Union County residents will recognize the harsh impacts of homelessness at the Union County Homeless Persons Memorial Vigil on Dec. 21.
The event takes place at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield and is an annual tradition sponsored by the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council and Community Access Unlimited. Temple Emanu-El is located at 756 E. Broad Street in Westfield. Free registration is available on Eventbrite and through the UCICC Facebook page.
The winter solstice event memorializes members of the community who have died who were unhoused. Faith leaders of different traditions will share teachings and service providers will discuss social services and challenges to affordable housing. All are invited, and attendees may bring new socks or warm winter accessories such as hats, gloves or scarves to donate. The vigil is held on or near the longest night of the year to symbolize the challenges of those who are homeless who may be exposed to dangerous elements and the cold.
“The Homeless Persons Vigil is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the fact that housing is life sustaining,” sas Linda Flores-Tober, executive director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. No organism can live without housing and certainly not human beings. And so we remember those who have died homeless and alone. Each one precious and irreplaceable and gone. But not forgotten.”
The number of people experiencing homelessness in the county is on the rise. On the night of January 26, 2021, a total of 418 households, including 584 people, were experiencing homelessness in Union County, according to the 2021 Point In Time Count, and 14 people were unsheltered on that night. The number of counted people experiencing homelessness was 100 greater than in 2020 and 146 greater than in 2019.
Union County launched a mobile program this month to provide shower and laundry service as well as information about social services to those in need. The Fresh Start trailer will visit locations throughout Union County based on request. Agencies and organizations that are interested can send a request via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the rise in homelessness spurred by the pandemic and eviction protections expiring at the end of the year, service providers are anxious about even more people losing their housing in 2022.
“The chorus of community voices advocating for safe, affordable housing for all needs to be heard and acted upon,” said Bill Webb, special projects coordinator at CAU, which provides services to prevent homelessness.
“More affordable housing is critical to helping people really get on their feet and participate in the larger community,” said Walter Kalman, an associate executive director at CAU. “Service providers have long waiting lists for affordable housing and it is crucial that more of it is built, because there is no substitute for a safe home.”