For three decades, in good times and bad, the Hoboken Homeless Shelter on Bloomfield Street has provided beds and meals to help homeless persons stabilize their lives, and programs designed to open up hope for a better future.
In 2010, the shelter on the ground floor of St. John’s Lutheran Church served approximately 100,000 meals to visitors, double the amount they served in 2005. In 2011, the shelter’s meal distribution increased by 20 percent, with over 120,000 meals served.
When the winter cold drops to an intolerable level, demand for one of the 50 beds in Hoboken’s only homeless shelter rapidly increases. On Jan. 15, a winter emergency initiative was issued by Hudson County, which occurs when temperatures dip to dangerous levels.
The shelter has served over 1.5 million meals to about 400,000 guests.
“During a winter emergency initiative, we, just like every other night, make sure every single bed is full,” said Jaclyn Cherubini, the executive director of the Hoboken Homeless Shelter. “We have 50 beds here. We currently have 36 men and 14 women. With an estimation of 5,000 homeless [in the area], we’re always full.”
Cherubini said the shelter has to turn away guests due to space constraints all throughout the year.
“It’s an unfortunate situation we deal with nightly here throughout the year,” Cherubini said.
But even if there’s no place to sleep, the shelter still offers people warm meals.
“For dinner, we have 100 people who come here every day, half of whom are shelter guests,” Cherubini said. “Another 25 percent of the guests are part of the working poor, and another 25 percent are the street-dwelling homeless.”
Success stories from the shelter
In 2011, from Jan. 1 to Nov. 1, the shelter helped 134 people move from the street to the shelter, and eventually to their own homes. Cherubini said her staff is still finalizing statistics for November and December, but she is hopeful that the shelter will reach their goal of 150 people moved into their own homes for 2011.
Half of the success stories from the shelter move into fair market housing, Cherubini said. The shelter helps guests by pitching in for security deposits. Cherubini said the guests find housing after they acquire a job and save money and often move to Jersey City or Bayonne.
Of the other half, 25 percent move into supportive housing programs, and another 25 percent reunite with family members. The average stay for a guest, from living on the street to finding his or her own home, is approximately six to nine months, Cherubini said.
“It takes a little while to get all your ducks lined up and to find a job, save money, and find an apartment,” she said.
Raheem and Mark’s stories
One success story is Raheem from Jersey City, who is now an employee of the shelter. He asked only to be identified by his first name.
“For me, I came in here on a cold night,” he said. “I was doing bad things and had fought with my family. I had nowhere to go.”
Raheem said life had become very difficult and he decided to seek help.
“It was a struggle for me,” Raheem said. “I was sleeping in the park, and basically sleeping anywhere I could rest my head. But this place is a godsend; it helped me save my life.”
Raheem credits the staff and the programs available at the shelter with helping him on his road to recovery. Some classes teach guests how to write resumes and how to search for a job, while others delve into smart money management.
The shelter also has strict rules for when guests have to be in, and drug and alcohol use are prohibited.
Raheem works in the kitchen and helps prepare the food for guests, alongside the pool of approximately 4,000 volunteers that help out at the shelter.
Mark, who is originally from Chicago but moved to New Jersey in 1997, is a former homeless guest who now volunteers at the shelter.
“I saw a flyer on the bus about the shelter when I was homeless, and stopped by and told them about my situation,” Mark said.
Mark also took classes at the shelter, and said his favorite course taught him about banks and credit unions. After he saved money, the shelter was able to help him secure an apartment in November 2011 in Hudson County.
“Now I come here to help set up and clean up for the 1 p.m. groups that come in for lunch,” Mark said. “This place keeps me sane.”
He said he comes back to volunteer because he feels a “fellowship” with the guests.
30-year anniversary this year
The Hoboken Shelter will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, and the staff is planning a fundraiser and dinner for some time in early May.
In its 30 years, the Hoboken Homeless Shelter has served over 1.5 million meals to about 400,000 guests, Cherubini said.
The funding for the shelter is split between government grants and funding (50 percent), individual donations (25 percent), and corporate grants (25 percent).
The shelter always accepts volunteers to help serve meals, but Cherubini said the direst need for the shelter is donations of paper goods.
“Since we’re serving 350 meals every day, the demand is increasing dramatically,” she said. “We spend more on paper goods than we do on food.”
Cherubini added that a program called LOTTS (Lunch on Tuesday and Thursdays) established in the local Hoboken school system donates a large portion of sandwiches for guests.
Every day, when the guests of the shelter leave in the morning, they are each given a sandwich in a brown bag for lunch. Parents from schools in Hoboken make two sandwiches on Tuesday and Thursdays: one for their child, and one for a guest at the shelter.
Working during the day
Cherubini said about 33 percent of the guests go to school every day, 33 percent go to social programs, and 33 percent go to work.
Cherubini said the next major project for the shelter is to renovate the kitchen – where hundreds of guests eat and volunteers serve meals every day.
“Every little bit helps,” Cherubini said. “I believe the first step on the long journey to become housed starts with a warm meal. When someone donates a plate for that food to be served on, that’s the start of that first step for someone to move from the street, into the shelter, and eventually into their own homes.”
For more information about the shelter, visit HobokenShelter.org or call (201) 656-5069.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com