By Berit Ollestad
Poverty knows no boundaries. That was the message conveyed through interpreters between a 13-member delegation from the Sichuan Province of northern China and staffers of Morristown-based Homeless Solutions Inc. on Friday.
Officials from China’s Poverty Alleviation Bureau toured the Homeless Solutions shelter in Morris Township on a cold and snowy morning. They expressed curiosity about how poverty is addressed in America.
It is estimated that more than 200 million people–some 15 percent of China’s 1.3 billion citizens–are homeless.
In the United States, approximately 634,000 individuals–about 0.2 of the total population–live on the streets, according to USA Today.
The Chinese delegation was impresssed with Homeless Solutions’ ability to operate a shelter and other programs with a budget of just over $3 million.
The visit came about after an internet search by Shuang Wu, a Chinese delegate doing business in Totowa.
He came across The Alice Project, authored by Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, an executive with the Northern New Jersey chapter of United Way and an assistant professor at Rutgers University.
ALICE is an acronym that describes New Jersey men and women who are “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, (and) Employed. The ALICE report is a study of the financial hardships experienced by the working poor.
When Hoopes Halpin was contacted by Wu, she just happened to know someone who was eager to assist.
Her teen-aged son, Jake Halpin, had spent his sophomore year at Mountain Lakes High School as a foreign exchange student in China.
“China was the only country that I checked when asked which countries I’d be interested in. Normally it’s in your junior year of high school that you participate in a foreign exchange program. But I guess I was just impatient and couldn’t wait,” said Jake, now a senior.
Armed with minimal knowledge of Mandarin and zero chopstick experience, Jake spent 10 months living, learning and loving the Chinese culture.
As Friday’s tour was winding down, Jake translated as we asked one of the visitors about his impressions of the shelter and the U.S. approach to poverty and homelessness.
“He really likes the facilities and thinks that the U.S. treat homeless people really well and it’s a good example,” said Jake, who said he probably understood 75 percent of the day’s discussions.
Onlookers surmised that he was just being humble, however, like the visitors from the Far East.
Photos by Berit Ollestad.