January 5, 2023
Homeless children have four times as many respiratory infections, twice as many various infections, four times as many ear infections, and are four times more likely to have asthma. 29% percent of homeless families are headed by a working adult, in many cases the mother. More than half of those mothers do not have a high school diploma. Approximately 63% of homeless women have been victims of domestic abuse. Homeless children are more likely to suffer from hunger, poor physical and emotional health, and poor attendance and performance in school. One of the most horrifying facts is that 83% of children who are homeless have experienced violence. 20% of homeless children have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems than their peers who are not homeless. 42% of children in homeless families are under the age of six (Arms of Hope, 2023).
New Jersey’s Story
There is a myriad of causes of homelessness across the country. This is New Jersey’s story. There are approximately 10,000 homeless residents in New Jersey as of the writing of this article. The majority of
those homeless were asked, forced, or left their home because of some abuse. Eviction is a close
second, followed by loss or reduction of income. As aforementioned, 63% of homeless women have been victims of abuse; in most cases, they take their children with them, many times out of fear for their safety. Many of the homeless have overlapping causes. One person can be homeless because of domestic violence because of one’s sexual orientation. Another may have been just released from prison or imprisoned for an incident or incidents resulting from a mental illness. All of these are among the causes of homelessness. Of the nearly 10,000 homeless individuals, approximately 7,000 are in temporary emergency shelters. The key word there is “temporary”. In most cases, those in emergency shelters eventually add to the nearly 2,000 unsheltered people.
Systemic Racism and Jim Crow
Although African Americans make up 12% of New Jersey’s population, they make up an astounding 47% of homeless people. One must ask the question: how can a minority make up a majority of everything undesired in a civilized society if systemic racism doesn’t exist? However, everything desired by the majority is enjoyed by the majority. Something to think about. Let’s just take a look at New Jersey’s prison population, for example. Again, African Americans make up just 12% percent of New Jersey’s population, yet makeup over 50% percent of the prison population. If one looks closely at the numbers, the prison statistics almost mirror the homeless statistics. Again, can you say systemic racism? Most of the homeless were among black males, followed closely by black females. Remember, when we use terms like majority, we are always speaking in terms of percentage per capita. African Americans make up the majority of those contributing factors to homelessness. Such factors include but are not limited to mental health issues, substance abuse, physical disability, developmental disability, and chronic health conditions. It bears repeating, and these numbers are not coincidental. They are all a bi-product of systemic racism. This writer will not insult the readers’ intelligence by explaining what Jim Crow is, not was, is. However, let’s just say Jim Crow had a name change: Systemic Racism.
Ok, I can’t help myself; let’s look at an interesting history, briefly of course. The Emancipation Proclamation freed a portion of enslaved black folks, but it wasn’t until 1865 that the southern and border states were completely emancipated. Now, stick with me; I’m going somewhere with this as it pertains to homelessness. Now, the reconstruction period started officially in 1863. The country was grappling with the conundrum of integrating millions of freed black people into the social, political, economic, and labor systems. White people who erroneously believed that black folks were going to replace them and eventually overtake them had a swift, violent, and brutal backlash. The laws were enforced in violent, horrific ways. Land was taken by savagery. The term was first used in 1884, and segregation became the law of the land for the next 100 years. Now, in 1965, Jim Crow laws were abolished “on paper”. The backlash to the abolition of the Jim Crow laws was the solidification of “Systemic Racism”. Systemic racism still segregates. However, it segregates in different and more subtle ways, and sometimes, not so subtle. Laws can’t change ethics, morals, or character. Therefore, those who adhered to racism contrived ways to continue their assault on decency. There is always a racial backlash to progress. For instance, the racial backlash to Barack Obama was Donald Trump. Barack Obama was too much of a symbol and sign of progress, threatening the “American Way”. This is why the mantra is “Make America Great Again”.
Homelessness is directly tied to the backlash of progress beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation. There is little wonder why black men make up the majority of the prison system and a minority of the population. And there is little wonder why black men and women make up the majority of the homeless and again, a minority of the population.
Did I mention systemic racism? I believe I did; now, let’s look directly at the homeless. In urban areas around the state, the causes of homelessness are often different than in rural areas. For instance, in Newark or Camden, homelessness is caused more by lack of education and joblessness; young, capable men and women getting released from prison have criminal records, and few people will hire them. Those laws were enacted after Reconstruction and during Jim Crow; see how this works. Mental illness is a major part of homelessness in urban areas for reasons cited above in this article. In more rural areas, lack of adequate income is often the problem. People simply don’t make enough money. Some homeless people leave the shelters to go to work in the morning, make just enough money to buy food, keep the heat on in the car for their children, and to buy gas to get to work. Some homeless people are on social security and have the same problem: lack of income to afford housing. There is a serious shortage of affordable housing in New Jersey. Builders who are mandated to build affordable units add money to application fees to keep the unit financially out of reach to minorities. For instance, if a builder builds 100 units in a building that is upscale, a percentage has to be allocated to low-income families. The fees are exorbitant and cannot be paid by the low-income families. That percentage of low-income units eventually gets sneakily rented to families that can afford the fees. Please become acquainted with the Jim Crow tactics that were still taking place as late as 2015: www.fairsharehousing.org/a-history-of-the-mount-laurel-doctrine/. Remember, Jim Crow had a name change; he is now referred to as Systemic Racism. This type of housing discrimination is still persistent in New Jersey and is a sad indictment of our beautiful state. Please see:
True Vine Ministries and Community Services
340 Route 9 Bayville, NJ 08721 - 7:00 pm – 8:00 am Open nightly
After speaking with experts with feet on the ground who have dedicated a large part of their adult lives to helping the homeless, I was given insights that cannot be found in statistics and charts. For instance, I discovered that a lot of counties in New Jersey do not want year-round homeless shelters for various reasons. The temporary shelters that get approved are for the winter months only, and some are for overnight stays only. Also, in too many shelters in counties around the state, the temperature must be 35 degrees or below. In some cases, the temperature must dip below 32 degrees to open their doors. This begs the question, when summer month temperatures hit 100 degrees, where do they go? Heat can kill just as easily as the cold.
Meeting the Victims of Our Sordid Past
Enough with statistics and numbers. Let’s talk to real people. Those of us who have been victims of modern-day Jim Crow.
Photo Source Facebook Page Of Senior Pastor Rhetta Jackson-Fair
True Vine Ministries Director & Overseer Code Blue Shelter Bayville N.J.
Senior Pastor Rhetta Jackson-Fair of True Vine Ministries, graciously answered all my questions regarding what happens in the trenches. Pastor Jackson-Fair is the Director and Overseer of Cold Blue Shelter located in Bayville, N.J. She is an expert on the homeless situation, having been involved for many years. Pastor Fair started her ministry in Newark, NJ. She then relocated to Ocean County. This move gave her insight into the diverse causes of homelessness that are germane to each area in our state. Some of those differences have been outlined in this article. She generously gave The Echo access to her shelter.
Pastor Jackson-Fair’s shelter is conveniently located in a strip mall. Her beautifully appointed sanctuary, originally purposed to hold chairs on which congregants would sit and listen to weekly services, has been converted into a space wherein there are beds for the homeless who can utilize the space nightly. In this writer’s humble opinion, if Jesus walked into her sanctuary and saw beds for the homeless instead of empty chairs, I’m sure He would say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant, well done!” Please visit True Vine Healing and Deliverance Ministries on Facebook for instructions on how to participate in this
I was able to speak to several good people there who are currently and prayerfully temporarily homeless. Here are some of their stories.
R.H. is an African American woman in her early 50s. She’s soft-spoken, intelligent, and engaging. She shared that she was working as a home health aide but could no longer perform her duties in that vocation due to a back injury. She was living with her paramour when he kicked her out of his home.
She’s been homeless ever since. The shelter was a Godsend. She spends her days at a friend’s house but only long enough to shower. The friend is on section 8 and cannot risk having the appearance of someone living there. She leaves the friend’s house and spends her days trying to stay warm any way she can until the shelter opens at 7:00 pm. At 7:00 am, the shelter must close, and the clients must leave. Her mundane day begins all over again.
E.H. is intelligent and hardworking; therefore, she has transitioned to being a staff member at the shelter. She shared with me that she has been approved for housing in North Carolina. Why North Carolina? She could find no help in New Jersey. She tried everything from calling the 211 number included in this article to contacting other state agencies. She proudly informed me she will be leaving next month.
Steve is a Caucasian male. Steve was sitting in his home in the year 2000, playing a game of chess, when he heard a large crash about a block from his home. He said to himself, “That didn’t sound good.” Then he got a phone call. That doomy sound was his extraordinarily gifted 18-year-old son. His son was in a vehicle that hit a telephone pole at 100 miles per hour. He told me with tears in his eyes that when his son died, so did he. He understandably still grieves. His son’s death led to a domino effect in his life. He found it difficult to work and function. He eventually lost his home he’s been in for 40 years. He’s been homeless for quite some time. Steve is a gifted writer. He showed me his publications and poems. His mind is sharp; his heart is shattered still. He’s in the shelter with his wife, D.D. They’ve been married for 6 months. At 7:00 am, they leave the shelter and wander the streets in the cold, rain, hail, and sleet. They seek shelter in local churches or stores. D.D. tries to wash in convenience store bathrooms. D.D. is a very compassionate lady who has suffered the losses of several of her children. Her eyes bear the sadness of her losses, and in them, you can see her shattered heart. She expressed that she wants to share more of her story. I will return; I greatly desire to hear it.
Too many of us look in disdain as we pass them by, too quick to judge. Just ask yourself the next time you pass a homeless person. “How would Jesus feel? What would Jesus do?”
Homelessness is not a choice; it is the result of a culmination of circumstances.
This is the first of a series of articles The Echo will write on this important issue that plagues us. Stay tuned.
For resources, please contact the
New Jersey Department of Community Affairs at
609-292-4080 or 211