There is no substitute for a safe home. The stark realities of homelessness affected at least 667 people in Union County in late January alone this year, according to the federally-mandated Point-in-Time (PIT) report from Monarch Housing Associates, a Cranford-based nonprofit.
Union County organizers are continuing a tradition on December 22nd to gather with the community in memory of all those who died this year who were unhoused. The Union County Homeless Persons Memorial Vigil will take place at 7 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church in Rahway. The event is organized by Community Access Unlimited, Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council, and The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.
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. It also brings together faith leaders and organizations working to prevent and end homelessness in our area. The event will include speakers, prayers and music.
All are invited and free registration is available on Eventbrite and on the UCICC Facebook page. Attendees are encouraged to bring donations of coats and jackets and/or new socks and gloves for the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.
Zion Church is also organizing a distribution of food, jackets, socks and shoes earlier in the day on the 22nd, from 1-4 p.m. before the event in cooperation with the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. Organizers also plan to help people in need register for social services at this time.
“Folks should come to the Union County Homeless Person’s Vigil to remember people in our community who have been forgotten, forgotten even to the point of death,” said Rev. Carmine Pernini, UCICC organizer and pastor of Zion Lutheran Church. “We will remember, name, and memorialize homeless people who have died. As a community, remembering those whom others have forgotten is a powerful act which declares that everyone has value in this life, regardless of a person’s balance in their bank accounts or whether or not people own property.”
Zion Lutheran Church will reopen its winter homeless shelter this month in the social hall of the church, which is an overnight shelter for up to 15 people. The church has operated an overnight shelter in the winter season for about nine years.
Pernini added that citizens can help fight homelessness in their communities by advocating for affordable and transitional housing to their city councils and other local elected officials. Numerous studies have confirmed that long-term housing assistance effectively reduces homelessness and is often less expensive than shelter and other institutional care.
Housing scarcity remains a major problem in America. In New Jersey alone, the 2022 PIT report found that 8,754 persons were experiencing homelessness in late January. Union County contained the second-highest percentage of the state’s unhoused population after Essex County. The results of the report help determine federal funding to programs for people experiencing homelessness.