Influx of Homeless Individuals

Has anyone else noticed the recent number of homeless people on the Hilton side of town? They’re all up and down Springfield Ave going as far up into Millburn. I don’t feel good about this. 
Any one else concerned?


Tall_Mocha said:

Has anyone else noticed the recent number of homeless people on the Hilton side of town? They’re all up and down Springfield Ave going as far up into Millburn. I don’t feel good about this. 
Any one else concerned?

I’ve noticed that, they do make use of the pantry though. I’m beginning to think that the pantry is the draw. 


Jaytee said:

I’ve noticed that, they do make use of the pantry though. I’m beginning to think that the pantry is the draw. 

Hmm, you may be right. I think the pantry needs to go. That’s another issue and there always seems to be a disagreement in front of it. 


Tall_Mocha said:

Hmm, you may be right. I think the pantry needs to go. That’s another issue and there always seems to be a disagreement in front of it. 

In who’s backyard should the pantry be?


And what harm are they causing?


Maybe there’s a reason the pantry is not in Ricalton square. We needed more foot traffic on Springfield Avenue, because people aren’t leaving their cars at home, even if they live in the Hilton neighborhood….just avoid the bank or the gas station by Wawa at night … 


Tall_Mocha said:

Hmm, you may be right. I think the pantry needs to go. That’s another issue and there always seems to be a disagreement in front of it. 

It sounds like you’re being diplomatic. Do you mean there are fights?  Is there an issue with noise?  I can see that being a problem. 

Can anyone explain the history of that community pantry?  Was it a COVID-19 idea to help get food to people who might otherwise have no place to go?  If so, maybe it’s time to revisit whether it should still be there. Are the donations starting to dwindle now that our collective sense of a community crisis is dwindling as well?

A friend of mine used to work at a charitable food pantry. They are challenging to say the least, even when it’s inside and attended. People who are seeking help can get tense when the supplies are limited. I have to imagine that an unattended food distribution spot that relies on community goodwill could be a spot for tensions to flare. 


Food insecurity, which was a problem during COVID, is still a problem today. There are many in our community who were food insecure before COVID and continue to be food insecure today. Programs such as SNAP are reducing benefits and making it harder to qualify. The sharp rise in food prices is contributing to a rise in the number of people who rely on the fridge to meet their food needs.

The community fridge has advantages over existing food pantries.  It can contain fresh produce, dairy, meat, and other items requiring refrigeration that most food pantries cannot handle.  It is open 24/7/365.25, not just one short interval every week or two.  There is no registration requirement; use is anonymous.  

There are disadvantages too.  Most obvious is the unreliability of being able to find the food you need when you go to the community fridge.  Another is the reliance on generous residents who donate food without any coordination as to schedule or food donated.  The program needs to be improved without detracting from the advantages that make the community fridge an important part of our community.


Probably not intended to be harsh, but...

"I think the pantry needs to go."  --> Let them eat cake, somewhere else?


How many maplewood residents use the pantry? Anyone know? I see local people I’m familiar with stocking up the fridge and shelves. 


mrincredible said:

It sounds like you’re being diplomatic. Do you mean there are fights?  Is there an issue with noise?  I can see that being a problem. 

Can anyone explain the history of that community pantry?  Was it a COVID-19 idea to help get food to people who might otherwise have no place to go?  If so, maybe it’s time to revisit whether it should still be there. Are the donations starting to dwindle now that our collective sense of a community crisis is dwindling as well?

A friend of mine used to work at a charitable food pantry. They are challenging to say the least, even when it’s inside and attended. People who are seeking help can get tense when the supplies are limited. I have to imagine that an unattended food distribution spot that relies on community goodwill could be a spot for tensions to flare. 

Diplomatic?  LOL.

I am not up to speed on issues/problems, if any, that have occurred in the immediate vicinity of the community fridge on Springfield Ave in Maplewood so of course that possibility can be assessed on a regular basis everywhere in town, including by the community fridge.  If there are problems let's try to figure it out.

Otherwise, I have seen quite a few people quietly and calmly taking advantage of this (IMO) low key and low maintenance location.  Personally I would be interested in continuing and improving the location until food insecurity is no longer an issue ... don't hold your breath.


joan_crystal said:

Food insecurity, which was a problem during COVID, is still a problem today. There are many in our community who were food insecure before COVID and continue to be food insecure today. Programs such as SNAP are reducing benefits and making it harder to qualify. The sharp rise in food prices is contributing to a rise in the number of people who rely on the fridge to meet their food needs.

The community fridge has advantages over existing food pantries.  It can contain fresh produce, dairy, meat, and other items requiring refrigeration that most food pantries cannot handle.  It is open 24/7/365.25, not just one short interval every week or two.  There is no registration requirement; use is anonymous.  

There are disadvantages too.  Most obvious is the unreliability of being able to find the food you need when you go to the community fridge.  Another is the reliance on generous residents who donate food without any coordination as to schedule or food donated.  The program needs to be improved without detracting from the advantages that make the community fridge an important part of our community.

Another substantial disadvantage is that my dollar goes far further when a food bank is buying discounted bulk via the Community Foodbank of NJ than when I’m purchasing at ShopRite.


susan1014 said:

joan_crystal said:

Food insecurity, which was a problem during COVID, is still a problem today. There are many in our community who were food insecure before COVID and continue to be food insecure today. Programs such as SNAP are reducing benefits and making it harder to qualify. The sharp rise in food prices is contributing to a rise in the number of people who rely on the fridge to meet their food needs.

The community fridge has advantages over existing food pantries.  It can contain fresh produce, dairy, meat, and other items requiring refrigeration that most food pantries cannot handle.  It is open 24/7/365.25, not just one short interval every week or two.  There is no registration requirement; use is anonymous.  

There are disadvantages too.  Most obvious is the unreliability of being able to find the food you need when you go to the community fridge.  Another is the reliance on generous residents who donate food without any coordination as to schedule or food donated.  The program needs to be improved without detracting from the advantages that make the community fridge an important part of our community.

Another substantial disadvantage is that my dollar goes far further when a food bank is buying discounted bulk via the Community Foodbank of NJ than when I’m purchasing at ShopRite.

My donations to this are typically food items that I have obtained for personal use but subsequently realize that I can't or won't use them before they expire or spoil. But I never donate anything that is not still good (and not past printed dates) when I make that identification. In that case, this is a much better use for that food than discarding it in the trash. 

When food drives come around, however, I try to make financial donations so that the pantries or MEND or other organizations can get the "best bang for the buck" by purchasing at the Community Foodbank or similar. I don't go to the store to purchase items to donate and pay retail as my donations budget will go much farther with the former approach.


mjc said:

Probably not intended to be harsh, but...

"I think the pantry needs to go."  --> Let them eat cake, somewhere else?

There are two food pantries in So-Ma. One is at St. Joseph's Church off of Springfield Ave and the other is at Our Lady Sorrows Church on Prospect. As I understand it, registration is done to help planning/supplies, but no one is turned away without food. 


berkeley said:

There are two food pantries in So-Ma. One is at St. Joseph's Church off of Springfield Ave and the other is at Our Lady Sorrows Church on Prospect. As I understand it, registration is done to help planning/supplies, but no one is turned away without food. 

True.  However, They are equipped to primarily handle non perishable, shelf stable food, have set distribution times which are limited, and require face to face contact.  The Community fridge has none of these restrictions.


I don't know about St. Joe's, but OLS often provides milk and fresh veggies. Other pantries in the area even provide eggs and meat. I understand that many families in Essex County have difficulty affording food after paying the rest of our high "cost of living"/rent, etc. I wanted to point out that, fortunately, substantial free food resources for adults/families are available and relatively accessible. The local pantries also receive referrals from the local town governments & schools and to some extent are able to accomodate "off hour" requests. No system will be perfect for everyone but based on what I have observed, the safety net in Essex County works pretty well thanks to ongoing donations and volunteer support from community members.


So that brings us back to the original point: is the frig a benefit to Mpl. or is it a cause of disruption?

Can we do more for our area homeless?. 


Formerlyjerseyjack said:

So that brings us back to the original point: is the frig a benefit to Mpl. or is it a cause of disruption?

Can we do more for our area homeless?. 

All help is positive and the idea is in the right place but people experiencing hunger need a person to connect with as there are usually more issues to be addressed besides the immediate hunger. 


This is such a nuanced debate it’s nigh impossible to speak in absolutes. 

Food insecurity, income insufficiency and poverty are all very real problems in our country and in our community. A lot of times they are invisible because these problems all carry a societal stigma. Individuals are stigmatized if they are seen to be relying on public assistance. I also think wealthy communities like Maplewood tend to try to ignore the fact that not all of their neighbors share their privilege. 

So the community cupboard, openly accessible 24/7/365.25, helps address the needs of our fellow residents who are looking for help. It does so in a way the spares people’s pride and shields them from stigma. So in that way it is a unique solution relative to a charitable food pantry. If I see someone standing there, I have no idea if they’re dropping some stuff off or picking it up (unless I want to be a busybody and watch them). 

What seems to be complicating our feelings toward this resource is when unhoused residents appear to be making use of it.  It makes sense that a freely available source of food would be attractive to people without housing.  Some people are reporting that this practice is causing disruption.  So now it becomes a question of balancing our support for people with nutrition insufficiency vs public peace. And when you are trying to balance those things it’s important to understand the scale of each problem. 

So, I guess my question is how bad of a problem are we talking about here?  Objectively, how often is there a disturbance in that vicinity and is it any worse than a loud backyard party?  Is it happening at 3 in the morning?  

I hope the town can find a way to address this compassionately without disrupting or ending a valuable public service. 


the18thletter said:

All help is positive and the idea is in the right place but people experiencing hunger need a person to connect with as there are usually more issues to be addressed besides the immediate hunger. 

Someone can come to an ER suffering from diabetes and uncontrolled bleeding. Sure, you want to get to the diabetes, but, if you don't have time to treat it immediately, that doesn't mean that you leave the bleeding untreated as well.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


the18thletter said:

All help is positive and the idea is in the right place but people experiencing hunger need a person to connect with as there are usually more issues to be addressed besides the immediate hunger. 

Not perfect since the person in need has to reach out:  There is information posted on the community fridge with contact information for social service resources and local food pantries.  Attempt is being made for the community fridge to be part of a coordinated effort to get help to those who need it.


GoSlugs said:

Someone can come to an ER suffering from diabetes and uncontrolled bleeding. Sure, you want to get to the diabetes, but, if you don't have time to treat it immediately, that doesn't mean that you leave the bleeding untreated as well.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

An ER is a big difference than some band aids in a closet. It seems most responses ignored the fact that I prefaced my comment applauding the effort being put forth as a positive effort. I work with the homeless on a daily basis and know the power personal relationships play in resolving issues. I'm not saying to not do the pantry, I'm saying do more. 


The issue here seems to be some people are uncomfortable seeing the unhoused. There's no nuance here. It IS unpleasant to be reminded that the unhoused exist, and that their troubles are often complex and costly to address. But to remove a small aid to those in need because we don't want to see them? That solves nothing.


I agree with you for the most part max. I do think there’s some nuance here. A place of public accommodation that ends up becoming disruptive to the community may need to be examined. Which is why I was asking what is the extent of the problem. What exactly is happening around the community pantry that is the problem?  

I’ll pose another question. How does anyone know if the people in question are homeless? 

I think we’re all on the same page that more needs to be done to help the unhoused. If the community pantry and fridge are a trouble spot because unhoused people are congregating there, the answer is not to remove the pantry. It’s to provide assistance to the people who are there. 


max_weisenfeld said:

The issue here seems to be some people are uncomfortable seeing the unhoused. There's no nuance here. It IS unpleasant to be reminded that the unhoused exist, and that their troubles are often complex and costly to address. But to remove a small aid to those in need because we don't want to see them? That solves nothing.

Thanks for the lecture.


berkeley said:

max_weisenfeld said:

The issue here seems to be some people are uncomfortable seeing the unhoused. There's no nuance here. It IS unpleasant to be reminded that the unhoused exist, and that their troubles are often complex and costly to address. But to remove a small aid to those in need because we don't want to see them? That solves nothing.

Thanks for the lecture.

Thanks for being the tone police


Do other towns in our area have a similar set up?  Overall, I like the concept.  I wasn't sure how well stocked it would be, but always seems to have a supply of something whenever I drive by.


I see people at the pantry frequently. As someone else mentioned, it's not always clear if the people are picking up or dropping off food.  I have not witnessed any disruptions or altercations.

I have noticed more unhoused people in the general area, but I've noticed this everywhere I go.  This is especially evident in large cities.  I see it as part of a much larger problem, and not specific to Maplewood or South Orange.


yahooyahoo said:


I have noticed more unhoused people in the general area, but I've noticed this everywhere I go.  This is especially evident in large cities.  I see it as part of a much larger problem, and not specific to Maplewood or South Orange.

If I’m not mistaken, this is partly due to the end of some COVID-19 emergency policies. I know there were eviction moratoria in various places which have been lifted, for instance. 

I did some research and there is an annual count of the unhoused population in NJ. It’s conducted by volunteers with a group called Monarch Housing Associates. They do the count over 10 days in January but it seems to take a while to issue the report. The most recent report was released in the fall of 2022. They are transparent about the challenges faced in this kind of population counting, and basically warn people not to closely compare the numbers from year to year. 

They try to quantify how many people are unhoused, and what percentage have no shelter at all. 

Here’s an article about last year’s count, plus I added a quote below. 

https://newjerseymonitor.com/2022/10/05/annual-count-finds-n-j-homelessness-inching-up-with-racial-disparities-persisting/

Advocates counted 8,754 people living in emergency shelters, motels, transitional housing, or unsheltered on the street statewide during what’s known as the Point in Time count.Black people were disproportionately represented, accounting for 48% of those counted even though only 12% of the state’s population is Black, according to Monarch Housing Associates, the nonprofit that coordinates the count and issues the annual report.The daylong calculation, done on Jan. 25 this year, offers a snapshot of the scope of homelessness in New Jersey. Advocates agree it’s an imperfect assessment because everything from how many volunteers participate to how bad the weather is can impact the numbers.The pandemic so affected last year’s effort, when counters tallied 8,097 people experiencing homelessness, that advocates warned against drawing comparisons to this year’s count.

mrincredible said:

If I’m not mistaken, this is partly due to the end of some COVID-19 emergency policies. I know there were eviction moratoria in various places which have been lifted, for instance. 

I think that is just exacerbating an already existing shortage of affordable housing in the areas where that housing is needed. A lot of this comes down to NIMBYism and bad zoning.  I have watched with interest the move in California to loosen zoning laws and increase density.  It is far to early to say whether this will have the desired effect but it is good to see someone trying something somewhere.


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