ELIZABETH, NJ — The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless hosted its 10th annual Service Fair on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Mickey Walker Center in Elizabeth. More than 200 people showed up to inquire about and enlist the help of various non-profit government organizations, from banks to the local YMCA. With the primary focus of this fair being to help those who are low income and housing insecure, Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage was in attendance to support his constituents.
Local non-profit organizations, such as the NJ Reentry Corporation, which helps people returning from prison or probation to reintegrate into society, were in attendance at the event. Every person applying for services spoke to at least one representative from each organization in attendance, emphasizing the need for government aid for those who are poor or unhoused.
Bollwage spoke about the great work the Elizabeth Coalition does to help those who are homeless and have lower incomes.
“The people here have a great need for not only references and recommendations, but everyday supplies, in order to survive,” Bollwage told the Union County LocalSource. “If it were not for these organizations and the Elizabeth Coalition, many people would struggle on a daily basis.”
Bollwage also discussed the need for local and national governments to help people who are low income and vulnerable.
“Everyone here will get some kind of service or help,” Bollwage said, “whether it is advice or a housing reference or an employment opportunity. It is encouraging to know that many people in the government are assisting the people.”
Organizations such as the Elizabeth Public Library were also advertising events to help those who are housing insecure, speaking about a focus group that they would be hosting to hear from people in Elizabeth, in order to better serve the community. Religious services such as the Jewish Family Service of Central NJ were also in attendance to help members of the Jewish community in Elizabeth gain access to food and various medical services. Representatives from Valley Bank were available to help people at the event set up a checking and savings account for job and housing assistance.
Linda Flores-Tober, the executive director of The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, spoke about the point-in-time count that the Department of Housing and Urban Development did to figure out how many people needed service this year.
“Ever since HUD started holding a national point-in-time count to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness in January, we have been doing this service fair,” Tober told LocalSource. “The higher number of homeless people counted determines the amount of funds that organizations get to help address homelessness.”
While the increase in government funding helps these organizations to address the problem of homelessness, Tober said the funds are not enough to adequately solve this problem.
“We don’t get enough money to actually solve this problem, but we get enough money to throw a Band-Aid over it,” Tober said. “We gave out about 500 coats today. We didn’t ration it because, if people are poor, why should they have less?”
Tober said non-profit organizations are helping people to adapt to modern situations.
“The reason that Valley National Bank is here is because they have special programs for people who are low-income, so that people can keep their money and avoid fees,” Tober said. “People have to learn how to use banks and debit cards because now, some jobs pay you on a debit card.”
As for those who are housing insecure or houseless, Tober said they will be provided with shelter and will receive additional counseling and services afterward.
“For those who came in and were houseless, we directed them toward shelters for tonight,” Tober said. “It is the least that we could do for surveying them and asking pretty intrusive questions. The hope is that social services will screen them for further services and help them as best as they can.”
According to Tober, those additional services include help with utility payments through PSE&G for those who are housing insecure, as well as SNAP benefits to help with food and groceries and affordable healthcare through NJ Family Care, in addition to legal options for domestic abuse victims through the Young Women’s Christian Association.
Photos by Javon Ross