All children deserve a roof over their head, a place where they feel safe and secure. At HomeFront we attack the problem of homelessness from all sides, not only providing immediate emergency housing, but also working with families to find and retain affordable housing.
Many local families cannot afford to pay the rent or mortgage even though they have stable good jobs. This crisis impacts not only the minimum wage worker, but also childcare workers, home health aides and security guards – the very people who make our economy hum and protect us. Pre-school teachers, emergency dispatchers, dental technicians and even reporters, as a group, earn below the housing wage.
Housing experts advise that no more than 30 percent of a person’s gross income should be spent on housing. In Mercer County, this means that to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment for $1,365, a family must earn on average $54,560 yearly (or $29.98 an hour). However a minimum wage worker ($8.44/hour), who earns $15,361 can only afford $384 for rent.
For many local families these are impossible reaches. HomeFront has been waging battle against these numbers for years. That’s how we learned the best way to deal with the problem is to provide permanent affordable housing ourselves.
Family Preservation Center
The 42,000-square-foot Family Preservation Center on our Family Campus accommodates 38 families, giving them on-site access to childcare, job training and other services designed to break the cycle of homelessness. It is a unique and innovative model that is ripe for nationwide implementation. Extraordinary possibilities are now a reality for homeless and vulnerable families in Central New Jersey. The Center was a Naval training station that underwent a $6 million makeover to become an inviting haven for homeless families yearning for stability and success. “Wow!” is their usual reaction upon walking in the front door. When the parents and children enter a light-filled foyer enlivened with a wonderful stacked-stone fountain, a volunteer at the front desk smiles a warm welcome, and the struggling family gets a vision of a new way of life. The tools are all under one roof to help them achieve it. The Center is first-class without being luxurious. It is clean, bright, well-maintained and spacious. It is functional without being institutional, a place where parents and children stand taller. Every feature and every interaction with staff and volunteers persuade them to join us in our belief in their importance and potential. It contains 38 dorm suites, with cozy places for homeless families to sit and visit, a pleasant dining hall, and lots of activities for the children and parents, too. It is an environment of light and art and music and books. The Center opened in September of 2015, offering much more than temporary housing. It is a leading-edge, one-stop social-service campus that emphasizes practical training while restoring the spirit. With the tools and resources available all in one spot, HomeFront has removed the obstacles that could otherwise block our families’ path to success.
- Childcare center – With high-quality, nurturing child care on-site, HomeFront’s clients are able to take the jobs they need. With academic support, cultural enrichment and just plain fun, their kids enjoy the childhood that every child needs and deserves.
- Connecting community partners – The Center is well-named – it is a central hub of specialized support services with collaborating partner agencies on-site, such as WomenSpace, Family Guidance and a wellness clinic.
- Life-skills academy – HomeFront offers a wide array of life-skills classes, on topics such as parenting and budgeting, and our new state-of-the-art teaching kitchen provides hands-on instruction in cooking and nutrition.
- Job training – Our WorkFirst and Hire Expectations teams offer computer-training, employment-preparedness, training in customer service and the hospitality industry, followed-up by job-placement programs.
- A literacy-rich environment – A large library with floor-to-ceiling windows offers books for all ages and comfortable reading nooks where parents and kids relax with books. In HomeFront’s large classrooms parents become more literate and employable as they earn their high school equivalency diplomas.
- Healing through art – HomeFront’s ArtSpace is a spacious, light-filled studio where parents and children are nurtured and empowered, working in a variety of art media. Auspiciously situated, this inviting space and its colorful and gorgeous creations are the first sight that greets anyone passing beyond the reception desk, heightening the impression that something unique is going on here
Unemployment or underemployment plague many families. They may be faced with impossible choices, such as paying the rent or buying groceries. The working poor cannot make ends meet, but they don’t qualify for government assistance. With no safety net, many become homeless. HomeFront’s FreshStart is not just a program; it’s a commitment to make sure that every family has a home. It provides short-term housing and services to homeless or in-need working-poor families and is designed to help families find a permanent home. We look at all options, including appealing to relatives to fend off homelessness.
FreshStart gives families needed stability while they regain financial self-sufficiency and address the issues that caused their homelessness. We customize our support services to their individual needs, strengths and abilities. Sometimes a client just needs to be pointed in the right direction and armed with the necessary skills and guidance. In most cases, however, a case manager will take a more hands-on approach while working to resolve issues and identify problems that might cause a future crisis. By meeting their needs at this critical juncture, we prevent them from spiraling into persistent homelessness. We also work with each family to find permanent housing.
Unfortunately, obtaining permanent housing can be very difficult for a client with very limited financial resources. In cases like this, we intensify our efforts, advocating with government and private housing agencies, landlords and church groups for help. In the years since FreshStart began, hundreds of families have been restored to independence. The proof is in these families, our former clients.
We have eight apartments dedicated to the use of families in transition, with access to more as needed. Families live in these apartments for a few months or up to a year, with intensive case management aimed at increasing employability and enhancing family life. Each family’s monthly rent amounts to 30 percent of gross income. That money is saved up for them until they move out. Then the sum can be useful in providing a security deposit for a more-permanent residence. HomeFront also participates in Rapid ReHousing, a program in which families pay rent on a sliding scale, while HomeFront works with parents to secure better-paying employment.
HomeFront provides permanent, affordable housing for families in which one member is HIV-positive or is mentally or physically disabled. This housing comes with intensive case management and a rich array of support services that are tailored to address the medical and social challenges that the residents are facing. The housing includes 6 individual houses scattered around Trenton, known as the Siloam Homes, plus one 12-unit apartment building. Although HomeFront maintains confidentiality for all its clients, families in these residences are accorded an extra measure of privacy.
Permanent Affordable Housing
After years of fighting to end homelessness, we’ve found that one of the most reliable ways to find permanent housing for the working poor is to provide it ourselves. Today we have about 100 units, and we are actively evaluating additional affordable housing for very low-income people in districts with good school systems. We have renovated and turned houses and apartments into comfortable, safe and secure homes for low-income families. Regardless of what they earn, families are never charged more than 30 percent of their gross incomes. HomeFront makes sure that they can live with dignity in stable homes. We make what is out of reach for many families reachable. HomeFront continues to provide clients with a comprehensive program of support and guidance to help them remain employed and self-sufficient. It is this unique and innovative personal approach that helps us end homelessness one family at a time.