroom units will be reserved for women who are currently experiencing homelessness in Mercer County.
“There is a great need for permanent supportive housing in the Mercer area,” Young stated, adding that he thinks that this project “will provide a sense of hope and permanency for the women who will be living there.”
Bids for general contractors for the project were accepted in September, according to a legal notice, and Young told The Wall that construction was expected to begin in November or December. The rehabilitation process is expected to last between eight and nine months.
The house is located in a very walkable community, and is situated within a few blocks of Arm in Arm’s new location on Hudson Street, the Trenton Transit Center, the Roebling Market Food Bazaar, and New Jersey Transit buses. Although the property is several blocks away from the Rescue Mission’s main emergency shelter on Carroll Street, residents will still have access to services and resources like mental health or substance abuse treatment from the organization or its community partners, which will be provided on a case-by-case basis.
Young said that “this is a pilot project,” explaining that “the Rescue Mission has done some permanent supportive housing for single adult men before, but this is our first in the arena of permanent supportive housing for women.”
Although he acknowledged that due to the small size of this building, there are not a lot of units inside, Young pointed out how this rehabilitation project will have a significant impact on the lives of the selected five Trentonians who no longer are forced to sleep on the streets of the city or in the shelter.
He hopes that this will lead to larger projects of this type in Trenton. “It shows that the Rescue Mission is committed to servicing the homeless residents in the Mercer area,” said Young,
According to the Rescue Mission’s Director of Administration Regan Mumolie, funding is being provided by Mercer County Department of Human Services Homelesness Trust Fund, the City of Trenton, and the Rescue Mission.
Women experiencing homelessness must fill out an application if they are interested in residing at 300 South Clinton Avenue once the rehabilitation project is completed.
Even though there is still significant work that must be completed before the first residents can move in, those who are interested in learning more about the application process can reach out to the Rescue Mission’s Manager of Permanent Housing and Supportive Services, Sheila Scott in person or over the phone.
Should an applicant be accepted, “they can stay forever,” according to Young.
By Annette Espinoza, Jared Kofsky & Joshua Trifari
How is lead contamination impacting Trenton residents? Over a year after high levels of lead were found in the water of most of the capital’s public schools, the answer to that question remains unclear.
In recent years, there have been widespread concerns across the United States with aging infrastructure, particularly in regards to lead levels in the water supply systems and paint in some of the nation’s metropolitan areas. In 2014, over 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, a small city that like Trenton, was once a riverside industrial powerhouse, were discovered to have been exposed to excessive levels of lead.
“This is an issue that has been on people’s radars for decades,” Jane Rosenblatt, a program manager at Downtown Trenton-based New Jersey Future, told The Wall in the spring. However, as a result of the recent revelations, ”people are starting to pay attention to some of the daily impacts of our antiquated water infrastructure, so we’re likely to see something happening in the coming years as far as investments,” she explained.
In the years that followed, New Jersey schools began to test their drinking water for high lead levels, and the results in some districts shocked many parents. In the state’s largest city, dozens of schools were found to have elevated levels of lead, prompting Newark students to be forced to drink from bottled water.
A few weeks later, according to The Trentonian, Trenton Water Works General Superintendent Joseph McIntyre testified that “we don’t have a lead issue” in Trenton, and that “we’ve never had a leadbased problem here in the water.”
However, in October 2016, it was revealed that in 20 of Trenton’s older school buildings, including Daylight/Twilight Alternative High School and Grant Elementary School, there were levels of lead in the water that were above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended guidelines.
The extent of the problem in New Jersey’s cities today is quite unclear. Rosenblatt stated some cities contain water mains “that can date back to the Civil War,” and that part of the reason why many recent discoveries of water contamination have been in cities is because ”urban centers are where some of our oldest infrastructure is.”
In response to these crises, several New Jersey organizations and agencies are calling for improvements.
Rosenblatt is one of the leaders of Jersey Water Works, a 300-member statewide organization dedicated to upgrading New Jersey’s wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater infrastructure. Members range from local organizations like Isles to engineering films, according to Rosenblatt, who stated that ultimate goal is “investing in cost-effective sustainable solutions that benefit the communities served by these systems.”
Jersey Water Works has partnered with New Jersey Urban Mayors Association to develop policy recommendations as to how to best update water infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Environment New Jersey is also seeking similar improvements to prevent future crises. Doug O’Malley, the organization’s director, stated that “obviously, most people can’t shell out the thousands of dollars that you can use to replace it, but a lot of what we want to do is start up with testing to be able to expose the extent of the problem and then use long-term state funding to try to ultimately replace our pipes.”
O’Malley cited Madison, Wisconsin and Seattle, Washington as examples of places that are currently “getting this right.”
Yet what actions are being taken right now to keep residents safe in Trenton, and should residents continue to trust that their tap water is reliable?
A hydrologist in the United States Geological Survey’s New Jersey Water Science Center who asked not to be identified told The Wall that “the USGS hasn’t collected any samples of water quality from the Trenton water system that I know of,” and that he does not know whether or not there is significant lead in the city’s water.
“Most, if not all, drinking water in Trenton comes from the Delaware River and does not have detectable lead concentrations when it enters, much less leaves, the water treatment plant on Route 29,” the hydrologist stated, adding that “any lead in water in Trenton is likely derived from the municipal (under-the street) pipes and/or building plumbing.”
This means that it is largely up to the individual building or shelter to test whether their water is safe to drink and that organizations should replace old copper pipes or lead pipes with new lead-free solder copper pipes while covering or removing lead paint.
So what can you do for now to see if your water is safe to drink? In order to find contaminants, the hydrologist and Rosenblatt recommended that you run the water for at least 45 seconds to a few minutes before drinking it. If you notice discolored water, you should advise water or building officials.
However, some New Jersey leaders feel that tackling the lead in the water is just the beginning of the solution to improving the state’s infrastructure. “
Yes we have to address the lead in our pipes, and that’s obviously a concern, but we want a more comprehensive approach to infrastructure investment than that,” said Dan Fatton of the Ewing Township-based NJ Work Environment Council and the recently established Jersey Renews environmental campaign. “We know that we have to invest big money into our pipes underground but also in the things that we see above ground like sidewalks and schools and other buildings,” he added.
The need for investment in infrastructure in New Jersey’s capital became evident on May 6, when a water main break caused another flood, this time in the Wilbur Section. One unexpected consequence of the damage caused by the incident was displacement for residents in the community.
As The Trentonian reported, the Fleming family was forced to leave their residence following the hurricane-like flooding, as were other homeowners and renters in the area. According to Julie Janis of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, many clients of hers who are experiencing homelessness were previously renters, but were forced to leave the properties that they called home following unsafe living conditions inside, such as pipe bursts and structural damage.
Like the individuals behind Jersey Renews, New Jersey’s non-profit organizations are building up to improve the environment of cities like Trenton, a goal that, according to Fatton, “is incredibly ambitious but eminently doable.” However, considering the crisis of elevated lead levels and other issues facing cities across the state and the country right now, the question is, will that be enough?
This story will continue to be updated as the conditions of Trenton’s water supply change.
Photo by Jared Kofsky
Written with and for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Trenton, New Jersey area.