By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
A transitional home for homeless young female adults has been approved to be built on a vacant lot on Prospect Avenue in Asbury Park. It will be next door to a similar home for young men.
Both houses are part of Covenant House’s Rights of Passage Program which provides housing up to 18 months for homeless young adults ages 18 to 22.
The program has strict guidelines that must be adhered to for the duration of their stay such as limiting visitors to two people once a month between noon and 8 p.m.
Each home provides housing for five residents who work or attend school and are assigned chores in the home. One person will supervise both houses.
The property is owned by Interfaith Neighbors, the organization which is also building the home.
James White, executive director of Covenant House, testified this week at a Board of Adjustment meeting that a ratio of one to 10 is a better ratio than the organization’s other programs.
The Rights of Passage Program includes guidance to help residents learn the skills they need to live on their own after leaving the program.
White said the program initially addresses the crisis of getting young people, who he said often don’t have anyone else in their lives, get off the streets.
He explained that most young people can make it one or two days of homelessness but by the third day they often resort to selling themselves sexually or stealing to get through another day.
During the crisis period Covenant House provides medical, mental health and legal services. The next step, White said, is moving them into stable living conditions.
There is an interview process for those wanting to be in the Rights of Passages Program, which currently has a waiting list for the men’s home in the city.
Board of Adjustment Chair Chris Avallone asked White how many residents leave the program and end up back on the streets.
White said in similar programs in Newark and Atlantic City there are times when residents leave and sometimes come back.
“It’s a volunteer program,” he said.
But White emphasized that building relationships with residents is a crucial part of the program and many keep in touch with program personnel after they leave.
He said social workers reach out to former residents but they have the option of keeping in touch or not.
“They are adults,” White said.
White also said people with serious mental health or addiction issues would not be chosen for the program.
“This is a premier program, there are only five spots,” he said.
But he also admitted there are no guarantees.
“We’re in the homelessness business, so we take risks,” he said.
Asked about the women and men socializing White said, “That’s part of the living process, learning how to treat women…part of the natural law, having relationships.”
During the public portion Nicole Harris, daughter of board member Dan Harris, asked White several pointed questions regarding safety and working with city churches who often assist homeless women.
Harris said some young adults do not feel safe at other city shelters where adults are housed.
“They are only kids,” she said.
White said at the Rights of Passages homes each resident has their own room but reiterated that they are not crisis centers.
Resident Jennifer Lewinski, who has a college age transgender daughter, asked if her daughter, would be welcome in the program and if she would be able to choose which home she felt comfortable living in.
White said Lewinski’s daughter’s choice would be self determined but the “sensitivity of the house” would also have to be considered.
Board Member Eric Galipo asked White, “Are you a gay affirmative organization?”
White answered unequivocally, “Yes we are.”
Program Service Manager Karen DeChavez also testified and addressed the services the program offers. DeChavez is the one who determines who gets into the program.
She also addressed supervision saying personnel are on duty in split shifts and said having one person for 10 young adults was sufficient because they are seldom all home at the same time.
The home is equipped with cameras which will be able to monitor both houses.
Social Worker Emma Hartmann, Outreach Service Manager, also testified saying she conducts behavioral health assessments making sure they are able to live on their own.
The program also uses a system of rewards and privileges for residents.
Avallone asked if in her opinion the program was successful she answered, “Very successful…there is a need for it, for sure.”
Planner James Higgins also testified saying the home met the criteria for being “inherently beneficial housing.”
“The positive criteria is met,” he said.
Several residents then spoke in favor of approving the home.
Pam Lamberton said the program addressed the needs of an “age range that is desperately neglected.”
“It’s a wonderful project that will do Asbury Park proud,” she said.
Kerry Butch, of the Asbury Park Women’s Collective said her organization “100 percent supports this project.”
Ernest Mignoli said, “I hope it will be approved, Covenant House is invaluable to the community. It’s a marriage made in heaven here.”
In their comments before voting Board Member Galipo said, “I’m in favor of it, it treats them with dignity and respect and they are equipped to deal with any issues that come up.”
Dan Harris said it is a much needed and thanked the public for their input.
“Input from the community makes our job easier,” he said.