Panel discussion will address COVID-19’s affect on homelessness

HomeFront NJ

There have always been homeless and hungry families in Mercer County, but the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic dislocation has brought more families seeking help to HomeFront, the Lawrence Township-based nonprofit that helps the homeless and the working poor.

HomeFront is bringing together several experts to discuss COVID-19’s impact on homelessness and hunger in a virtual panel discussion at 6 p.m. Nov. 19. The panel discussion, which is co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, is being held in conjunction with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which will be observed Nov. 15-22.

The panelists include Sarah Steward, HomeFront’s chief operating officer; Bernie Flynn, the chief executive officer of the Mercer Street Friends, which is a Trenton-based nonprofit whose food bank supplies food to numerous food pantries; and a former HomeFront client who will speak about her personal experiences with hunger and homelessness.

Panelists also include Gregory Stankiewicz of the New Jersey Community Schools Coalition, and Emily Lemmerman of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which studies the causes and impacts of eviction.

The panelists will focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people, locally and nationally, who are homeless or who earn very low incomes, as well as the impending eviction crisis.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week aims to educate the public and draw attention to the problem of poverty. Its goal is to build a base of volunteers and supporters for groups such as HomeFront and Mercer Street Friends. It was organized in 1975 by Villanova University students, according to its website, www.//hhweek.org.

Connie Mercer, HomeFront’s founder and chief executive officer, said HomeFront is running the speaker panel – along with other ways for the community to get involved – during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week because the community has shown during the pandemic that it wants to get involved.

“For those who are doing OK, they are aware that many of their neighbors are losing jobs, struggling to pay rent and their other bills, and they want to help. We are grateful that members of the community have reached out to us and asked what they can do to help,” Mercer said.

There are hundreds of families who, for the first time in their lives, need help to feed their families, pay the rent, or to buy critical necessities such as diapers, Mercer said. Some of those families are former HomeFront donors or volunteers.

HomeFront has experienced an unprecedented increase in need since the pandemic was declared in March, Mercer said. HomeFront has delivered more than 342,000 meals to families who have become homeless and who are living in motels, and at HomeFront’s Family Campus in Ewing Township.

HomeFront also has opened a third food pantry at its FreeStore in Trenton, in addition to its food pantries at the Lawrence Community Center at 295 Eggerts Crossing Road and at its headquarters at 1880 Princeton Ave.

HomeFront also has given out nearly 385,000 diapers and wipes.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week gives HomeFront a chance to connect with the community and discuss the current situation, and to join together to find ways to help neighbors in need, Mercer said. The panel discussion is one of the four ways to learn more and to get involved, she said.

In addition to the panel discussion, HomeFront is holding a pop-up information and drop-off center at 63 Palmer Square in Princeton on Nov. 15 from noon to 5 p.m. The community can learn more about the situation and how to help. Donations of non-perishable food, coats, diapers, wipes and baby formula will be accepted.

HomeFront also is offering a virtual tour of its headquarters at 1880 Princeton Ave. in Lawrence on Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. and Nov. 21 at 11 a.m.

Finally, HomeFront’s ArtSpace program is holding its annual Art for the Holidays event that highlights artwork created by HomeFront clients. It showcases work created by clients and local artists to benefit homeless families. Artwork can be purchased online or by appointment.

Visit www.homefrontnj.org for log-in details to the free panel discussion, or call 609-989-9417, ext. 133. For the ArtSpace program, visit www.artjamnj.org. For more information about HomeFront, visit www.homefrontnj.org.