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Ocean County Freeholder Meeting Addresses Homelessness

Photo by Ilya Hemlin

Homeless advocates in Ocean County are bringing light to an issue getting worse as the economy continues to falter.

Larry Meegan of the Jackson Kiwanis held the floor at Wednesday’s Ocean County Freeholder meeting, presenting the plight many of the homeless face in a county as affluent as Ocean.

Experts, advocates, clergy, and residents spoke to dais, asking them to take some kind of action to help get people off of the street. One of the speakers in Meegan’s presentation was Steven Nagel, executive director of Info Line of Middlesex County-a helpline for people facing homelessness. He spoke that one of the most important steps that the public needs to address is their perception of homelessness.

“The homeless today, they’re not the person you see laying on the park bench in a trench coat with a news paper pulled over them. They’re the recently unemployed or they’re the underemployed and not able to afford housing.”

He notes that the average age of a homeless individual is only six years old.

Many of the speakers, both residents and advocates, called for the Freeholders to reconsider passing the Homeless Trust Fund. The fund would put add a document filing surcharge and the profits of which could help fund initiatives to help people in need. In the past the Freeholders rejected the proposal, citing the increase in cost to residents.

One of the speakers was Michelle Rosen, who is on the Democratic ticket against Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari (R). She told the board to not get up in “politics” of calling the surcharge a tax.

“I don’t care what you call it. A rose by any other name is a rose. Do what you have to do to fund the homeland trust fund to begin with because people don’t plan to lose their homes to foreclosure.”

While several people called for the fund to be established, others didn’t care how the Freeholders helped as long as it was done.

Toms River resident Connie Pasqual spoke to the board, saying “there’s a lot of creative energy in this room, we have the ability together to resolve some of these issues but you know what? I have to say you have the greatest power of all of us, you have the ability to lead us. ”

Pastor Michael Mazer spoke as part of Meegan’s presentation. He emphasized that homelessness needs to be something that is addressed not from a party line but as a social responsibility.

“Rather than looking at homelessness as a welfare issue, we must begin to look at it as a residence rights issue.”

Annie Grossman came to the meeting with her granddaughter to the meeting, wearing signs with slogans like “Homelessness is the New Jersey’s real “Situation”. A reference to Mike Sorrentino, a cast member on the popular MTV show “Jersey Shore”.

Grossman is an advocate for homelessness in the church where she volunteers, however she says the problem is far beyond the reach of just faith based or government organizations. Help needs to come from everywhere.

“We need the help of everybody. It’s not just the government, or a church, it’s everybody.”

During his presentation, Meegan invited the Freeholders to have another discussion on the homeless issue in the county.

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