Nonprofit looks to end homelessness

Staff Writer

 Making it Possible to End Homelessness Board Treasurer Mark Berkowitz, left, and Executive Director Philip Webb, center, sit with Greater Media Radio’s Bert Baron, of 1450 WCTC.  PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILIP WEBB Making it Possible to End Homelessness Board Treasurer Mark Berkowitz, left, and Executive Director Philip Webb, center, sit with Greater Media Radio’s Bert Baron, of 1450 WCTC. PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILIP WEBB EDISON — ’Tis the season that often puts a squeeze on families’ finances, between decking the halls, purchasing gifts and taking part in a variety of celebrations.

But for some families, the financial demands posed by day-to-day life can be enough to leave them with nowhere to turn and nowhere to go.

“There are probably about 1,300 people that are homeless in Middlesex County each year,” said Philip Webb, executive director of Making it Possible to End Homelessness, an Edison-based nonprofit. “The slightest thing can cause eviction if you have very little money and have children.”

Webb knows the situation well, with Middlesex County leading Central Jersey in its homeless population, largely because of its urban areas, he said. Officials enacted a 10-year plan in 2007 to end homelessness in the county. The plan includes the creation of permanent, affordable housing.

The organization he leads provides housing for those in need throughout the county and beyond through its transitionalhousing programs: Amandla Crossing and Imani Park.

Located on federal surplus property at the former Raritan Arsenal site, Amandla Crossing is a 30-unit facility that provides housing for single-parent homeless families for up to 12 months.

“Each individual homeless family has their own space,” he said of the facility, which houses studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, along with a laundry room, classrooms and common areas.

Aside from putting a roof over families’ heads, the program also aims to build a solid foundation beneath them.

Offering a variety of services, including home management training, housing and relocation, health education, self-esteem building, and mental health and substance-abuse counseling, the program aims to ensure that families leave with tools to create a healthy environment for children, improved educational and social skills, and the wherewithal to secure permanent housing and function as productive members of the community.

Along with connecting residents with the resources offered through the program, staff members also work to get individuals connected with programs outside the facility in order to create continuity when they move out.

New residents at Amandla Crossing undergo a series of assessments — including everything from mental health to credit checks — to determine their needs. Staff members then work to develop a specialized program to address them.

“It’s really varied,” Webb said. “There’s not sort of a cookie-cutter [situation].”

The ways residents found themselves at Amandla Crossing are just as varied.

“We’ve had some that were employed and lost jobs, and some are working,” he said, adding that others become homeless because of family breakups, mental illness or any number of other issues. “Job loss is probably the biggest reason that we’re seeing. We’ve had a few foreclosures.”

Imani Park, located on the former Camp Kilmer site in town, houses individuals or families who have at least one member with HIV or AIDS. There, residents can stay up to 24 months.

“At Imani Park, it tends to be longer, because there are a lot of health issues to deal with as well as the financial issues,” Webb said, adding that many residents there receive Social Security disability benefits.

At Amandla Crossing, residents are typically those who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or welfare benefits, he said.

“It’s just not enough to be able to support oneself on,” Webb said, adding that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Market rent values for apartments in the county are $1,153 and $1,420 for oneand two-bedroom apartments, respectively.

“That’s more than a lot of our residents get a month on any kind of assistance,” he said, adding that the same goes for those with minimum wage jobs.

In fact, more and more families are finding themselves having to skip meals to make ends meet, according to Webb.

Even the organization itself scrambles to keep its head above water, receiving some funding from government grants, and some from corporate or individual donors, according to Webb.

“Things are always tight,” he said.

Fortunately, many groups and individuals from the outside community pitch in to help. For example, he said, a group from the Edison Home Depot has done work for the organization, while others give their time to landscape the properties. A group of students from Middlesex County College runs afterschool programs for young residents, and individuals donate their skills to teach classes for residents.

With countless areas in which to volunteer, interested parties are invited to contact the organization to find the best fit.

“So people can get plugged in that way,” he said.

Donations are also welcome. Each facility is home to a small food pantry, along with stocks of baby items. Monetary donations can be given through the nonprofit’s secure website at

“Here, at the holidays, we try to be sure that all the residents receive gifts,” Webb said, adding that the Piscataway Applebee’s restaurant recently held a Toys for Tots drive for children at the facilities.

Webb said gift cards can go a long way — especially in the later months, when donations are scarcer — to help graduating residents with startup items in their permanent homes, he said.

For more information on Making it Possible to End Homelessness, visit the organization’s website or Facebook page, or call 732-729-7770.