HABcore Street Outreach and Homelessness Diversion Program “Boots On The Ground” in Ocean County

Ocean County residents who find temporary shelter throughout the county in encampments, cars, and tents precariously placed under bridges have a new source of shelter, food, comfort, and hope thanks to HABcore Inc.’s Street Outreach and Homelessness Diversion Program. HABcore now employs two Outreach specialists who scour Ocean County looking for those in need of permanent, warm and safe places to live.

HABcore, incorporated 36 years ago after three men froze to death living on the streets of Red Bank, has a goal to eliminate homelessness by finding and securing affordable and supportive housing. In a time of rapidly rising rents and real estate values, the challenges are daunting.

Among the services offered by HABcore to those experiencing homelessness is short-term help supplying food and water, coats, blankets, socks and basic needs including feminine products.

HABcore was originally established to house people at risk of homelessness. Volunteers purchased a home on South Pearl Street, Red Bank to offer congregate living using a boarding home model. HABcore proudly maintains its two congregate living homes Coffey Residence in Red Bank, and Laurel House in Asbury Park.

In recent years HABcore has expanded its programs to include an Independent Living Program that houses adults and children in single homes and apartments throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.

According to Katie Lord, HABcore’s Associate Director, the Outreach program is a “boots on the ground” effort. Staff visit encampments, train stations, and look for people living in cars. They then build a rapport with them and determine what may be barriers to living in permanent housing.

John Bulwin, a HABcore Outreach employee, often transports adults experiencing homelessness to food pantries. During frigid weather, he monitors outside temperatures and encourages people living in tents and cars to visit warming shelters. He also becomes acquainted with the men and women and discusses obstacles to their obtaining permanent IDs often required for Social Security and support programs.

William Honeker

As an example, Bulwin recently assisted William Honeker who for 13 months resided at the Winding River Park encampment on Ocean County property along a trail. The encampment has had as many as 35 tents. Bulwin worked with Honeker, a twice-widowed US Army veteran, to navigate the bureaucracies of the NJDMV, the Social Security System to obtain his birth certificate, and a state ID as well as a Social Security number. Honeker’s IDs were lost years ago when his storage unit was sold.

After Honeker obtained IDs, Bulwin and HABcore Supportive Housing Coordinators found him a suitable and affordable home in Lakehurst. Honeker, and his beloved dog, Fred, now have a sturdy roof over their heads as well as a reliable source of heat and electricity. His goal is to pay his bills and continue to live in Lakehurst indefinitely. A sense of permanence and belonging is a goal HABcore has for all its clients.

Mary-Ellen Mullen

Mary-Ellen Mullen is another relieved former inhabitant of the Winding River Park encampment who is now settling into an apartment thanks to HABcore’s Outreach program. She lived at the encampment for six months.

Mullen, whose only source of support is Social Security, now lives in Beachwood, in a HABcore-owned building with a roommate. Her HABcore Supportive Housing Coordinator explains that Mary-Ellen, similar to Bill Honeker, has not been able to get her ID. “We were able to find out where she was born, so now we are applying for her birth certificate. She has adapted very well. Her apartment looks great and is always nice and clean.”

Mullen previously lived in Seaside Heights for many years worked at Wawa and was a manager at a McDonald’s. She has two children, a son who lives in Point Pleasant and a daughter who lives in Pine Beach.

HABcore received a state grant from the Department of Community Affairs Office of Homelessness Prevention to create the Street Outreach and Homelessness Diversion Program in Ocean County in 2023. The program is designed to connect the unsheltered and homeless with housing and prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place.

Within a few weeks of establishing the program, HABcore permanently housed four families from the woods in collaboration with other agencies such as Just Believe Inc., the Affordable Housing Alliance, and Bright Harbor Healthcare. One of the families, including a 10-week-old infant, was relocated to a home with a two-year lease under HABcore’s Rapid Rehousing program. They will receive rental assistance and intensive case management for up to 24 months.

Bulwin, and HABcore’s other Outreach staff Mitch Andryszewski, both find their jobs extremely rewarding. They know that they play a key role in helping people living in temporary and primitive conditions seek more stability and security.

HABcore’s mission: by providing permanent, supportive, and affordable housing and individualized support, helps veterans, families with children, and individuals with special needs move through crisis to stability, giving them the opportunity to improve their lives.

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