By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – Finding the right-sized jacket wasn’t easy for Danny Thigpen, who stands about 6’6” tall. But after a few minutes thumbing through one of 10 coatracks in the undercroft at Pilgrim Baptist Church, he found one with a nice snug fit.
In a hurry to drop his girlfriend off for her opening shift at Boston Market, Thigpen didn’t say much, but was quick to share a hug with church volunteers.
Thigpen was one of a dozen or so homeless or underprivileged adults in the greater Red Bank area who flocked to Pilgrim Baptist Church on Wednesday morning. It’s the sixth year the parish has been one of four locations for the Point-In-Time Count of the Homeless, a yearly event used to determine the number of homeless living in Monmouth County which coincides with efforts by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Monarch Housing Associates and the county Department of Human Services and Health Department.
“I would hope no one would have to come through that door,” said Rev. Darlene Wilson, Pilgrim Baptist’s community outreach minister. “But that’s not where we’re living. It’s been happening since the beginning of time.”
The count is a confidential snapshot of the living and financial situations for sheltered and unsheltered homeless residents on the night on Jan. 23. Surveys this year were also held in Asbury Park, Freehold Borough and Keansburg.
In comparison to recent years, the number of homeless residents in Monmouth County is dropping. According to a 2017 report documenting last year’s data, a total of 299 people in 184 households experienced homelessness in the county. Forty-four people were living unsheltered on the night of the count. Those numbers account for a 13 percent decrease from the 2016 tally.
“We’re a very wealthy county with 630,000 residents,” said Monmouth County Freeholder John P. Curley, liaison to human services, “but there are a lot of people that are really struggling,”
Last year, the largest percentage of homeless residents were adults between 18 and 24 years old, accounting for 178 people, or 59.5 percent. Males were the largest gender group affected by homelessness, at 54.5 percent. The top two races were white, 43.8 percent, and black or African American, at 40.1 percent.
Another significant tally was the number of homeless suffering from some level of disability – 47 percent of all people reporting. The most prevalent disability was mental health issues, which accounted for more than half of all disabilities.
In total, homelessness in Monmouth County has dropped 67.4 percent over a five-year period since 2013, when it peaked at 918 total homeless. That count coincided with displacements caused by Super Storm Sandy in October 2012.
But the surveys are dependent on people actually coming out and being willing to discuss their situations, and Curley said that isn’t always the case.
“It’s never going to be an accurate count – there are plenty of people who are never going to come forward,” he said. “You see it go down, but you really don’t know.”
Yet on Wednesday morning, Pilgrim Baptist Church was pulling out all the stops to get as many people inside as possible.
Representatives from various county and state agencies, local nonprofits and legal firms set up shop inside the church, providing information and answers to anyone who inquired. The Visiting Nurse Association Health Group had a station to administer flu shots and blood pressure screenings, free of charge.
The congregation had gathered the racks of jackets and winter clothing through coat drives and donations, and had them hung up for anyone to take and wear. A table with two rows of new Timberland and Wolverine work boots was quickly cleared, and another tabletop with gently used hats and gloves was picked through.
Wilson said volunteers were even handing out information flyers to people outside of Red Bank convenience stores who could benefit from any of those services.
“Pilgrim took this on because it’s an act of compassion and its needed in the county,” she said. “We need to be able to reach out to those that may not have, and help assist them by other means.”
For more information, call Pilgrim Baptist Church, 172 Shrewsbury Ave., at 732-747-2348; or call the Monmouth County Division of Social Services at 732-308-3770.
This article was first published in the Jan. 25-Feb. 1, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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