RED BANK – At times, some of the homeless people in the Two River area camp out in empty buildings, bus stop shelters or underneath the railway bridge over the Navesink.
In cold winter months they might pass the night sitting in emergency rooms and police station lobbies. During times of severe weather, when a Code Blue alert is declared by the county Office of Emergency Management, they now have the option of sleeping in a warming center in either Red Bank or Asbury Park.
“I met a man today who came in for some warm clothes and blankets. When I asked where he was staying, he told me he had a sleeping bag that he sets up in a cemetery nearby,” said Kathleen Weir, the director of Monmouth County Division of Social Services. “These people are out there living among us and they need our help.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 23, Weir and others were trying to meet, document and help homeless people at the annual Project Homeless Connect event at Pilgrim Baptist Church on Shrewsbury Avenue in Red Bank.
Other sites included St. Mark’s Soup Kitchen in Keansburg, Jersey Shore Rescue Mission in Asbury Park and New Beginnings Agape Christian Center in Freehold.
Weir said about 30 homeless or underprivileged adults ventured to the Pilgrim Baptist Church seeking food, clothing and various services like free health screenings and employment assistance. Later that afternoon, even more stopped in.
On hand to provide care and information were representatives from the Mental Health Association, Red Bank Resource Network, Monmouth Cares, Monmouth County Division of Social Services, the County Office of Aging, the County Division of Veterans and Disabilities Services, the Visiting Nurse Association and Lunch Break.
But the Rev. Darlene Wilson, Pilgrim Baptist’s community outreach minister, has noticed fewer people coming to Homeless Connect.
“We had a lot less people join us today than in previous years,” said Wilson. “In a perfect world, if we saw nobody walk through these doors it would be a wonderful thing, because it would mean there are no homeless people. But on the other hand, given the state the country is in right now, it pains my heart to even think it’s a possibility that someone may be scared to come through these doors.”
She believes some members of the at-risk population had sent friends or family in their place to collect donated goods.
The county’s Homeless Connect event is timed to complement the national 2019 Point-In-Time survey, a census of all persons in sheltering programs (emergency shelter, transitional housing and safe haven programs), as well as the unsheltered population identified on the night of the count.
According to the Jan. 23, 2018 count, a total of 228 households, including 335 individuals, were experiencing homelessness in Monmouth County on that day.
The 2018 totals showed an increase over 2017. In that survey, 184 households and 299 individuals were experiencing homelessness.
In November, Monmouth County established a new warming center next door to Pilgrim Baptist Church at 172 Shrewsbury Ave., in partnership with JBJ Soul Kitchen, Lunch Break and with support from the county’s Dept. of Human Services during incidences of severe cold weather, also known as “Code Blue” events. This has allowed social services to connect better with people experiencing homelessness, and will affect future counts.
When inside, guests are provided hygiene packages and can take a shower in one of two washing areas. They can also change out of wet clothing.
The warming center is currently only open to men. Homeless women seeking shelter from the cold are offered transportation to a facility in Asbury Park.
“Our underprivileged people may not be coming out to this event like they used to, but when I see nine people coming to the warming center last night, you know these people are out there. That’s just nine men. How many more do we not even know about? It’s our mission to reach them. And if this event doesn’t work, we’ll find another way.”