By Jacqueline Durett
EDISON — The Jewish Renaissance Foundation’s plans to establish a medical center serving the homeless is moving ahead — but not at the Toth Center.
“We weren’t really getting the support we thought we would be getting,” said Alexandra Mansonet-Cross, chief executive officer of the Jewish Renaissance Foundation (JRF).
The JRF’s plans to use the Toth Center were met with resident opposition last fall in regard to the volume of patients that might be using the center and the loss of health department services for township residents currently available at the Toth Center, which is on Idlewild Road.
The JRF had originally hoped to solidify plans for using the Toth Center by Dec. 9, as the organization had 120 days from its designation in August as a federally qualified health center to open a facility. However, following pushback from residents, the organization requested an extension to find an alternate location, Mansonet-Cross said.
“I think just overall there was some confusion on behalf of the residents,” she said. “I think they were envisioning homeless people in front of the health center just lined up and sleeping there.” She said she wished the public had been more receptive to their plans and willing to hear more fully what the JRF had in mind.
The JRF is hoping to have the health center open in March, but with the lease still pending, cannot yet disclose the location, although Mansonet-Cross said it would still be in Edison. However, because the location isn’t ideal, it may not be a long-term solution, she said.
Securing an alternative location has been an easier process this time for JRF, Mansonet-Cross said, because the new location is not a township-owned property. As such, JRF does not need the township’s approval to move ahead. However, because JRF will be receiving federal dollars, the state does have to sign off on the location.
The clinic setup for the new location is similar to the plan the JRF had for the Toth Center — with one primary physician and one dentist available. There also will be a mobile unit that can travel to shelters to accommodate patients that cannot travel to the clinic.
Once open, the clinic would be open to anyone looking receive services, but the center will focus on the homeless population — which Mansonet-Cross stressed, includes in large part the working poor who can’t afford to live on their own and may be living with relatives. “We’ve got a lot of families in our county,” she said, who meet this definition of homeless. According to a homeless advocacy organization, Monarch Housing, 5.9 percent of the state’s homeless were living in Middlesex County with a count of 604 individuals (429 families) in Middlesex County who were homeless in January 2015. That count includes those in emergency shelters, transitional housing and in unsheltered situations — but not those living with family members.
What will make the center different from other medical clinics, she said, is the presence of a case manager, who can work with patients to assist them with their social needs as well.
Mansonet-Cross said that even though the JRF will be able to open its medical center — something the organization has been planning for three years, she is disappointed that the original plans didn’t work out.
“I really believe the Toth Center would have been a better place,” she said.