Last night’s episode of “Chasing New Jersey” focused on a little-known part of the homeless population in the Garden State. As reported by Meg Baker on a tip from a New Jersey viewer, there are people living in the woods in remote parts of the state. Not quite a tent city, but people in Browns Mills, receive food from Tracy Janusz, who volunteers with others from the Christian Caring Center and their ministry in Browns Mills.
Meg had to gain the trust of the residents before they would allow her into their densely hidden hovel, where some have lived for up to twenty years. Madeline Mears-Sheldon, of the center, who offers them day landscaping jobs, shared a story of one man who got very sick from a tick bite, and taxpayers had to fund his huge hospital bill. She related to Meg, that the cost of getting him into a shelter and offering him services would have been so much cheaper than funding a hospital bill of $2,414. By doing this, he could have gotten a job and become a taxpayer, rather than a burden on other taxpayers. She stated that the cost of a homeless person to taxpayers averages $14,480 a year.
Meg then went on the relate that the township had removed many of the tents where most of the residents lived, but there are no shelters in Burlington County. She then interviewed John, who does not live within the group, but has his own setup. He lives in an old canoe rental cabin that only has half of a roof. Inside he has a sofa and a tent. A woman named Sarah and her son also live there with John. She is on Social Security Disability and cannot afford housing on her own. John admitted, besides housing, he needs a job, but in order to get a job; he needs an address.
Meg was impressed by the honesty of the people; some had addictions and were forthcoming about them. Reporter Bill Anderson interjected that the priorities for use of government resources, which will spend $20 million talking about these problems. If that money was used to solve the problems, rather than advertising and committees, maybe there would be less of a problem. Bill Spadea added his two-cents to the discussion and questioned if some of these people who have been off the grid for up to twenty years, may not want to have the problem solved? He stated that it was easy to talk about resources, but just spending taxpayer dollars is no guarantee that it will solve the problem. Meg replied that some do get government assistance, but it is not enough to house them. Ronica Cleary chimed in that having an addiction is a bigger problem than not having an address in the job market. Meg then stated that the center had had some success by getting them into rehab. However, there is clearly a bigger issue here that requires more investigation. Surely, there will be more insight, now that this issue has been brought to light on this episode of “Chasing New Jersey.”
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