Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program helps clients navigate ‘new normal’

By Andrea Noren

The Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program (EHAP) in Freehold has not been operating with its usual open door policy since the beginning of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but staff members and volunteers are working in whatever way they can to meet the ongoing needs of the homeless and very low income population in western Monmouth County.

On most days, Joan Mandel, who is the executive director and social worker, takes calls from new and existing clients, helping them to navigate the “new normal.”

County, state and federal offices for safety net programs such as food stamps, Social Security, general assistance and Medicaid are closed to the public or limiting access, and obtaining or renewing benefits has become exponentially harder.

Verification documents for applications must be copied and mailed or faxed to those offices, and most of EHAP’s clients do not have access to a copy machine or a fax machine. During the worst of the pandemic, EHAP staff and volunteers manned the office two days a week, accepting items to be copied or faxed.

Many clients lost their jobs or were unable to work, so volunteers helped folks with no computer access apply for unemployment benefits.

Others, who had not filed taxes within the past two years, did not automatically receive the CARES Act economic impact payments and volunteers helped them apply online to get that much needed payment.

Although there is a state moratorium on evictions, some landlords have tried to kick out tenants. EHAP has helped several people stand up for their right to remain housed and then tried to help them find resources to remain current on their rent.

The EHAP office began opening for appointments in early September. A volunteer constructed barriers to lessen the chance of airborne virus transmission, which allows the staff members and volunteers to see up to two clients at once in the office, while maintaining social distancing.

The winter overnight hospitality program which operates from December through March will hopefully be able to operate this year. The agency is working with the local congregations who provide dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast for up to 12 men one night each week to work out how this program can be safely provided given pandemic protocols.

EHAP’s two major fundraisers scheduled for March and May were of course cancelled. A third, scheduled for October, has also been cancelled.

The agency received a small grant from the Emergency Food and Shelter Board which will help pay for some direct assistance to clients, but the agency still needs funds to cover office and staffing costs.

A Change for Change at-home fundraiser is planned for Oct. 10 through Nov. 22. If you are interested in supporting the work of the Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program and wish to participate in our fundraiser or in making a donation, please send an email to jmandel@ehapinc.org

This Your Turn guest column was written by Andrea Noren, a resource volunteer with the Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program.