By R.J. Meyer
This winter has caused grumblings among Morristown residents, with complaints about not enough road salt, spasmodic power, and messy commutes. These are inconveniences, for sure. Now consider the issues the homeless face.
Imagine living outside, with no family for support, fire for warmth, or structure for safety. Homelessness in Morristown seems to be the “elephant in the room,” and winter exacerbates the problem.
“You think it’s cold going from your work to your car? It’s a lot worse when you are out there, standing for 20 minutes in the cold,” said Sal Venusto.
Sal, a 53-year-old Fordham University graduate, and former director of operations for one of the biggest limousine companies in New York, has been homeless for eight months. He has endured one of the 10 snowiest winters on record, with average temperatures below freezing.
Sal spends his days roaming Morristown attempting to find warmth anywhere he can, like Starbucks, Jersey Boy Bagel or Burger King. The cold weather forces him inside, where people stare and store owners get angry if he loiters too long. Sal was only able to name a handful of places to stay warm during the night.
“When temps dip, the town opens warming stations 24 hours a day seven days a week…at the train station and sometimes even town hall,” said Julie Hess, community educator at the Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center. According to Sal, these warming stations are the only way the homeless can survive the arctic temperatures felt across the tri-state area.
On an average night, the Market Street Mission offers beds to 90 people, many of whom are in the addiction recovery program. Walk-ins are welcome to sleep on a mat for free, and as many as 25 individuals do.
“We welcome anyone who needs help. A bed or a warm cup of soup can make all the difference,” said Phil Parsels, the Mission’s development director. “Some people walk by and say, ‘What is going on inside that building with the Jesus Saves sign?’ Here, we want to help anyone who is willing to let us.”
Even with all of the precautionary measures taken by the town, one homeless man lost his life to the freezing weather, Sal said.
John Fetz was a graduate of the Market Street Mission recovery program, but again had fallen on hard times and succumbed to the sweet allure of alcohol. Two weeks ago he passed out behind the Walmart in Cedar Knolls and froze to death.
Spring will bring relief from the intense cold, but challenges remain for the homeless. Health care, safety, peace of mind…nothing is guaranteed.
“You know, I walked past a car the other day… and it was the Humane Society,” Sal said.”And I was like wow, they don’t have that for people like me. I understand the value in that. But where is the humane part for humans?”
R.J. Meyer is a sophomore at Morristown High School who writes for The Broadcaster.