Ocean County Loses Emergency Food and Shelter FEMA Grant

Feb 08, 2017

Ocean County is doing so well it has lost $293,678 in federal emergency food and shelter funding. Tim Hearne, president and CEO of the United Way of Ocean County, said in order to qualify for this stream of federal money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security, the county would have to have had an unemployment rate greater than 7 percent or a poverty level of 17.6 percent. In 2016, Ocean County had a 5.2 percent unemployment rate and poverty level of 11.1 percent. “So the county did not qualify,” he said.

Hearne is just one of the members of the Emergency Food and Shelter Board – the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, The Jewish Federation of North America, Council of Churches in Christ and The Salvation Army also meet twice a year to oversee the funding and discuss ways to help the needy of Ocean County. And this is just one stream of funding that they allocate to help the homeless, he said.

“The United Way also gives funding to Ocean Mental Health, Harbor House (homeless youth shelter) and Catholic Charities’ Providence House (which houses domestic violence survivors).”

Although overall, the loss of $293,678, which was last year’s grant, might seem a small amount in the larger picture of social services available in Ocean County, smaller charities that rely on a piece of the FEMA pie are feeling the cut.

One of the few services available for housing the homeless in Southern Ocean County is Family Promise, a faith-based program that houses homeless families in a network of churches.

Family Promise Executive Director Elizabeth Golla said her agency is run primarily by volunteers and is hard pressed to make up the $30,000 that it had received from FEMA.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “Our agency gets little or no funding from the government, so this is big. All the programs are hurting. Thankfully, it’s only a portion of our budget, but it’s definitely going to hurt us. Other agencies may have to close. In Southern Ocean County, we’re ‘it’ – the only agency that helps the homeless find shelter.

“Last year alone, we helped 799 people in Ocean County find permanent housing, our little tiny agency,” said Golla.

The Southern Ocean affiliate of Family Promise was started in 2008. The volunteers work within church communities so when a homeless family contacts them or a church for help, they have rooms in their network of churches to house the family while it gets back on its feet.

There are some restrictions: The family must have at least one child under the age of 18 and a vehicle, and the members can’t have any alcohol or drug addictions.

Most families have been evicted from their apartments because of illness or the loss of a job. While living in the network of churches (they may move from one to another), they look for work and are able to accumulate the money needed for security and rent. Members of the affiliated churches also cook or provide all the meals for the family so they can save that way.

The agency does keep in touch with the families after they find permanent housing.

“We have about nine churches presently. We really need 14, but we’re not there yet,” said Golla.

“We have a strong team and a fundraising committee, but we do need more volunteers. Also, at this point, we have openings for families. I know they are out there. ”

The families are not expected to adopt church practices.

Family Promise also volunteered during the most recent New Jersey Counts survey, taken Jan. 25. The survey is administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is a “Point of Time” survey.

In 2016, the entire state registered 8,941 homeless men, women and children, a decrease of 1,270 persons from the year before, or 12.4 percent for the statisticians. The numbers for this year have not been collated yet, but Golla said the methodology for counting the homeless was flawed. The survey returned little or no figures for any communities except for Toms River, where mental health advocates and volunteers searched out the people living in tent communities.

Towns where volunteers were doing the count were told to hang up flyers and invite the homeless to register on Jan. 25 by going to a destination and fill out a survey with the help of a volunteer and tell where they had spent the night of Jan. 24.

In Southern Ocean County, Family Promise set up three contact points: the Lighthouse Alliance Church in Little Egg Harbor, the Tuckerton Food Pantry in Tuckerton and Ocean Community Church in Manahawkin.

Golla said only two individuals showed up that day for some type of housing assistance, and neither of them was homeless on Jan. 24. “They had heard through word of mouth. But seriously, how were the homeless to know where to go, and how were they supposed to get there?”

The 13 questions in the survey asked how long the person had been homeless, his or her last permanent address, sources and amount of monthly income and the primary reason for his or her current situation, which included loss of job; reduction of benefits; being released from jail, hospital or psychiatric facility; domestic violence; drug/alcohol abuse; being asked to leave a shared residence; and foreclosure.

In 2016 ,the highest number of respondents (153) said mental health issues were the reason for their homelessness, the second highest number (111) were victims of domestic violence, and 91 answered they had addiction problems. Only two homeless veterans were counted last year in Ocean County.

Oddly, although the questionnaire asks for the following details, those who responded that they were living doubled up with other families, or discharged from jail or health facilities with no home to return to were not counted because they do not meet HUD’s definition of homelessness.

“I get calls from people who are being released from the hospital and have nowhere to go,” said Golla, “even though the hospitals are not supposed to release them but they do. I get the calls.

To volunteer for Family Promise or to inquire about assistance, call 609-994-3317; to learn more go to the website familypromisesoc.org.  

— Pat Johnson


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