By Thomas Ellis II
On Sunday, September 16 the homeless shelter at 224 Sussex Avenue in Newark closed its doors to the homeless until November, several people have been displaced, and have nowhere to go.
Before this came out, on Friday night September 14, there was a protest held outside of the shelter with people from the community. They stood in the middle of the street chanting “Keep the Shelter Open,” and “Make the rich pay their fair share.”
The shelter was closed back in July for 5 days, but the community took a bold stance, raised the level of awareness, and put some pressure on. After a few days, the city found money to keep it open for a month.
There was a group of people that formed a grassroots organization called CommonUnity First, which was organized by Queen Hatari. She took the lead when the shelter first closed and got several others involved. They created a team and have been up in the park in front of 224 helping the people ever since with food, clothing, praying, and finding places for them to stay.
Then the shelter was back open for another month. The City went out and found monies and businesses made donations of dollars to keep it open through September. However, the shelter was going to be closed again in September. So now, here it is, the middle of September and the doors are closed again.
Since the second closing, there have been people from all over coming up to the park dropping off water, food, women's personal items, deodorant, toothpaste, clothes or whatever they could donate, and it means so much to so many.
I must say that the Community Team have really been filling the gap, and the people who stayed at the shelter really trust her and her team with their lives.
The weekend of September 15th, Queen took a bold step when she locked herself and several people who have been displaced in the park. She had already been spending the night in the park with the people for 48 to 60 hours. On September 17 morning the police came to open up the park and asked her to let the park be available to others.
I will say this as someone who have been embedded with the homeless people since July 2nd. The stress was starting to get to the people, the heat was beating people down, some were beginning to feel hopeless again, and many others just could not understand why the shelter was closed again.
On September 18th, Mayor Ras J. Baraka put out a press release stating why the shelter was closed for the remainder of the month and will remain closed until November. Many of the people did not buy his reason and wanted more answers.
Since the closing in September there have been people from all over donating, many as far as North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Philly, not to mention others from across the state of New Jersey. One of the people who I have seen donating items, food, etc. was Phil Strafford. He wears his Superman cape many times when he comes out, and the people look forward to seeing him because they know he is dropping off plenty of things they can use. Several motorcycle clubs have also stepped up and helped out, and Queen and the team along with the residents really thanked them and others for all that they have been and still are doing.
Over the weekend, Masjid Al Wali from Edison came up to the park, and donated sandwiches, men’s and women’s personal items, and towels, soap, etc.
On Monday, Kim Gilchrist of the City of Newark Homeless Coalition came up to the park where the people were sleeping and relocated about 8 to 10 people to get them out of the park and into a shelter.
The fight continues, and the CommonUnity Team has put together a 10-point plan to ensure that the residents staying in the shelter in November would have an advocate, and someone to address their needs and concerns.
Here is 5 key points of the 10-point plan:
1. To ensure that the shelter in November serves a more nutritious breakfast and dinner meal
2. Make sure that the new staff or returning staff treat the residents with dignity and respect
3. Meet with the staff of 224 on a monthly bases to make sure that the community have some input, and informed of what's going on in the shelter and to see how the community can work with them on a regular basis
4. Make sure that when the shelter reopens that there are services that meet the needs of the residents in the shelter, not just outsourced services, with mental health services, addiction services, spiritual services for the many different faiths, HIV and Aids services and referrals with physical ed program and a health component
5. Employment services for the residents with a daily or weekly job listing, and upcoming training that's offered to the homeless along with a GED program for those who want to get their High School Diploma.
These are just 5 points that the CommonUnity Team has met on and agreed to meet with the shelter owners about for the opening of November.
Hats off to the CommonUnity Team and leader Queen Hatari. You did what a lot of people would not have done. Many seen saw situation but did nothing. Special thanks go out to all that assisted in whatever capacity and made donations. The list is to long for me to include everyone but thanks again. That’s what compassion is all about.
By Thomas Ellis II
On July 2, the homeless shelter at 224 Sussex Avenue was closed and residents were asked to leave with no place to go. The sad part of this article is that the people were put out on one of the hottest days of the year, and during a heat wave.
Many of the residents from the shelter was sitting across the street on Duryea and Sussex Avenue with the look of hopelessness, despair, anger, frustration, and wondering what they were going to do, and where they were going to stay, looking for answers.
Several Newark community activists joined in the fight for the homeless. Queen Hatari, Donna Jackson, Munirah Bomani, myself, several motorcycle clubs throughout the area, and concerned citizens all responded to a call for help on social media that Queen was posting live asking people to share the stream.
Earlier that afternoon, I asked the residents to join in a Miracle Prayer and they did so. Prayers went up for food and places to stay for the homeless.
People from all over started pulling up in cars, dropping off water, ice, food, snacks, chicken, hot dogs, pizza, juice, ice pops, fruit, salad, or whatever they could to help with the situation.
As the day went on, the temperature was getting hotter and hotter, and all the water and ice was very much needed.
By Day 2 and Day 3 people were still dropping off items, and the park in front of the shelter had now become a place the homeless from 224 would gather to get food, water, and shelter. Donna and Queen were now placing people in a hotel that needed a place to stay from monies that was raised on Queen’s Facebook page, and they were going live every day and telling people to share.
Now, not only was the homeless being fed, but the community and many from outside came up to the park.
By Day 5, Mayor Ras J. Baraka had the shelter reopened due to pressure from the community activists and others. Monies were found to keep the doors open for 30 more days.
The 30 days is good, but the shelter needs to be open year-round, because there is a serious homeless crisis in Newark, and the homeless people need a place to stay.
The donations and efforts from the community continued for five more days. By Day 9, there was a cookout in the park with a variety of food to feed the people. Clothes and personal items for men and women were donated and given out to everyone that was homeless and in the park.
By Day 10 and Day 11 things changed dramatically. The police were stationed in the park. There was no serving of food, and the homeless was looking very confused. They could go into the shelter, but the resources were not available for them. So many decided to stay outside in the park.
The park is open to the residents, but the community activists can no longer use it to serve food or give out clothing. The people were told that they could serve food across the street from 224, and the people could eat in the park, but by sundown Tuesday night, I was told that the Mayor shut down the whole operation from the community.
Earlier that day, a city worker came up to the location cussing and threatening several of the community activists.
This is something that should not be tolerated, and the Mayor needs to take some form of action, just like he took action on the homeless people, the homeless advocates, and community. That staff worker needs to be shut down.
Goodwill 689 Shelter on 16th Avenue and the Riviera Hotel for housing the people in their time of need.
Congratulations and thanks to all who donated to help the residents of 224 in their time of need. Also, the activists wanted to thank Goodwill 689 Shelter on 16th Avenue and the Riviera Hotel for housing the people in their time of need. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Clergy Alliance was absent from the effort.
From the efforts to the help the homeless, a 501(c)3 was formed called Common Unity, to continue to address the needs of the homeless in the city.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - The homeless shelter here at 224 Sussex Ave., that was closed July 1 during a heat wave, has been re-opened since 3 p.m. July 5.
Mayor Ras J. Baraka and his administrators have found funding to keep the city's own overnight shelter open into July 31. Whether it remains open beyond Aug. 1 depends in part on how fast prospective operators respond to a request for proposals the city has posted June 25.
Up to 290 homeless men and women may visit or return there at least for now.
Some of the estimated 190 who were told to leave the morning of July 2 may not be returning. They have either been placed in other temporary or permanent housing, joined a Newark Housing Authority availability list and/or joined a state voucher plan.
Some others may have found a rented room on their own, gone to one of the 13 other federally-funded shelters in Newark - or take their chances outside.
"Local Talk" got an advance on 224 Sussex's reopening when it noticed an announcement being electronically edited at City Hall's Room 214 - The Mayor's Office of Public Information - 1 p.m., July 5, while delivering papers there.
"You're the first person from outside this room who knows of this," said PIO Frank Baraff. "We're going public with this at 2 p.m."
The accompanying July 5 release said that "the City will reveal the identity of corporate donors, announce an RFP for continued services and discuss plans for housing Sussex Avenue residents beyond July," in "a news conference next week."
That conference, either in front of 224 Sussex or at City Hall, may be scheduled for July 12-13, if at all this week. The conference's date, time and place were not set for July 9-11.
"Local Talk" readers may recall that Baraka and Department of Community Health and Wellness Director Mark Wade opened the 250-bed 224 Sussex with fanfare last November.
It was, and still is, the city's first emergency temporary shelter of its own. Those staying at Newark Penn and Broad Street stations, the Newark Public Library Main Branch and Peter Francisco Park and other area remain its intended clients.
A 2017 annual Essex County census on the homeless found 1,000 such men, women and children here in Newark. The 1,000 are far and away the largest population in the county and one of the largest in the state.
The five-story former electronics factory and warehouse had been a stay-in drug rehabilitation center until mid-2017. It originally intended to be open through the winter into March 31.
The Baraka Administration has since labored to find funds and operating partners to keep 224 Sussex open. "Local Talk" remembers Director of Interfaith Affairs Louise Scott-Rountree apologizing to a June 1 community meeting regarding the redevelopment of the Krueger-Scott Mansion for the Mayor's absence.
"He has been working all day to secure funding for the homeless shelter," said Scott-Rountree June 1.
"The City extended shelter operations and began working on a comprehensive plan for sheltering the chronically homeless and their transition permanent supportive housing before the March closing date," said the July 5 release. "Lacking the resources to solve homelessness by itself, the City's strategy is to engage city, county, state and federal government, local corporations, the Newark Housing Authority, non-profits providing homeless services, philanthropies, colleges and universities in a collaborative effort to move homeless individuals and families toward independent living."
That funding search apparently failed on July 2. The around 190 people were sent out to Boy's Park across the avenue or elsewhere. That Monday was part of a five-day heat wave of 90-plus degrees F.
Several community activists, responding to news on social media, sought supplies and assistance for the displaced. The NHA and the state Department of Community Affairs followed up with housing applications and vouchers.