NEWARK — The size of the homeless population in Newark, New Jersey, the state’s largest city, may pale in comparison to the tens of homeless men and women currently living in New York City’s homeless shelters.
However, the crisis here in Newark is no less critical, the well-being of these men and women just as important, as we heard over and over again on the steps of City Hall Tuesday evening.
“The point blank, put it straight out – yes - I am out of options,” said homeless resident Tony Ragland.
As was the case earlier this month, PIX11 News was once again the only news crew watching Newark’s homeless residents protest against the looming closure of the emergency shelter at 224 Sussex Ave., effective June 30th.
“I don’t know what I’m a do – because I was sleeping at the airport. They say one thing, and they doing another. If that’s the case, we wouldn’t be sittin’ on these stairs talkin, if they so much helping the homeless people,” said Janice Good.
We recently sat down with Dr. Mark Wade, Director of Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness – which has jurisdiction over the city’s homeless services.
Dr. Wade orchestrated the opening of the winter emergency shelter, and defended the city’s decision to close it – citing a funding shortage, even as homeless residents tell us the city’s dozen other shelters are full, and police are now no longer allowing them to sleep in Penn Station.
“We’re completely transparent. And I believe the city is transparent as a whole in terms of what it does with its dollars,” said Dr. Wade.
Newark officials tell PIX11 it costs up to $200,000 a month to operate this shelter.
So we took a close look at Newark’s latest city budget, which shows Dr. Wade’s department has $0 allocated to housing assistance, and about seven percent of the department’s total budget devoted to “other expenses.”
There is $624,698 listed under “other expenses” in Dr. Wade’s department. When asked if he knows where that money has gone, he responded, “I know how we spend all the money in our departments. It’s addressing all of the other needs that we have. I would need to lay out all of the other expenses for all of the services that we provide.”
In any case, time is indeed running out to address what happens to this shelter, and the homeless who call it home, even as Tony Ragland tells me, he would willingly go to jail – as an alternative to returning to the streets.
“I wouldn’t have no problem with it. At least I can take a shower. I can change clothes. I would be getting three meals a day. You askin’ me the question, and I’m tellin’ you the truth brotha. I mean, I’m not tryin’ to sugar coat it for you! I’m telling you what it is. You know? You don’t have to look at me like that jay. I’m being honest with you bruh. If you can’t live – if you can’t survive out here, and you starving, what is you gonna do?” said Tony Ragland.