Category Archives: Featured Story: Policy

Taking a closer look: Women, Infants and Children Program

By Lily Kalczewski

Since its original introduction in 1972, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has come a long way. Its mission is to help pregnant or nursing women, infants and children up to five-years-old who are at nutritional risk.


There are currently over 10,000 WIC locations across the nation. There are, however, three that can be found here, in Mercer County — the Trenton WIC office, the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey and the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey’s Mercer County WIC Program.


Eligibility is determined by family size, household income and proof of residency. Individuals need to also be able to provide evidence of nutrition or medical health-related risks.


Also, as the agency coordinator of Children’s Home Society of NJ’s Mercer County WIC Program, Jennifer Nagy said, “The Mercer County WIC Program will make every effort to help eligible families receive WIC services.” Not many people are turned down, and for those who do not meet one of the eligibility requirements, WIC offers referrals to other programs that can help.


WIC does a lot of things right. The program provides guidance, assistance, and ensures healthy children as well as confident parents. It helps educate mothers, provides them with health care as well as food benefits and gives them the tools to raise their children to be happy and healthy.


The program not only teaches mothers how to shop, cook and eat nutritiously, but it also offers breastfeeding support through telephone hotlines, peer counselors and mommy groups.


There are many local organizations that cooperate with WIC to help provide these food and healthcare benefits. The Mercer County Board of Social Services offers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Mercer Street Friends has a food bank and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) serves free meals to those who need it. A local company to the east coast that has chosen to be a part of WIC is ShopRite.


The company has chosen to cooperate with the program because as Customer Service Manager of Zallie’s ShopRite in Clementon, N.J., Deby Doughtery said, “I believe we provide a service to our community by accepting WIC checks in our stores. Most participants are having financial difficulties and being able to use their benefits at ShopRite gives them one less challenge.”


Doughtery also pointed out the convenience this collaboration creates for participants because now they are able to purchase their WIC items in the same grocery store where they do their weekly shopping.


Although WIC has made great strides over the years, there are still challenges to overcome. As a Front End Supervisor, Doughtery said, “The biggest challenge I see is the participants are unsure of what they should be purchasing, so training the participants would be the one thing I think WIC could do better.”


"Woman with Flowers"  By Dolores Frails
“Woman with Flowers”
By Dolores Frails

ShopRite carries an array of WIC-approved items, as is their responsibility. And although this is the case, the company does not have to carry every version of certain food categories, which can be frustrating for patrons.


Nonetheless, ShopRite makes sure that the approved items they are carrying are in stock. If something they are carrying, like formula, is out of stock, ShopRite will get it in as soon as possible. Otherwise they will contact the WIC state office and work out a solution.


As for Nagy, she said, “I would like to see an even greater focus on breastfeeding education and support services through WIC as increased breastfeeding translates into healthier moms and babies.”


Nagy also acknowledges that the program currently provides a food package containing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat milk and enhanced food packages to women who are breastfeeding. Nagy hopes, however, that more whole fresh food items will be added to these packages.


With the world becoming more technologically advanced, Nagy had one more suggestion for WIC to help make it an even better program.


“I would also like to see technology enhancements, such as an online application or pre-screening process and mobile apps to make shopping easier for WIC participants,” Nagy said.


Overall, WIC is a wonderful program that supports mothers and families who are enduring hard times. Its goal is to see children with full bellies, smiling faces and families who can breathe a little bit easier.


For Nagy, she enjoys working for a public health program that helps to nourish families.


“To me, empowering pregnant women and families with young children with the knowledge and understanding of the value of breastfeeding, healthy foods and regular health care has been the most valuable aspect of working for the WIC program,” Nagy said.



Trenton Division of Health 222 E State St Trenton, N.J.  08608 Phone: (609) 989-3636 Must call for a WIC appointment.

The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey 635 S. Clinton Ave Trenton, N.J.  08611 Phone: (609) 695-6274 Must call for a WIC appointment.

Mercer County WIC Program 416 Bellevue Avenue Trenton, N.J.  08618 Phone: (609) 498-7755 Must call for a WIC appointment.

Mercer County’s 2014 Point-In-Time Count Summary

As 2014 comes to an end, it is important that we revisit the year’s most demanding issues in the political, economic and social arenas. More importantly, we must evaluate the resolutions that were put forth to address many of these problems and recognize those which continue to beg for resolutions.

Unfortunately, homelessness remains a significant problem of the latter status. In looking forward, we must first understand the extent of the issue, its implications and the context in which we are working.

Mercer County’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the Homeless, coordinated annually by Mercer Alliance, can help us in doing this.

The count, which was carried out on the night of Tuesday, January 28, 2014, provides countywide estimates of the number of homeless households in our communities and information about where these individuals find shelter and the different factors that contribute to their homelessness.

While Mercer County shows the shortest length of homelessness in the state, it continues to struggle through the afflictions of homelessness.


Comprehensive Summary of the Mercer County 2014 PIT

On the night of the count, 500 households, (a total of 632 persons) were experiencing homelessness in Mercer County. This is a decrease of 36 persons (5.4%) but an increase of 55 households (12.4%) from 2013.

Of the 632 homeless individuals counted, 393 of them stayed in emergency shelters, 201 stayed in transitional housing and 38 were living unsheltered.

The totals for transitional housing and unsheltered both show a decrease from 2013.


Family Makeup in Homeless Households

Of the 500 homeless households counted in Mercer County in 2014, 71 (14.2%) were families with at least one child under the age of 18 and one adult; 429 (85.8%) of these households were households without children under 18.

These households were composed of 431 adult individuals.


Age Demographics

On the night of the count, there were 68 (10.8%) homeless adults between 18 and 24 years old, 444 (70.2%) homeless adults over age 24, and 120 (19%) children under 18 years old. The majority of these children were between zero and five years of age (69 children; 57.5%). Of the total homeless individuals counted, 145 (22.9%) were between the ages of 45 and 54.


Unsheltered Living

Of these 429 adult-only households, 228 (53.1%) of them were staying in emergency shelters, 168 (39.2%) were in transitional housing and 33 (7.7%) were unsheltered. While the number of adult-only households in Mercer County has decreased by 48 over the past five years, the county has experienced a 16.9% increase (62 people) since 2013.


Disabled Individuals, Veterans and Victims of Domestic Violence

Of the total number of homeless individuals in Mercer County on the night of the count, 52% of them reported having some type of disability. Among disabled adults, 51.5% reported mental health issues.

It is also important to note that more disabled homeless children reported a chronic health condition (58.5%) than any other disability.

On the night of the count, 57 homeless households (14.1% of all households) reported having been a victim of domestic violence.

A total of 38 homeless veterans were counted, which is one more than 2013. The largest majority of veterans, 73.7%, were found to be staying in an emergency shelter; four veterans were unsheltered (10.5%) and six were in transitional housing (15.8%).


Chronic Homelessness

The count identified a total of 64 persons in 63 households as chronically homeless. This is an increase of six persons (10.3%) from 2013. The rate of chronic homelessness as a percentage of overall homelessness increased from 8.4% to 10.1%.


Causes of Homelessness

On the night of the count, more homeless households attributed their homelessness to being asked to leave a shared residence (131 households, 26.2%) than any other cause. Of the 369 households who did not attribute this to their homelessness, 19.8% of them attributed the reduction of job income or benefits; 11.8% of them cited eviction as a cause and 11.4% of them cited release from prison or jail as a cause.


Length of Homelessness

Of the homeless households counted, 149 (29.8%) of them reported that their most recent, continuous episode of homelessness had lasted from eight days to one month; 351 of these households (70.2%) said they had been homeless for less than three months; 6.4% of them reported having been homeless for more than one year.


While this summary only looked at the count conducted in Mercer County, other counties throughout the state of New Jersey participated, and the results were compiled into a New Jersey Point-In-Time Count.

From this count, 13,900 homeless men, women and children were surveyed across the state. This number shows an increase of 1,898 persons (15.8%) compared to the 2013 count.

According to the statewide PIT Count, of the 13,900 homeless individuals in New Jersey, 931 persons were living unsheltered. This number is has gone down 33.4% from the 1,399 persons counted in 2013. These 931 persons made up 6.7% of New Jersey’s total 2014 population of homeless individuals.

Our hope is that these statistics, among the many others available in the reports, provide community members and leaders with a perspective of New Jersey’s growing problem with homelessness and the gravity of the situation.

More importantly, we hope that this information serves as a reminder and an incentive to approach the problem with more vitality in Trenton and other cities across the state.


Mercer County & New Jersey Point-In-Time Counts for 2014

The official reports can be found online at the Monarch Housing Associates website:


Article written by Engy Shaaban for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall









Family Homelessness (From the Spring 2013 Issue)

Below is an article that originally appeared in the print version of the Spring 2013 paper:

A recent statistic from the National Center on Family Homelessness reveals that one in every 50 American children is homeless–equating to roughly 1.5 million children. While the effort to confront the issue has been taken up by many organizations, annual national numbers reflect the ongoing severity of family homelessness.

Family homelessness became a serious problem in this country in the mid-1980’s, due to large cutbacks in Federal investment in housing under Reagan. Prior to this, the United States last saw very high numbers of family homelessness during the Great Depression, which was remedied by the increase of employment at the start of WWII.  Since the 80’s, the problem has worsened, as various natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina–which displaced 1.5 million people 16 years and older– have left families and children without a place to call home. Worse yet, support for those affected by these disasters is often greatly diminished by the onset of each new natural disaster.

The economic recession of 2007 also worsened the issue as more than six million families were foreclosed on, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.  National data shows that family homelessness has been on the rise over the past six years. In 2006 the number was 1.5 million and as of 2010 it is 1.6 million, according to a report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

Why does homelessness among such a vulnerable group continue to persist? An influential report titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010”, compiled by the National Center on Family Homelessness, concludes that the causes are structural in nature: “Poverty combined with our nation’s lack of affordable housing have pushed the most vulnerable families out of stable housing onto a path towards homelessness.” Psychological and emotional trauma among young mothers, natural disasters, and man-made disasters such as the economic recession of 2007, are also said to have a very damaging effect on families. According to the report, the 2007 recession was responsible for a 38% increase in childhood homelessness.

In New Jersey and Mercer County, however, the number of homeless youths and their families has been decreasing.  The “America’s Youngest Outcasts” report establishes a “state report card” system which ranks the 50 states based on their success in tackling the issue of family homelessness–1 being the best, 50 the worst.  This state report card system takes into account factors like the extent of childhood homelessness, child well being, risk for childhood homelessness, and policy and planning efforts. As of 2010, New Jersey was given a composite score of 7. The top 5 states tackling the issue are Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Maine.

On a more local level, the Mercer County Alliance to End Homelessnesshas been making significant progress in reducing the number of homeless families. By working closely with The Mercer County Board of Social Services  (MCBOSS), the Alliance has seen the length of time that families spend in shelter or transitional housing decrease by 20 percent in a two-year period, and the number of families in hotels decrease by 66 percent over the course of a month.

This significant progress was achieved through a pilot rapid-rehousing program, which was in part funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.   Rapid Rehousing offers rental assistance and experienced case managers, who help the head of household return to full employment and overcome any barriers that stand in the way.  Re-housed families were 3.5 times more likely to be employed at the end of the program, as compared to those in transitional housing.

Though the national figures for family homelessness are on the rise, great strides are being made at a local county and state level. With new approaches to alleviating the problem and the rollout of rapid housing, the future for homeless families seems far more promising.


Article written by Steven P. Rodriguez