NEWARK, NJ — In what Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called “the beginning of a larger piece of work” to aid the city’s homeless residents, construction began on Thursday to transform the former Miller Street Elementary School building into an emergency homeless facility. 

The facility comes as part of a partnership between the city and developers, Claremont Development and Arc Building Partners, to provide a 24-hour, year-round facility to offer shelter and support services to help the area’s homeless population. The building is expected to open in September. 

“This is just a piece of a full, comprehensive strategy we want to begin to address homelessness in our city,” Baraka said. “We have to do our best to service the residents without addresses no matter where they are, no matter where they originated from.”

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The $10 million project is the latest installment in a city-wide initiative to partner with nonprofit developers in order to provide nearly 300 transitional and permanent supportive housing units in Newark. One of the city’s most recent projects to aid its homeless population includes its Hope Village on the corner of Newark Street and Central Avenue. The site holds seven shipping containers converted into 20 housing units, which are expected to open in the coming weeks. 

After the Miller Street Elementary School closed in 2012, the city and Claremont Development came together in 2017 to begin a plan to transform the building into a location that would offer various human-centered services and pathways towards permanent housing, income stability, and personal health responsibility for homeless individuals. The site will also work in conjunction with the Catholic Charities organization to consolidate its operations under one roof and include its emotional, behavioral, and health services.  

The building will include 166 beds - 44 women’s beds; 85 men’s beds; 21 code blue beds; and 17 beds spread throughout seven suites for families. The building will also hold individual bathrooms with showers, bathing and changing facilities in addition to washers, dryers, and televisions. A full kitchen for on-site food preparation and services training will be provided as well alongside meal production for shelter residents, and the greater community. 

Newark’s homeless czar, Sakinah Hoyte, said that the facility had to take the pandemic into account in order to provide a safe facility for its residents. As the city accounts for more than 1,800 individuals with about 350 living unsheltered, services like warming centers, soup kitchens and libraries are unavailable during the cold winter months due to COVID-19 with those individuals living on the streets in dire need of alternatives.

“When developing the operational flow with Claremont, we were intentional about designing spaces relevant to our homeless population while keeping in mind this COVID environment,” Hoyte said. “Because we are operating with a COVID backdrop, we were sure to create socially distant quarters. Additionally, we incorporated in the design a medical examination room very close to the center’s entrance in the case that an individual presents symptoms upon entry.”

Max Dorne, a partner at Claremont Development, said that after the building was purchased, the organization teamed up with Catholic Charities to find an adaptive re-use of the existing structure. 

“The goal and intent here was to provide a more efficient continuum of healthcare, social and homeless services to the residents of Newark and the Essex community under one roof,” Dorne said. “We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Catholic Charities, the city of Newark, the broad range of programs that are available in the city and the county as a whole.”