NEWARK, NJ -- City council passed a resolution on Tuesday to award a $155,000 contract to Bridges Outreach, Inc. for a new homeless outreach and engagement program, spurring some council members to raise concerns regarding whether the programming will be effective in reducing the homeless population in Newark. 

The contract allows Bridges Outreach, who currently provides outreach services in Newark every Saturday evening, to provide one year of additional outreach support as well as case management seven nights a week from 5 to 11 p.m through the organization’s Project Connect program. A start date for the program has not yet been determined.

The Department of Health and Community Wellness’ latest focus, according to Director Mark Wade, is the relocation of the city’s homeless from places like Penn Station and local parks to designated areas where they can receive services. So far, three churches have agreed to act as sites where homeless Newarkers can go with respect to their humanity and rights. 

Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Wade said that of the homeless participants in the city’s feeding groups, more than half have already committed to moving to the identified sites. The city has locked down cooperation from Newark Police Department, Essex County Sherrif’s Department and the local transit authority for security and additional measures of support. 

Integrity House, the largest drug treatment program in New Jersey, has agreed to inpatient, outpatient and detox services to Newark’s homeless, Wade said. Addressing the mental health component in providing homeless services also remains an essential piece of the solution for the city’s relocation plan. 

“We’ve had a couple of meetings that involved our major mental health service providers, including Rutgers, Essex County and a couple of other smaller entities who have also agreed to collaboratively and comprehensively to provide services,” Wade added. 

The director plans to provide a full assessment of the city’s progress and future plans toward the end of 2019. While some groups can begin relocating to the designated sites as soon as possible, Wade said his department does not want to commit to an official start date for the relocation undertaking until all services and legal protections are secured for Newark’s homeless. 

“We don’t want to do this haphazardly or move people and create an issue about rights or housing as we work with all these entities,” Wade said. “We’re moving at an excellent pace.”  

Council members Augusto Amador and Carlos Gonzalez, however, expressed fears that increased services would attract homeless individuals from outside Newark and add to the population, undermining the city’s goal to reduce homelessness. Amador added that he felt the majority of panhandlers across the city are not Newark residents.

Richard Uniacke, the executive director of Bridges Outreach, said those sentiments do not correlate with data in his experience providing outreach and case management services in Newark, Irvington and Manhattan. 

Increasing homeless services, Uniacke said, will allow Bridges to establish consistency and build trust with the people they support, benefiting case management success rate. For those who come to Newark seeking services but became homeless in another city, Bridges focuses on returning those individuals to family members or connecting them with services in the city where they became homeless. 

“We are going to do an increasingly better job of identifying every single person who is experiencing homelessness, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that the overall [population count] of 927 from this past January differs,” Uniacke said. “I wouldn’t expect to see numbers continue to climb as a result of providing more resources.”

Bridges’ ultimate goal is aligned with the city’s goal to find permanent housing solutions for the homeless served under the program. Securing long-term housing for Newark’s homeless will be bolstered by a focus on independent living with better health outcomes, which Uniacke expects will reduce recidivism and divert more people from shelters. 

“We don’t want people staying in shelters indefinitely, it’s a temporary solution. The solution to homelessness is a home,” Uniacke said.