Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge vistited Newark on May 6, 2021. The stopover was her first official trip as Secretary outside of Washington, D.C., marking the 100th day of the Biden-Harris administration. Said Baraka, “In Secretary Fudge’s remarks to Newark residents she strongly conveyed the Biden-Harris administration’s Build Back Better Agenda and unwavering commitment to our Country. I speak not only on behalf of myself but our residents in our utter appreciation of her taking her time to visit our housing communities like Georgia King Village and our pop-up COVID-19 vaccination and testing site at Wynona Lipman Gardens." Photo credit: Newark Press Office

There’s no place like home: Newark seeks to alleviate homelessness issue in its second phase of major housing initiative

Bold push towards housing reform as Newark experiences fast-paced gentrification. Mayor Baraka’s plan addresses spikes in homelessness, poverty.

Earlier this year, Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka, posed a challenge: help create approximately 120 transitional housing container facility units with onsite social services in an attempt to quell the city’s growing homeless population. The call went out to private-sector housing developers, non-profit organizations, and service partners to submit proposals by Monday, May 24.

In a joint effort with the Newark Economic Housing and Development Department, the Newark Housing Authority, as well as the “Newark Homelessness Czar,” Sakinah Hoyte, the city seeks to create lasting, therapy-centered container units. This call to action comes after the city’s housing crisis crescendoed during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown.

With epidemic numbers in homelessness as well as poverty, the city is looking to drastically reduce the amount of individuals and families not just fighting economic barriers, but also mental health strife as the city recovers from the pandemic. The multilateral initiative comes amidst the ever-increasing homelessness issue in the city.

“As an extension of its mission to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing, the Housing Authority has pledged any support necessary to assure that this program becomes a success,” explained Victor Cirilo, the Executive Director at Newark’s Housing Authority. “We will not achieve true progress until we exhaust every resource necessary to help those with the most need.”

. . . .

With approximately 14 out of the total 73 in Essex County, Newark’s emergency homeless shelters are at capacity and underfunded, with many closed or with heightened restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has left thousands displaced and littered throughout the city often sleeping near Newark Penn Station, park benches, and even in the ATM lobbies at banks.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were 2,235 homeless people on any given night in Newark circa 2019. As per the HUD findings in its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the homeless population in New Jersey had one of the largest increases— about 800 individuals, 282 families or about a 10 percent increase. This is recorded as one of the largest surges in the U.S during the 2019-2020 year, juxtaposing the overall downward trend occurring in the state from 2007-2020. Ultimately, the upswing resulted in the total number of homeless people in New Jersey to rise to 9,662 in 2020.

Essex county, where Newark is located, holds 25 percent of the state’s total homeless population— 271 individuals, or 19 percent of the state’s total homeless population, being chronically homeless, and 338 individuals, or 23 percent of the state’s total homeless population, being unsheltered homeless persons, according to the NJ Point-In-Time 2019 Report

“Homelessness is a moral issue that demands our greatest efforts to achieve a solution,” Mayor Baraka said. “We need to provide our most vulnerable residents with decent homes and the tools they need to regain control of their lives. We are maintaining our focus on our efforts to bring hope and empowerment to more residents and families, doing so with professionalism, compassion, and unity.”

In light of the pandemic, coupled with persistent issues predating COVID such as gentrification, thousands of Newark residents have been displaced via job and income loss. The program is looking to find permanent housing for all qualifying residents.

The racial breakdown of the state is as follows: 

  • Black people make up 49 percent of the homeless population, despite only composing 14 percent of the state’s total population and 24 percent of the state’s population living in poverty;
  • Latinos, of any race, fair at 20 percent of the state’s total population, 36 percent of its poverty population and 20 percent of its homeless population;
  • White (non-Hispanic) coming in at 56 percent of the state’s total population, 33 percent of its poverty population and 26 percent of its homeless population; 
  • Asians, who make up 9 percent of the state’s total population, are 6 percent of the poverty population, and just shy of 1 percent of the homeless population;
  • Native Americans and Pacific Islanders came in at under 1 percent in each category, according to the NJ Point-In-Time 2019 Report

“This year more than 6,000 individuals have filed evictions in our region,” said Ms. Hoyte. “These filings represent the crux of this moment and our need for housing units. As housing insecurity amongst Americans worsens, the need for housing becomes more paramount.”

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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