Mayor David Roberts called a meeting of city, police and health care officials Wednesday to discuss the city's policy when it comes to homelessness. Roberts said that it is his belief that the number of homeless persons near the Hoboken train terminal and in the city's parks has increased this summer. He said that within the next couple of weeks, he will announce a plan for a coordinated response for how the city will deal with its homeless.
Roberts said that it is important that the city handle the issue now before it becomes a "crisis."
"We need to be proactive for the health and well being the homeless as well as the health and well being of the citizenry of Hoboken," said Roberts Wednesday afternoon.
One announcement that did come out of the meeting is that Jersey City Medical Center will donate the services of the Medical and Social Services for the Homeless (MASSH) unit, a division of the hospital that evaluates the needs of the homeless throughout Hudson County. Starting Thursday, the MASSH van was scheduled to visit sites in Hoboken where the homeless tend to congregate. Roberts added that medical and social workers in the vans will make an assessment whether a homeless person needs medical or psychiatric assistance.
Those who meet the threshold level of need will be taken to Jersey City Medical Center, and others will be taken to facilities that accept the homeless on a short term basis, said Roberts. "We're going to make sure that these people get the assistance that they need," he said.
But what will happen afterwards to those who are given short-term treatment or short-term housing? Will they return to the streets? And what of those who do not meet the standard for medical treatment, or those who, for various reasons, refuse treatment or acceptance into a shelter? Will they be forced out of town?
There will be a more comprehensive meeting this week on what is very a complex issue.
Calls we made to the Jersey City Medical Center for comment at the end of last week, but those calls were not returned by press time.
Roberts said that if the efforts of the Medical Center's MASSH unit are successful, the city might look into starting up its own unit to deal with the issue.
Such a unit might be most important in the winter, when homeless people have been known to freeze to death when unable to find shelter. Last winter, a homeless man's heart stopped while he was sleeping in a parking lot in Jersey City in freezing temperatures. Homeless shelters typically fill up when the area gets into a severe cold snap.
What's the problem?
The reasons that homeless people sometimes avoid shelters or end up on the streets - or can't get into shelters - vary. Some of them were discussed in detail in a Reporter article on Hoboken's homeless published on March 25 of last year (to read it, go to www.hobokenreporter.com and click on "advanced search.")
While Hoboken has a few homeless people whose mumblings and calling-out tend to rile passers by, other homeless people said they don't believe there is a bad problem here overall.
John, a homeless man, spent Thursday night in a secluded spot not far from the Hoboken Terminal. He said that he doesn't see a substantial increase in the city's homeless population and said that he resents the fact that he and the other area homeless are looked at like they are unbalanced.
"It's no worse than it was last summer," said John, who has been homeless on and off for two years. "Just because we're homeless doesn't mean we're crazy. It just means that we don't have a home. Sometimes I just wish people would treat us like people, and not someone who needs to be saved."
At Wednesday's meeting, Mayor Roberts specially thanked Liberty Healthcare CEO and Hoboken resident Dr. Jonathan Metsch for donating the hospital's services.
"Dr. Metsch has shown that he has a great deal of love for Hoboken, and we are truly grateful for the efforts of the Medical Center," said Roberts. "We can't allow our parks and our train terminal to be used as homes. That kind of behavior creates a real health risk not only for them but for everyone that passes by while they are sleeping."