december 21, 2010

GI Go and the City of Newark Observe National Homeless Persons Memorial Day

Annual event on first day of winter brings attention to plight of nation’s homeless; City has partnered with county to create 10-year plan to end homelessness in Essex County

 City of Newark observed National Homeless Persons Memorial Day at a noontime ceremony in the First Floor Rotunda of City Hall today. Newark Commission on the Homeless Commissioner Reverend Brian Rawls served as Master of Ceremonies.

Each year since 1990, on or near the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, the National Coalition for the Homeless has joined with the National Consumer Advisory Board and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council to promote this observance, to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation’s failure to end homelessness. Last year, more than 2,600 people died in a state of homelessness across the nation. On a daily basis, there is an average of 938 homeless people struggling to find food and shelter in Newark’s streets, making up more than 90 percent of Essex County’s homeless population.

“The plight of the homeless population of the City of Newark challenges us as a community and a society. Many of these homeless persons are victims of the home foreclosure crisis, family or spousal abuse, or addictions. They are at risk for illness and violence. Today, on the longest night of the year, during a season of holidays and hope, we are manifesting our spiritual strength, excellence, and compassion, to provide these neighbors and citizens with the tools they need to build productive lives that in turn help shape a stronger, prouder, and better Newark,” Mayor Booker said in a statement.

At the ceremony, attendees heard personal reflections from commission members, homeless people, and supporting non-profits on the issues facing Newark’s homeless residents.

Deputy Mayor Muñiz, representing the Mayor, presented a proclamation honoring the day, and said, “Today’s event is not a celebration. It is a somber remembrance. We remember that the homeless often die of violence, at the hands of hate crimes. They often die of exposure to the elements. They often die of illnesses. They are our neighbors and friends. So many of us are enjoying a happy holiday season, with roofs over our heads, beds, pillows, waking up in warm bedrooms. So many people are without these blessings. We must remember them.”

The City of Newark established the Commission on the Homeless on January 12 of this year. The commission establishes and puts into operation a comprehensive system of coordinated nutritional, shelter, and social services for the homeless and hungry residents of Newark, assists and advises the City in preparing an annual plan for services for the homeless, and works to gain private and public grants to assist the homeless. They also identify unmet needs and service gaps that affect the homeless, and make recommendations for legislative programs and actions on behalf of the homeless. The 17 members serve staggered terms, five for one-year, four for a two-year term, four for a three-year term, and four for a four-year term.

Commission Chairman Jerome Wakefield described the difficulties he had as an ex-offender returning to society. “You have a past to undo and a future to live through,” he said. “These people need a helping hand, not a hurting hand.”

Alex Manis, Deputy Director of the GI Go Transition Center of Newark, spoke about the plight of homeless veterans. “We have people who have served our country with honor and courage who come home to nothing. They find their homes foreclosed, or are evicted from apartments, and have to scrape coins together to survive. Our Mayor does not shy from challenges, and together, we will help these veterans and set an example for the rest of the nation,” he said.

After the ceremony, the Homeless Commission gave out bags of information and personal toiletries to homeless persons and passersby on Broad Street, while the Salvation Army offered free hot beverages. In addition, the Department of Child and Well-Being’s mobile unit provided health screenings.

Department of Child and Family Well-Being Health Officer Marsha McGowan noted in her remarks that Newark is the only municipality in the State that offers direct health care to residents, including the homeless. “We are here five days a week,” she said, “and we provide good health care programs to the homeless. Mayor Booker takes this issue seriously.”

On July 28, 2010, Mayor Booker and County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., signed the Essex/Newark Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The Essex Newark Coalition to End Homelessness is responsible for moving this plan forward in an effort to eradicate homeless within the City and County within 10 years.

This year, the City of Newark has prevented more than 224 families from becoming homeless and has secured housing for 198 households through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Last year the City entered into contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide rental subsidy vouchers for 26 chronically homeless individuals through the Shelter Plus Care Program. In an effort to end homelessness, the City has joined forces with Common Ground in NYC and their national 100,000 Homes Campaign. Through this effort, Newark is committing to provide permanent supportive housing to 50 of the most vulnerable homeless residents within the City through its Newark 50 Initiative.

“If you are homeless, you do not live, you survive,” said Commission member Gregory Arvay, a former homeless person who is now an Outreach worker for the Homeless Healthcare Project, located at the Department of Child and Family Well-Being. His work includes outreach at Penn Station and Newark Liberty International Airport homeless individuals in an effort to provide medical screenings and connect them to additional services, including housing. “The last thing on your mind is how you feel, as you go from place to place, looking for food. You don’t think about prescriptions, medicine, or a bed. You just try to survive. These are your brothers, fathers, and sisters. These are the people who built the homes you live in. Before you judge them, help them.”

Although homelessness is a recognized problem in Essex County and the City of Newark, determining an accurate number of homeless residents is difficult. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requests that a “Point in Time Survey” be conducted every two years. Essex County has conducted the survey every year since 2007 in conjunction with its Annual Essex County Homeless Connect event. In the survey conducted on January 28, 2009, there were 1,071 homeless adults accompanied by 659 children identified throughout Essex County. Of the homeless residents identified, 938 adults and 504 children were in Newark. However, using raw data from the Point in Time Survey, the task force report states “a more accurate annualized estimate” of homeless residents in Essex County is between 3,700 and 3,900.

Since taking office in July 2006, the Booker Administration has made the issue of homelessness in Newark a priority. Newark’s other initiatives include the Department of Child and Family Well-Being’s Homeless Healthcare program, job search and career training at NewarkWorks, and partnerships to provide medical care, job training, and counseling for the homeless including transitional housing like the Roseville Commons development. In addition, the City has partnered with the GI Go Veterans Transition Center of Newark to provide more specialized services to homeless veterans and their families.

For more information on any City of Newark program or policy, contact the Non-Emergency Call Center at (973) 733-4311.