Category Archives: Op-Ed

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.

Scott: Open Space and New Playground Enrich Children’s Lives

By Essence B. Scott

In 1999, the Trails End Motel in East Windsor, where I grew up, had a large grassy area to play in and a tree to climb. My siblings and I were usually the only children there and so we played with each other. We wanted other children to play with, though. In school, we were finally given this opportunity, but it was short-lived. Here, we spent recess playing tag and swinging alongside our classmates. A short half-an-hour later, we returned to the classroom and later that night, to the empty motel yard.

Children should be encouraged to explore nature and their surroundings: the sunny sky above their heads and the green grass underneath their feet as they go on adventures that exist entirely in their imaginations. When a child is experiencing homelessness, the only thing out there is a parking lot. Often times, there are no other children to play with. Their interactions that they have with children their own age are limited and brief — maybe at a rest stop where families stop on their way to a vacation destination.

Today, HomeFront’s Family Campus paints a different reality — one that I am happy to see. The Campus built a playground for its resident children to enjoy. It is unsafe for children to play on pavement and parking lots where they can easily be injured. They need to feel the wind on their face and the dirt between their fingers. They also need to connect with other children to build important social and emotional skills. Programs like HomeFront’s ‘Joy, Hopes, and Dreams’ and ‘Camp Mercer’ bring children together and provide them with this opportunity.

When I was a part of HomeFront’s community, I took part in the different recreational activities that they offered. I was a teenager, so I was not interested in the slides and jungle gyms, but the swings were my favorite. It got me out of the house and allowed me to build relationships with people besides my brother and sister. It also fostered a love for the outdoors and encouraged me to live a healthier life. I was always out and about, constantly walking and running around.

Gym classes are another good way to encourage activity and play, especially in elementary school where it is much less competitive. When I was younger, I did not like structured play in gym class; but as I got older, I enjoyed signing up for different extracurricular activities that were offered through the physical education department like the weight room, ultimate frisbee, and volleyball.

Sometimes, the older kids would get together to play football. I remember being reluctant to play with them — being tackled and breaking my glasses? No, thank you. When I finally had the courage to play, I had a great time. I was no longer homeless at that point, but the fact still holds. Children and teenagers experiencing homelessness are often stressed and recreation allows them to let off some steam and build supportive relationships with others. Playing outside or on a sports team and the face-to-face interactions here give children a place to channel their energy. Conversations on the playground are much more helpful than those had over platforms like Skype and FaceTime (although those can help, too).

The opportunity to interact with others is also important for adults. My mom did not have anyone to talk to other than my siblings and myself when we were homeless. There were no other adults to regularly mingle or chat with. The offices in the motels we lived in had adults who were too busy with their jobs to socialize with a lonely teen, an energetic child, or a quiet adult.

Backyards, public parks, and school playgrounds are all great places to socialize with others. Children who are homeless are consistently deprived of the opportunity to meet new people, especially if they are living in places that do not cater to this need, like motels and shelters.

I am grateful for the playground at HomeFront’s Family Campus where children can be children everyday.

They should not have to grow up so fast. Maybe there is a small playground that a family has built in their backyard where the neighborhood children can stop by to play, or a safe park where children can meet — we can and should afford children these important opportunities to enjoy themselves and grow.

Homelessness in Trenton Schools

By Aphrael Boltas

History teacher at Trenton Central High School, William Pyper, recalled a student he had during his first year of teaching AP courses in the Trenton School District who was homeless.

 

Pyper said that she was a gifted student and had received a full scholarship to attend Carnegie Mellon. She nearly missed her opportunity when she needed to send in a deposit to the school to hold her place. However, Pyper said he was not going to let her pass up the chance, and offered her the money to pay the deposit. She attended the University that fall and even paid Pyper back with a refund from scholarship money. He said that she was one of the only students that he didn’t cut any slack who was in that situation and only because “she didn’t need it.”

 

Homelessness is an increasing issue for students in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2012-2013 school year, over 1.2 million students were identified as homeless. In Trenton, homelessness is a tricky subject. Several teachers at Trenton Central High School spoke to me about their encounters with students who they knew or suspected to be homeless, how they responded to the students, and how they adapted their teaching style to better suit the students’ needs.

 

History teacher, Matthew Russell felt that the more pressing problem was poverty; that students would have a home, but there was not always food or other basic necessities.

 

Additionally, often times in Trenton, as well as other areas, students are less often homeless than they are staying with extended family or friends. This can bring a different  set of problems and can overshadow schoolwork.

 

Another recurring theme was that teachers felt a desire to help. Several teachers mentioned giving students money for food, or bringing in coats for them when the weather was cold. Nearly all of the teachers said they adjust their teaching style in that they become much more lenient when dealing with students who are experiencing homelessness. They understand if students are tired in class or if their work isn’t always in on time. They try to recognize that schoolwork is not the number one priority when you are worried about where you are going to sleep or eat after school.

 

"Getting Ready To Fly"  By Charles Smith
“Getting Ready To Fly”
By Charles Smith

Literature teacher, Kathy Mulcahey, said that she would never communicate with the student about experiencing homelessness directly, but if she felt that a student was struggling, she would “understand if they were sleeping in the earlier classes and make sure that they had something to eat.”

 

Most of the teachers I interviewed said that they hadn’t had too many of these students, about four or five suspected over their teaching career. One teacher said he heard that there are about a half a dozen a year out of about 2,000 students at the high school level in the district. Whenever they had a feeling that they had a student in this situation, they did their best to offer help.

 

Through my different interviews it became clear that homelessness is certainly a serious issue that can cause a range of struggles for students and interfere with their learning. Poverty is prevalent in the Trenton School District. The sentiment among each teacher I interviewed appeared to be, regardless of shelter: if a student is worried about where they will be getting their next meal, they’re not focused on their academics.

Homelessness in New York City: The Legacy of Mayor Bloomberg

By Steven P. Rodriguez

 

A few months ago, Ian Frazier of the New Yorker published an excellent 10 page article on the legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy on homelessness in the city. The article makes for an excellent read and presents some very disturbing statistics about the dire situation in New York:

1) More than 1 in 5 New York City residents live below the poverty line

2) Nearly 1 in 5 experiences times of “food insecurity” in the course of a year

3) During Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, the number of homeless families went up by 73%

The general  thrust of the article centers around the terrible condition of many homeless shelters in the NYC and the lack of available beds. Frazier notes that Bloomberg entered office wanting to change the attitude of homeless people and encourage them to work and take responsibility in exchange for temporary housing.  An especially powerful section of the article appears below:

Then, there’s the other philosophy, which says that it’s not their fault. What the homeless need, this other philosophy says, is a stable place to live, not a system telling them what to do. Once stable housing is achieved, changes in behavior, if necessary, can follow. The problem is not the poor’s lack of character but a lack of places in the city where they can afford to live and of jobs that pay a decent wage. The problem is not inside but outside. No change in personal behavior is going to make rents cheaper. According to this philosophy, the path center’s relentless search for relatives with whom applicants for shelter can double up or triple up just crams more bodies into the too short supply of moderate- and low-income housing in the city, and sends people into unhealthy or even dangerous situations.

Here we see a common stereotype that many people promote unintentionally ; that is, many believe that homelessness is necessarily caused by weak character or pure laziness. Indeed, this may be true in some cases, but the larger problem is the social and economic inequality. Part of The Wall’s mission is to change the way that may people view homelessness. We must acknowledge the causes of homelessness that are structural in nature, and thus beyond the control of the homeless community.

Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor was not without its success in helping the homeless. Frazier notes that in his first term, Mayor Bloomberg was able to improve the decrepit E.A.U Center, the traditional starting place for those seeking shelter, and replaced it with a much more bright and functional PATH center. Additionally, Bloomberg launched a housing subsidy program called Advantage, which helped thousands of families live on their own. Yet, the funding for the program was eventually cut and the families who had gained some sense of independence once again returned to the shelters.

The future of New York City’s homelessness public policy seems bright with the recent election of  Bill de Blasio as mayor. De Blasio has pledged to radically changed many of Bloomberg’s initiatives in favor of more effective policies. It seems that we must wait to find out how successful the new mayor will be.