Montclair social service groups help homeless during freezing cold weather
By ERIN ROLL
Single digit temperatures over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, and into Monday and Tuesday, were of great concern to area agencies that serve Montclair’s homeless population.
It has been a busy winter so far for Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless (MESH).
“Our numbers are growing,” said MESH Executive Director Gwen Parker Ames.
Once the temperatures gets down to 32 degrees, it becomes life-threatening to the homeless on the streets, Ames said.
On Monday, the temperatures did not go any higher than 16 degrees.
“And then the weather’s life-threatening all day long,” she said.
Each year, MESH holds a Day of Hope on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, including a breakfast for the homeless at Union Baptist Church.
There were 32 people who attended the breakfast, Ames said. Of those 32, 18 had stayed with MESH overnight. Student volunteers from Buzz Aldrin Middle School helped out, Ames said, and Redeemer Church provided music. One donor came in with men’s coats to donate, which were greatly needed.
The breakfast attendees did not want to go back outside because of the cold temperatures, she said.
Next year, MESH plans to have a Day of Hope with all-day events and activities, which would allow attendees to stay indoors during the day if temperatures should reach dangerously low levels.
MESH collaborates with other agencies in Montclair on providing services to those in need. During the daytime, other agencies, such as the Salvation Army, provide cafe hours when people come in and spend the day. MESH offers overnight services starting at 9 p.m. Union Baptist Church.
At the Salvation Army Citadel on Trinity Place, the staff saw about 40 homeless people arrive for lunch, said Michelle Kroeze, the Citadel’s business manager.
The lunch period usually sees a number of people who are not necessarily homeless, but who come to the Salvation Army for the community aspect. But those people mostly stayed away because of the cold weather, Kroeze said.
“Those who had a place to stay weren’t going anywhere,” she said.
The Salvation Army has been opening up on President’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the past few years. And because Monday was a holiday, Kroeze said, there were plenty of volunteers on hand to assist.
Essex County declared a Code Blue from Jan. 17 to Jan. 22. Locally, warming centers were set up at the Verona and Cedar Grove Libraries during the day, and at the Union Baptist church at night.