In the midst of this brutal winter, the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation (PERC) is working overtime to feed and house the needy at their homeless shelter in Union City and elsewhere. Among their projects, they recently gave a complete overhaul to their thrift shop at 113 37th Street in that city.
“We have some very dedicated volunteers,” said PERC Operations Manager Alice Bell. “They donated paint and their time, emptied the whole place out, painted and then restocked it and gave it a facelift.”
The store, which has been operating about seven years, is now fully loaded with new and used items including clothing, housewares, toys, and jewelry. All sales benefit the programs at PERC.
And money is desperately needed to keep the operation running, particularly now. PERC was founded 33 years ago to combat poverty and provide shelter and food to those in need.
The shelter, which has been housing extra people in its cafeteria, is planning two fundraisers in the near future.
A roof overhead
The shelter, which services not just Union City but all of Hudson County, consists of 40 bunk beds, 36 for men and a separate section with four for women. “There are certain criteria they have to meet,” said PERC Executive Director Carol Mori.
“Fifty percent of our guests work,” said PERC Community Relations Manager Patricia Belenski. “They earn minimum wage and they just can’t afford housing.”
Even in summertime there is overflow demand for the beds. Given the recent weather the shelter is operating in “winter emergency” mode.
“We don’t turn any homeless individuals away,” said Mori. “They’re allowed in the cafeteria. We give them a blanket; we feed them. There’s no bed but we give them a roof over their head. We’ve had over 55 people here in addition to the 40-bed shelter during the winter emergency.”
“People think it’s a crazy person with a shopping cart and it’s not. It’s families.” --Patricia Belenski
The goal is for those in the shelter to obtain jobs and independent housing, with PERC lending assistance wherever possible. Residents have their situation reviewed every 30 days.
“By law at 120 days they max out” in the shelter, according to Belenski. “So what happens is a lot of them do the shelter shuffle. They’ll go between us, St. Lucy’s [in Jersey City] and Hoboken. That’ll give them a year.”
“Altogether there are 170 shelter beds in Hudson County,” said Belenski. “For 650,000 people.”
PERC also operates a family shelter, the only one in Hudson County. “The phone rings off the hook for that,” said Belenski.
“We do a community service dinner every day, seven days a week,” said Belenski. “We serve between 100 and 150 people every evening. We did over 95,000 meals last year. We have a food pantry which is open to all of Hudson County, downstairs in our dining room every Wednesday between the hours of 9 and 1. We usually do about 100 to 150 families a week.”
“We send food to other shelters,” said Belenski. “We send food out to seniors. We’ll be doing a senior lunch for Union City soon. We help with fires. The last fire in Union City, we set up a special food pantry and we set up a toy drive.”
“We have the PERC children’s program that we do at Grove Church,” she continued. “These are children at several schools in Hudson County with very low-income criteria. That’s to get a jumpstart on their education. This is kindergarten through sixth grade. We also run a summer camp for them as well. Grove Church was nice enough to let us use their facilities.”
“There’s such a stigma on homelessness,” said Belenski. “People think it’s a crazy person with a shopping cart and it’s not; it’s families. One of the biggest rises in populations we’ve seen are young people, 18, 19, and 20-year-olds. They just have no place to go and can’t get a job.”
“We have women coming in constantly with very small children, living in their cars,” added Mori. “And they don’t meet the eligibility criteria for Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Funds. They don’t meet the eligibility criteria for our support housing. They don’t have enough money to pay rent. So where do they go? That’s one of the biggest gaps and that’s what we’re trying to address now.”
As of Oct. 1 last year, PERC became a subsidiary of the Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation (GSECDC), according to Mori, who became the PERC executive director on that date.
“It was really to expand and enhance the services that both Garden State and PERC do to serve the homeless population in Hudson County,” said Mori. “Garden State does affordable, supportive housing, we have our homeless coordinated entry program, so it just made sense. Particularly combining resources and staff. We already partner and work together, and bringing PERC under our umbrella kind of helps stabilize PERC a little bit as well.”
Still, there’s a strong need for ongoing assistance from the public. “We really rely on volunteers,” said Belenski. “And we have tremendous volunteers.”
In addition, donations from individuals and corporations are gladly accepted. Upcoming are two fundraisers, the first a “Dine to Donate” event at Houlihan’s Restaurant in Weehawken on Tuesday, March 4, between 5 and 9 p.m. The restaurant will donate to PERC a portion of the bill from any diners who present a flyer from PERC. The flyer is available at http://www.percshelter.org/resources/HoulihansMarch4.pdf
PERC’s annual fundraising dinner is also being planned for Wednesday, May 21 at Frank’s Waterside Restaurant. “It should be like 250 people,” said Belenski. “We’ll have silent auction items, we’ll have raffles. This is our biggest fundraiser and we can do a lot with that money.”
Anyone interested in contributing goods or assistance or attending either event should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (201) 348-8150.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.