Al Shurdom of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Morris County Sheriff's Officer Chelsea Whiting, Antonella McGee of the Morris County Office of Temporary Assistance and Morris County Sheriff's Office Corporal Erica Valvano enter woods on Sept. 29 as part of a Hope One homeless community outreach initiative.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office Hope One team showed its ingenuity and determination to assist homeless individuals this week by trekking through wooded sections of four municipalities where the homeless community has been known to congregate.
The Hope One team was accompanied on its four-hour excursion on September 29 by two members of the Morris County Navigating Hope program who work for the county Office of Temporary Assistance and connect clients with Food Stamps, housing sources, Medicaid, temporary assistance, and other services.
With gentle and amiable demeanors, team members announced their approach when they saw tents and individuals in the woods, offered services, and distributed drawstring bags loaded with water, granola bars, toiletries and other items. They also carried blankets donated by the Sisters of Christian Charity in Mendham.
The teams left behind toiletry bags and business cards if the tent sites weren’t occupied, but at one location, they encountered several individuals with whom they chatted briefly and offered descriptions of social services the individuals might need.
Members of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Hope One team and the Morris County Navigating Hope team visited various locations in Morris County on September 29, 2020, to offer services to the homeless community.
“Morris County is one of the wealthiest counties in the United States and rich with compassion for people in need. We had at least 354 documented homeless individuals in Morris County in January of this year, and we know that substance abuse and mental health disorders are often at the root of homelessness. That’s where Hope One comes in, with a stigma-free approach and linkages to treatment, rehab and recovery services,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon said.
The teams are planning additional outreach efforts to the homeless communities next month. Tuesday’s hikes into the woods by Hope One team members represent a natural expansion of its mission: to immediately connect individuals struggling with substance use and mental health disorders to treatment and services.
Since Hope One started venturing on April 3, 2017, into communities at least twice a week, the teams have made 14,628 contacts in 481 stops. They have trained 2,834 people on how to administer Narcan to reverse an opioid-induced overdose and linked 192 people to rehab and recovery programs and another 157 people to mental health services.
Beyond its core services, the Hope One teams have also assisted victims of domestic violence and distributed thousands of toiletry bags, hand warmers and snacks in addition to the free Narcan kit that every person receives upon completing the Hope One training.
The homeless outreach was conducted by Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Erica Valvano, the Hope One Coordinator; Sheriff’s Officer Chelsea Whiting, Certified Peer Recovery Specialist Caroline Bailey of the Center for Addiction Recovery, Education & Success (CARES), and Mental Health Advocate Al Shurdom of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris.
Morris County Office of Temporary Assistance Employees Antonella McGee and Julio Porrao represented Navigating Hope on the homeless outreach.
As most counties across the United States do annually to maintain eligibility for federal housing funds, Morris County participated in January 2020 in NJCounts 2020, the yearly Point-In-Time Count of the Homeless that provides a snapshot of households experiencing homelessness, where they find shelter and what factors contribute to their lack of housing.
The 2020 survey concluded there were 354 persons experiencing homelessness on the night of January 28, 2020, in Morris County. The count showed a 9 percent decrease in the number of homeless individuals from 2019. The count included people who were on the street, living in emergency shelters, safe havens or transitional housing as of January 28, 2020.
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