Winter haven for Hudson homeless

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


If you open it, they will come.

That’s what Hudson County has done for the adult homeless population and they’ve been coming. They are directed to the third floor of the former U.S. Naval Reserve Readiness Center at 53 Hackensack Ave. in South Kearny to accept the hospitality of a “warming center.”

It’s a place where folks with nowhere else to go can come in from the cold and spend the night in a safe environment. It’s safe because it’s monitored/ staffed by the county Department of Corrections.

And while they have no beds or cots, DOC is continuing to collect bunches of recliners that serve just as well for the exhausted men and women who are guests of the facility.

“We feed them, give them toiletries, shower facilities, clean clothing if they need any, and there’s a big common area where they can interrelate or watch TV,” said DOC Director Oscar Aviles.

“We’ve been averaging 50 to 75 every night,” Aviles said.

In the morning, the visitors are taken to the Garden State Episcopal Community nonprofit in Jersey City which is contracted by the county to interview them and refer them to a variety of social services – housing, substance abuse treatment job counseling, etc.

The Hackensack Ave. space has been used sporadically in past years, to take the overflow from shelters on especially frigid nights but this is the first time that it’s being deployed daily through the winter season, to March 15. The South Kearny connection is part of a new approach by the county to its homelessness issue.

Last winter, homeless folks found in the streets by outreach workers would be directed to any of three shelters operating in Hudson – St. Lucy’s Emergency Shelter, 619 Grove St., Jersey City; the Palisades Emergency Residence Corp. (PERC), 108 36th St., Union City; and the Hoboken Shelter, 300 Bloomfield St., Hoboken – but only if the temperature fell to 26 degrees or below.

Since that rule could be pretty cumbersome to enforce, a new policy was put in place to allow shelters to accept as many walk-ins as they could reasonably accommodate regardless of what the thermometer reads, according to Randi Moore, chief of the county Division of Housing and Community Development.

At the same time, Moore said, the county has contracted with Garden State Episcopal Community, a Jersey City-based nonprofit, for $75,000 to send out outreach teams seven days a week on a year-round basis, to work with homeless people ages 18 and older, concentrated in and around the PATH stations at Journal Square and Hoboken, to help get the resources they need to stabilize them and, to work toward becoming self-supporting, if possible.

Members of homeless families, with young children, are directed to a county hotline for referrals to a hotel stay for the night, Moore said.

On his end, Aviles arranges for bus transports, with two corrections supervisors aboard, to make stops at Journal Square at 9 p.m. and at the Hoboken Terminal at 10 p.m. to pick up any homeless adults looking for a place to sleep and bring them to South Kearny where a third corrections officer awaits.

DOC has budgeted $270,000 for the warming center program, Aviles said. No rental fee is being assessed by the building’s landlord for the use of the third-floor space, he said.

The pace of Hudson homelessness has quickened, Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea asserted. Counts have reached “close to 400 a night physically living in the streets – more than double than a year ago,” he said.

As the problem intensifies, O’Dea said the answer lies in “creating more units” of transitional housing with social service resources to offer those adrift a “bridge to help them back to stability.”

And, Moore said, the county is hoping to set the stage to do exactly that by coordinating continuous care projects for the chronically homeless by applying to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development for $1 million to fund 27 housing units with fund services for two years.

Attention must be paid, Aviles said, “because it appears this is a problem that is not going to go away.”

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