ELIZABETH, NJ — In an effort to address the growing number of homeless services in New Jersey, a month-long food drive was kicked off this week in Elizabeth.
The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, who has partnered with Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Union, will feed hundreds of people each day with their ‘Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation’ program, where thousands of sandwiches will be distributed to homeless residents in the area.
This is the fourth year that the program has run, and according to Quijano, it’s important of people to remember that many people are struggling. “For the past three years, I have seen this community dig in to help our friends and neighbors who are struggling to live day-to-day here in Elizabeth,” said Quijano. “During the busy summer months, it’s easy to forget that there are those around us for whom hunger doesn’t take a vacation. I’m really proud of all the volunteers and donating organizations that agreed to give their time and resources to feed over 500 people today.”
Linda Flores-Tober, executive director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, told LocalSource that the numbers of homeless people in Elizabeth is increasing. “The Elizabeth Coalition has helped literally tens of thousands of people in our 34 years of service,” said Flores-Tober. “The numbers of homeless has definitely increased in Elizabeth as it has throughout New Jersey.”
Flores-Tober said that there are several reasons for the increase. “The number of full-time jobs paying living wages is hard to come by,” said Flores-Tober. “Many of the working homeless we see rarely get more than 20 hours of work in retail and entry-level positions. We are seeing more working families become homeless than ever.”
According to Flores-Tober, the cost of living makes it difficult for many of these individuals and their families to survive. “The cost of housing has become impossible,” she said. “More than 75 percent of those living at or below poverty level pay more than 50 percent of their income for rent and utilities. This leaves little money for food, child care and other necessities. Emergencies like a car repair or becoming sick and missing work mean the probability of not making the rent,” said Flores-Tober, who refers to it as the Housing Cost Burden.
Flores-Tober said that landlords are a big part of the homeless problem. “Landlords are raising more barriers to rent,” she said. “Red-lining the poor by requiring that the rent be 30 percent of their income. This means that a fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment of $1,325 requires a household income of more than $50,000. In Union County, approximately 40 percent of the population could not afford that apartment. Further, landlords are refusing to rent to anyone with an eviction on their credit record. We have one case where they paid the landlord back the rent owed and the new landlord would not rent to them. Others have evictions more than 10 years past and they cannot find an apartment. An eviction, unlike even bankruptcy, does not drop from your history ever.”
Another issue is social services, which Flores-Tober claims does not ultimately help recipients in the long-term. “The state is purging the welfare roles, which on the surface seems fair,” she said. “Some have timed out. Welfare, contrary to popular belief, is limited to five years for a lifetime, and emergency assistance is limited to 12 months for a lifetime. The problem is that the system does not help the recipient — they merely provide them with a check. Many are left at the end of five years still without skills, trying to work and raise a family on minimum wage with part-time hours. They are no longer entitled to emergency assistance and many of the resources of public assistance. Programs that could have helped them transition are closed to them.”
Coordinating feeding programs takes plenty of planning and raising of funds. “We work closely with Annette Quijano’s office,” said Flores-Tober. “They raise the $500 per day to purchase the meat, cheese, bread and peanut butter/jelly to make the sandwiches. Together we spread the word to companies and groups interested in doing community service in the summer. This year we expanded from 4 to 8 days and we are needing to expand to more dates as the demand to participate grows. People want to do good things in the community.”
Sandwiches will be prepared by various groups every Wednesday and Thursday in August: Aug. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 31 and Sept. 1, between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Social Service Center, located at 118 Division St., Elizabeth.
Volunteers are also encouraged to stay and help distribute sandwiches at 1 p.m.
Quijano said that she is grateful for the continued support from both sponsors and volunteers, but that more help is needed. “I can’t thank enough all the generous sponsors and volunteers who are coming together to help support this drive once again,” said Quijano. “Donations have been received from various organizations and businesses, but additional assistance can assure that more people are fed.
Whether it’s money, bottled water, small snacks, people can continue to donate online. I hope everyone will take the time to find out how they can get involved, not just in August, but every month of the year, to help fight the growing hunger problem around us.”
Flores-Tober said that she urges people to call the Quijano’s office to sign up for a date in the sandwich project if they want to get involved. In addition, volunteers are wanted at Bernice’s Place, a program for homeless youth, as well as their transitional housing program. For more information and to volunteer, call the Coalition’s office at 908-355-2060.
The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless has been providing emergency services to the homeless, advocating for the root solutions to homelessness and working to move families into self-sufficiency since 1982. They have always been leaders in the homeless service system.
Residents can get involved and help support the Elizabeth Coalition by visiting theelizabethcoalition.org.