Agencies and volunteers come together in Morristown to help the homeless

Scouts from Parsippany collected toiletry items to distribute at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler
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By Marion Filler

Home is safe haven. Home is where we want to be. But what if it were to disappear?

That’s what happened to 388 individuals and 288 households in Morris County, according to a tally last January by area social service organizations.

On Thursday, Project Homeless Connect hoped to make a dent in those numbers by connecting the homeless, and those in danger of becoming homeless, with services that can help.

Danielle Pera of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris organized the annual event at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown.

Danielle Pera of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris welcomes guests to Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler

“We have 40 agencies to offer their services to help resolve homelessness here today. We have veterans’ services, housing authorities, food services, medical services, haircuts, food giveaways, and clothes — coats, hats, scarves, gloves — anything that you could possibly need is here.

Clients at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler

“It’s a one-stop shop,” said Pera, who has been in charge for four years. Everything was offered for free.

“There is no money involved,” Pera said. “The agencies are donating their time. The products that we give away are all donations. I run a committee that plans this event all year long.”

Her hope was for clients to find clothing and products that they needed. Even more important, she said, were the connections they could make with the many agencies filling the parish hall.

Sam Miller was there from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.   Family Promise of Morris County was represented by Executive Director Joann Bjornson. Morris Sherriff James Gannon was there, too.

Joann Bjornson of Family Promise, Sam Miller of H.U.D., and Morris Sheriff Jim Gannon at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler

But the desire to help was not exclusive to professionals.

Boy Scout Troop 173 and Cub Scout Pack 5 from Parsippany collected winter outerwear and sanitary goods. “This has been a tradition for about 10 years,” said parent Dominique Forte.

Louise Murray, chair of Sociology and Social Work at the College of Saint Elizabeth, oversaw a group of third-year students manning the registration table.

Arbor Terrace, a senior retirement community, stacked a table with shopping bags of food and clothing donated by the residents and their families.

Greeters Judy Frankel and Maizie, at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler

Judy Frankel and Maizie, her golden retriever, were on hand to welcome customers.

“Our purpose is simply to be a greeter,” said Frankel. “Many people had dogs before they fell on hard times, and they just love seeing them.”

Frankel has been doing this for 24 years. Maizie, who is 7 years old and a certified therapy dog, is one of six different goldens she has brought to the event. “It’s a joy,” said Frankel.

Social worker reads statement from a recovering substance abuser at Project Homeless Connect. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com, Jan. 23, 2020:

The most inspiring moment of the morning was a statement by Christa, whose struggle to overcome substance abuse has benefited from the STAR program.

That’s an acronym for Successful Transition and Re-entry Program, a cutting-edge venture to help discharged inmates transition from the Morris County Jail back into society.

Christa was ill, so her case worker read aloud her letter before a group of clients and volunteers. After chronicling her descent into drugs, hitting bottom, and going to jail for three months, Christa described her new life.

“I needed the help,” she said. “They gave it to me and I moved forward.

“I now have a life.”

Donated coats are piled high at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler
Juniors from the College of Saint Elizabeth volunteer at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler
Arbor Terrace donated food and clothing at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler
Table for 211NJ, at Project Homeless Connect, Jan. 23, 2020, Photo by Marion Filler

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