NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A new initiative of the city's only soup kitchen, Elijah’s Promise, takes a different approach to helping the area's homeless population by directly finding and assisting those on the streets with shelter, medical care, and social services.
A joint effort of the kitchen and the University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ (UMDNJ), the Homeless Empowerment Action Recovery Team (HEART) is a mobile homeless outreach program that travels throughout Middlesex County in search for homeless individuals in need of help.
HEART’s approach is to identify and solve the problems that lead people into destitution and to connect them with the proper shelter, medical care, and social services they need to change their lives around. This approach aims to give the homeless a chance to live a more successful life so they can stay off the streets.
Juan Flores, the case manager for the team, reaches out to homeless individuals and helps. According to Flores, substance abuse, mental illness, and family disputes are all major causes of homelessness.
Flores engages with his clients to assess what factors lead them to be homeless and then connects them with the right resources. The team is prepared to assist the homeless with a number of social services and legal questions, including welfare, warrants, government assistance and temporary housing.
According to Flores, substance abuse and mental illness are the biggest reasons why people are homeless. HEART will connect them with treatments including mental health counselors, drug-abuse counselors, and in-treatment programs to address their problems.
Flores said the homeless do want to get help, but often lack the transportation to get it. HEART provides their clients with transportation to take them where they need to go.
“Anybody addressing these people wants to motivate them to get off the street and change their lives,” said Flores. “You work with them to engage with their situation and make them want to make that change.”
According to Flores, there’s been a growing recognition across the nation that the cost for someone living on the streets and going in and out of shelters and jails is far greater than paying for housing.
HEART is in contact with different housing authorities who will let the program know when housing is available for clients. In certain situations, HEART works to connect clients back with their family so they can go back home.
“In order to properly help someone that is homeless, you have to give them housing first,” said Flores.
HEART tries to find housing near where the homeless have settled so that they can maintain their care once it starts. This method of continual care aims to keep clients from returning to the streets.
“Clients have depression, trauma, bi-polar and other problems that still needs to be addressed because that’s the reason they became homeless,” said Flores.
As of January 2012, 1,145 homeless men, women and children were reported living in Middlesex County, according to the New Jersey Point in Time Count.
According to Flores, he has helped close to 100 people in the last few months through HEART, and 55 of them already have a house and the resources they need.
HEART is funded by the Middlesex County Homeless Trust Fund. The grant was issued in January 2012 and was originally to end in January 2013, but was extended until June. Flores is optimistic about getting the grant renewed.
“I think the grant will go through because both agencies are very well respected,” said Flores. “I’m very hopeful for HEART. It is something that is needed.”