By Christina Johnson |
RED BANK – For homeless people living under bridges, in cars, or in the woods, a wintery nor’easter or freezing cold snap can be deadly.
But now, thanks to the efforts of several community leaders, the homeless will find a safe haven in a “hope and comfort” warming center next door to Pilgrim Baptist Church on Shrewsbury Avenue.
“We here in Red Bank are setting the standard of responding to human need in a special way,” said Rev. Terrence K. Porter of Pilgrim Baptist Church at the ribbon cutting Thursday, speaking before a crowd of local benevolent organizations and religious leaders in the church basement. Among them was Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea, Middletown residents whose foundation provided the financial resources to make the vision a reality at Pilgrim Baptist’s facilities, a partnership also supported by Lunch Break and numerous others.
According to Red Bank Police Chief Darren McConnell, there are about a dozen homeless individuals living in Red Bank. That’s more than its neighbors, but much less than in some other Monmouth towns. Overall, there are 325 homeless in Monmouth, as recorded by the annual Point in Time survey conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development in January.
When snow or rain falls in freezing weather, or when wind chill temperatures are headed to 20 degrees or below, Code Blue alerts are issued by the county Office of Emergency Management to remind officials to look out for the most vulnerable in their communities. There have been several in recent years, said McConnell.
“There was nothing we could do. We could try to help people and get them someplace, but there was no “someplace” to go. It ended up being the lobby of the police station or our emergency room waiting room. It just wasn’t anything appropriate.”
Recently, the state and county asked municipalities to come up with an action plan for Code Blue, without offering any funding. The innovative warming center initiative that has emerged in Red Bank is the only one in the area and may be used by other local towns with smaller or occasional needs.
When a Code Blue is announced, the warming center schedule will kick in as follows: From Sunday through Tuesday, individuals are invited to check in at the Pilgrim Baptist Church at 172 Shrewsbury Ave., in the building associated with the warming center. The check in takes place between 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, the check in location will be at the JBJ Soul Kitchen facility, at 207 Monmouth St., where a free hot meal will be provided until 8 p.m.
Because the overnight warming center is only open to men at this time, women will be offered transportation to a facility in Asbury Park.
The men will be transported from Monmouth Street to the Shrewsbury Avenue warming center by First Baptist and United Methodist churches of Red Bank. There they can find hygiene packages, take a shower in one of the two shower areas, or change out of wet clothing. “What’s unique, we’re also providing a washer and dryer,” said Porter, crediting “Sister Bongiovi” with the idea. If they want to discard wet clothing, Lunch Break of Red Bank will provide new or gently used clothing.
About 7 a.m. the next day, hot beverages and a morning snack will be offered before the warming center must close at 8 a.m., lest it fall under the description of a shelter, which it is not authorized to be.
At that time, the guests will be transported to Lunch Break, where they can have a hot breakfast, as well as a hot lunch. And stay long enough to be transported back to either Soul Kitchen or the warming center again. “We tried to bridge the gaps, so there was really no gaps where someone could be exposed to the inclement weather,” said Porter.
Mayor Pasquale Menna praised those who created the program, saying they were “inaugurating the heart of Red Bank.”
“All of us know there is a need. I see it every day from my own regular office, looking at the bridge at wintertime, overlooking the parking lot by the Oyster Point Hotel,” he told the crowd. But while it is not realistic to think all problems can be solved everywhere, Red Bank can be proud of its citizens who have done their best to create this “welcomed first step” in the diverse community, he added.
In recognition of the creative solution and leadership in creating a Code Blue warming shelter, the Monmouth County Freeholder Board will provide Pilgrim Baptist Church with a $6,500 grant annually for the next three years for providing overnight space to at-risk individuals.
The event concluded with an invitation to tour the modest but cozy warming center, as fat snowflakes fell on a day that would later turn to rain, and result in an unforgettable freezing, treacherous and slushy mess in the streets of Red Bank and around the state.
When it opens at the next Code Blue, the center will surely be a welcome refuge for people without means.
“We are hoping the warming center is another shining example of what can happen when people work together,” said Bon Jovi. “In the beginning of this holiday season, let us remember what matters most. We all have a lot to be thankful for and the good Lord gave us this opportunity to be here, together, to make our community, and then ultimately this state, this place we call home, just a little bit better.”
This article was first published in the Nov. 22-27, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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