By Kevin Coughlin
When you’re down and out, the little things mean a lot.
For Sandra Poling, who has been battling depression since a sudden illness took the life of her 9-year-old son, Skyler, in March, it was a couple of winter jackets, donated by a Parsippany Cub Scout pack.
For 48-year-old Ken Smith, homeless for five years, it was a free haircut and beard trim from Bobbie Marcello of Morristown’s Laboratory Hair Studio.
John Keiser, 57, was grateful to meet representatives of organizations such as Homeless Solutions Inc., to help him get back on his feet after a broken ankle cast him onto the street for a month.
They were among visitors Thursday to Project Homeless Connect at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown. The annual event is a clearinghouse for information and services to help disadvantaged individuals from the region.
“Our mission is to end homelessness and hunger,” said Danielle Pera, homeless outreach director for the Mental Health Association of Morris County Inc., organizer of Project Homeless Connect.
Thirty organizations were on hand, dispensing information, toiletry items, winter clothing, coffee and bagels. Area businesses provided free haircuts and skin care treatments.
HOUSING AND HEROIN
Housing and heroin addiction are urgent problems cited by social service providers.
“The biggest challenge is the lack of affordable housing in Morris County,” said Lou Schwarcz, C.E.O. of the Mental Health Association.
He said his agency has access to 50 housing vouchers from the state, but there’s a catch: The subsidies only are available for one-bedroom apartments renting for less $1,000 a month.
“At least 15 homeless, mentally ill individuals are living on the streets because we can’t find one bedroom apartments at $1,000,” Schwarcz said.
With winter approaching, “all our programs are full right now,” said Livier Sierra, single women case manager for Homeless Solutions Inc. That’s 90 beds for temporary stays. One family of seven is living in a single room, and more than 30 people are waiting for family housing, Sierra said.
Women comprise a growing percentage of the Homeless Solution clientele, she said, citing lost jobs, divorce and domestic violence as factors.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
‘IT’S REALLY SCARY’
Morristown’s Market Street Mission which has been rescuing male substance abusers for more than 125 years, is reeling from the scourge of cheap heroin. Over the last few years, the Mission’s clientele has transformed from older non-white men to younger Cleawhite males, said Executive Director David Scott.
Over the last couple of years, about a dozen past and present clients have overdosed, Scott said. Each story line is painfully familiar:
“It’s really scary. One day we seen him, and he seems like things are going well. And the next day, he’s dead.”
Joseph Gallow is a graduate of the Mission’s year-long, Christian 12-step residence program who now works there. Clean and sober for the last five years, he credits the Mission with freeing him from a heroin habit that began after his treatment with painkillers for a basketball injury.
“Once you get a taste of painkillers, it gets expensive,” said Gallow, 40.
One Oxycontin 80 pill costs $50, he said. For $150, he could buy 50 bags of heroin. “You get more bang for the buck, and it does the same thing.”
But it took its toll. “Heroin takes the spirit out of you,” he said.
Gallow said his scrapes with the law started at age 16. He committed burglaries, sold drugs, and served jail time. Heroin got him kicked out of a crack house. When he snatched a lady’s purse, he knew he had hit rock bottom.
An overdose in a courtyard landed him at St. Clares hospital, which referred him to the Mission. It succeeded where other programs had failed, Gallow said.
“The key is surrounding yourself with sober people who actually care,” he said.