TOMS RIVER – A new group to help the county’s homeless just opened a new home of their own. The Housing Resource Center will be a centerpiece in providing services for our most at-risk residents.
The Toms River Housing and Homeless Coalition began operating out of 200 Corporate Circle, off of Route 37, several months ago, but they had an official ribbon cutting recently. It’s led by Sue Jones, a pastor with Holy Cross Lutheran Church. The goal is to be a nexus connecting different agencies.
“Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job,” she said.
They’ll be working with Habcore, Inc., which provides housing and services for homeless in Ocean and Monmouth counties. Case manager Toni Ann Widmaier said that already, the center has helped 72 people. They ranged in age from 16 to 88.
“There is no one size fits all for homeless,” Jones said. The profile is diverse and that’s why it’s a hard problem to fix.
“Homelessness is a symptom of something else,” she explained. That other issue might be domestic violence, or addiction, or a debilitating health emergency.
When someone contacts their agency, they establish what their needs are and then reaches out to the resources available.
There are a lot of different groups already helping homeless, but each one has a niche that is sometimes very specific. Their funding might only allow them to help with substance abuse, for example. Or, they are only allowed to provide help for a short term. The Housing Resource Center hopes to connect all these different puzzle pieces into one complete picture.
“A lot of different agencies are having the same conversation,” Jones said. So, the idea is to have a central voice.
She spent 25 years in business before becoming a pastor, and one of the things you learn in business is cost avoidance. When many people are attempting to solve the same problem separately, it’s not as efficient as working together.
“The one thing we need is a Homelessness Trust Fund,” she said. This is an account fueled by a fee on any real estate transaction.
This money would generate enough to support a transitional living facility for the homeless, and it would likely cost less than the county is paying annually to put them up in hotels, she said. Ocean is the only county in New Jersey without such a location.
County Commissioner Barbara Jo Crea was on hand at the ribbon cutting. She’s the liaison to the Board of Social Services.
County representatives have been consistent in their message that they aren’t against having a temporary shelter, as long as it is operated by another group. “The county does not want to own or run a shelter, but very much want to help those in need,” she said. “We realize that the people who this foundation serves need a hand up and this is what it’s all about.”
Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill also vowed to work with the new group and be supportive.
The township has one of the largest responsibilities for affordable housing, looking at 3,000 units. Every town is assigned a number by the state based on an ever-changing formula. The town has to allow that many “affordable” homes or else be vulnerable to lawsuits.
So, permanent housing solutions are on the horizon, Hill said. But in the interim, “we need to find a way to bridge the gap. We’re looking forward to solving this problem.”
He credited former council members Laurie Huryk and Terrance Turnbach for spearheading the homeless support movement in town. Current Councilman Matthew Lotano was also in attendance at the ribbon cutting.