NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Gerard Muyando arrived at Memorial Stadium on Friday afternoon with blisters on his feet, a rumble in his stomach and the weight of life on the streets on his shoulders.
He had walked halfway across the city with the promise of a warm shower on his mind.
“I feel better as a person when I have a shower,” Muyando said. “I’ll stand under the shower for literally 20 minutes before I start to wash my body. It’s just refreshing.”
The Dignity Center has been providing some of the creature comforts most people don’t think twice about – such as a shower – for the city’s most vulnerable population.
It celebrated its four-month anniversary last week by continuing to make available separate shower and bathroom facilities in the home team and visitors locker rooms for men and women. They get a towel, soap, shampoo and, as Muyando put it, a chance to feel good again.
Here, just inside the entryway to Memorial Stadium on Joyce Kilmer Avenue, behind New Brunswick Middle School, people arrive for the morning and afternoon sessions each Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
They are usually met by Keith Jones II, the chief of staff in Mayor Jim Cahill’s office. Jones, the organizer of the program, has harnessed some of the resources of social service agencies, houses of worship and community groups from across the city and beyond.
So, although a shower is great, it’s just one of the things the Dignity Center can offer.
Jones offered Muyando, who lives on the streets with his mother, a fresh pair of socks and a pair of boxers. Muyando was hoping for a hoodie, but the best Jones could do was a new zip-up fleece – which happened to fit perfectly. Jones also gave him a couple of protein drinks, which Muyando sat on a bench and guzzled.
“When I was homeless before, we weren’t lucky to have someone like my friend over there, Mr. Keith Jones, looking out for us,” Muyando said. “He obviously cares about the people. He wants to make sure the people out here can get a nice shower, get soap, shampoo, things like that and have some clean clothes to put on their back.”
The Dignity Center, which is also run by a handful of volunteers, is even more valuable to the city’s homeless when you consider the few resources that had been available closed up when the COVID-19 pandemic started. During a time when personal hygiene became more important than ever, there were no more bathrooms available where they could wash their hands.
So, it’s been a godsend for the 150 or so people who have come to Memorial Stadium over the past four months. They are men and women who are in a variety of situations. There’s a recently divorced man who lives in his car. There’s a man who works for the county but doesn’t make enough to have a home of his own. There are some teenagers.
Many of the people who frequent the Dignity Center come from towns across the state.
The Dignity Center at Memorial Stadium (Joyce Kilmer Avenue behind the New Brunswick Middle School 1125 Livingston Ave.) is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 8-10 a.m. and noon-2 p.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. The showers will be available for both men and women. Those wanting to use a shower must arrive no later than one hour before the end of the shift (before 9 a.m. for the morning shift, and before 1 p.m. for the afternoon shift.)