Toms River councilman raises awareness about homelessness by sleeping outdoors
As temperatures drop to dangerous levels across New Jersey, there are still people sleeping outside with no place to go. They are sleeping on the streets or out in the woods.
A Toms River councilman is hoping to raise awareness about Ocean County’s lack of a permanent homeless shelter by sleeping outdoors.
Every Friday since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers are out in Toms River giving food to hundreds of families in need. One such volunteer is Councilman Terrace Turnbach. The food is provided by the Fulfill food bank.
Turnbach says that it is unacceptable that dozens of people without a home have to sleep in the woods surrounding the town, including veterans and senior citizens.
“There’s 21 counties in the state of New Jersey. Twenty out of 21 have transitional housing. Ocean County is the only county that does not have transition housing. We are trying to raise that awareness, trying to convince our county commissioners to invest in a transitional housing center,” the councilman says.
Starting Saturday at 4:30 p.m., Turnbach will spend the night on the steps of Toms River Town Hall. He has invited the commissioners and anyone else who would like to join him.
“My hope is that it sparks a conversation. We are not going to get a housing center built from one night outside. But we can bring awareness to the commissioners that this is important to the county, to the people. Volunteers like this. Let’s have a meeting, let’s start the process,” Turnbach says.
During so-called “Code Blue” cold emergencies, Turnbach and others pick up the homeless and bring them inside for the night to temporary motels. They are dropped back off on the streets or in the woods by 8 a.m. the next day. Turnbach says that he hopes enough people take notice of his night sleeping outside to act.
“I want them to reach out to the county commissioners and tell them we shouldn’t be the last county to not have a transitional housing center. I want to encourage them to help everybody. Elected office is about service to the people. It’s about service to the people that need you. You have to be a voice to the voiceless,” he says.
Ocean County Commissioner Director Gary Quinn tells News 12 New Jersey,” We have to take care of these folks going through difficult times. We don't want the responsibility of building a transitional housing shelter, staffing it and running it - we certainly want to see a plan put in place. Moving forward Terrance Turnbach putting this in the spotlight will be a good thing. Hopefully, we will get some nonprofits to step up. We are going to see this get worse. As time marches forward from the pandemic, a lot of people are in situations where they can't pay rent. When that hits us, there will be a lot more people in difficult situations. It's imperative that - not only local - but county, state and federal governments have to put plans in place. We don't want a surge of all these folks being put on the street. We have to address it immediately.”