HACKENSACK, NJ -- Over 100 healthcare professionals, volunteers and elected officials converged at the Bergen County Housing, Health & Human Services Center in Hackensack today to participate in Project Homeless Connect, an annual effort to feed, clothe, educate, and provide mental health screenings for homeless and unsheltered individuals in Bergen County. Over 50 temporarily homeless individuals came to receive these services, along with green gift bags filled with donated gift cards, warm clothes, hygiene products, socks, and more. Among the advocates endorsing the efforts of the 12th Annual Project Homeless Connect was New Jersey's First Lady, Tammy Murphy.
"This is an incredible event, and Project Homeless Connect does outstanding work to make sure homeless and newly housed people get the guidance and resources they need to stay off the streets," said Bergen County Freeholder Tracy Zur. "The volunteers here give haircuts, flu shots, provide pro-bono counseling, and many other services that are often overlooked when we talk about homelessness."
Freeholder Zur was joined at the event by her colleagues, Freeholders David Ganz, Mary Amoroso Freeholder Chairman Thomas Sullivan and Freeholder Vice Chairwoman Germaine Ortiz. Bergen County Executive James Tedesco introduced First Lady Murphy. Also present Executive Director of Bergen County Housing Authority Lynn Bartlett, Director of Housing, Health and Human Services Center Julia Orlando, and Assembly members Gordon Johnson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, of the 37th Legislative District, which includes Hackensack.
Dozens of County and Statewide agencies branched off into different areas of the 28,000 square-foot complex to give semi-private consultations to those in need on subjects ranging from available disability services, senior, veterans, social security and children's services to job training, women's rights informational materials, and free flu shots and HIV testing. Bergen County Mental Health Law Project and Comprehensive Behavioral Health Care joined with other volunteer organizations to provide counseling. Parisian Beauty Academy, of Hackensack, provided free haircuts to everyone in need.
"Volunteer assistance and donations keep this tradition going, to create a fun, cooperative effort," said Zur. "Events like these are a big reason why Bergen County became the first in New Jersey to end chronic homelessness, and one of the first to end veteran homelessness." Chronic homelessness refers to the condition of an individual being homeless or unsheltered for at least 60 consecutive days. Bergen County shelters and temporary housing provide resources to individuals at risk of chronic homelessness.
Today's event aligned with the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-in-Time (PIT) count, a one-day count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January, aimed at collecting data and assessing the needs of this vulnerable population.
"Hackensack is a great city, and the county seat of Bergen County, so the fight to end homelessness starts here," said Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse. "The partnership of government and non-profit agencies, along with individuals and business owners offering pro-bono services, makes this event special, and uniquely effective."