Homelessness assistance organization thrown out of train station, leader says
Supporting Homeless Innovatively Loving Others (SHILO), an organization that brings together interfaith groups, Rutgers students and the surrounding community to help provide resources to New Brunswick’s homeless, has been told it can no longer set up its booths Sunday mornings at the New Brunswick Train Station unless it receives a permit.
The organization has been handing out food, toiletries and sharing ways to contact services to many of New Brunswick’s homeless people for five years, said SHILO’s executive director and CEO Walter Herres. Until this past Sunday, the NJ Transit police had allowed the event to go without a permit. But this time, they were told they needed a permit, forcing them to go across the street where there is no awning for protection from possible bad weather, he said.
“We’re doing effective programming, nonetheless we’re on NJ Transit property,” Herres said. The officer was waiting for SHILO this past Sunday, and told them they needed a permit to be at the train station, even though she had been letting them do it for months, he said.
A spokesperson for NJ Transit said that a permit is needed to hand out anything on its property, and Herres said he was in the process of finding out what the next steps would be.
“SHILO is not part of that problem. SHILO is helping you get on the train, we’re keeping the peace down there. We’re feeding and clothing people,” Herres said.
Herres, who was once homeless himself, now runs the organization while working and taking care of his child, he said. His organization’s goal is to have a place in New Brunswick for all the homeless to go and stay. Herres also hopes the future facility will offer job training, such as computer skills, for the city’s underprivileged.
“The mid-game is that I’m not compromising, because I represent the people and human rights. But the mid-game would be to give us a waypoint, give us a place, a safe space to be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., then offers job skills during the day,” he said.
Despite the possible setback on Sunday, SHILO is still moving toward its goal as it is a growing resource for the homeless in New Brunswick, who currently have access to one, all-men shelter that fits 40 people, Herres said. Another women’s shelter is in Piscataway.
Some of the people SHILO has assisted have gone on to find housing. For instance, an older woman who was sleeping in front of Starbucks is now paying $300 a month to live at a senior living facility, and a homeless veteran with epilepsy living in a cemetery is now paying $40 for rent, Herres said.
The living wage for a one-bedroom space is approximately $18.25 an hour, and for a two-bedroom space the living wage is approximately $26, he said.
Calculating the number of homeless is a hard thing to measure, as many move from place to place and the U.S. Census is sent to people’s mailing addresses. Yet, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2018 Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Programs Homeless Populations and Subpopulations report stated that there were approximately 1,623 total homeless people and approximately 1,547 total homeless households in New Jersey.
Many homeless in New Brunswick currently sleep on the streets, Herres said. In fact, two homeless people have died in the past year while out late at night, Herres said.
Over the summer, a female homeless person died while on a park bench by the United Methodist Church at New Brunswick, and since then, Herres's organization has held meal services at the church every Friday night, he said.
The recent deaths of some members of the homeless community, along with the rise of the rate of homelessness in New Brunswick in recent years in spite of all the new buildings being built by the city frustrates Herres.
“So for the police to come and stop someone from doing a simple, compassionate, altruistic service, because we’re not denominational – it’s very heartbreaking and the public needs to know that they are very vulnerable people,” he said.
Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.