By contributor Marc Monseau
In response to the growing challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, the Rescue Mission of Trenton has rapidly modified its services to provide ongoing support for some of the region’s most vulnerable people while fulfilling its century-old mission to feed the hungry and house the homeless.
The Trenton-based shelter has been implementing new approaches and protocols over the past month to not only keep its residents safe, but also ensure that they receive adequate medical care during the crisis.
“We’ve been operating in high gear during this hectic and difficult time,” said Mary Gay Abbott-Young, chief executive officer of the Rescue Mission. “It’s amazing to see how both our staff and our clients have rapidly risen to this occasion.”
Founded in 1915, the Rescue Mission has served the Trenton area community in multiple crises during its history, including the Great Depression, by feeding, housing and providing opportunities to those in need.
Each day, the mission’s shelter welcomes about 150 to 200 of the region’s homeless men and women for warm meals and a safe place to sleep. To safely house some of its most vulnerable residents, including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, the mission recently created a separate wing in its shelter by relocating a dozen of its long-term residents to new housing.
“We were able to accomplish this thanks to an incredible amount of cooperation,” said Abbott-Young. The Rescue Mission was able to create the wing thanks to a close partnership with HomeFront, a non-profit focused on ending homelessness in Central New Jersey. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs also expedited approvals for the move.
Through its behavioral health center, the Rescue Mission provides counseling and vocational training. In light of pandemic-related restrictions on in-person appointments, the mission’s medical director, Dr. Eric Williams, established a telehealth program to enable progress towards addiction recovery to continue without interruption. Conducted through Trenton-based healthcare provider, the Henry J. Austin Health Center, as well as the mission’s licensed partner providers, the telehealth program has conducted more than 225 appointments each week.
Though the 83 people currently receiving behavioral health services will continue to receive support, intakes were halted Thursday due to the risks associated with COVID-19. That moratorium will be reevaluated on April 19.
The Rescue Mission also houses 45 people in permanent supportive housing. In accordance with current state guidance, the mission’s residents are expected to shelter in place.
Working with Capital Health System and government officials, the Rescue Mission is also establishing a process to coordinate health care for those who are homeless or seeking recovery from addiction if they test positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results.
“Our intent is to do all we can to minimize the risk of sickness and fatalities,” said Abbott-Young.
To protect its clients from a possible viral infection, the Rescue Mission has suspended donations of food and clothing, as well as visitors and volunteers.
The Rescue Mission is seeking financial donations to buy much-needed supplies and to fund the growing costs associated with its new services and staffing needs. In addition to facing growing costs, the Rescue Mission’s annual fundraiser was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have been around for 100 years and are a very stable organization, but any organization is always in need of community support to help it continue to grow and provide services as the needs of the community change,” said Barrett Young, the Rescue Mission’s chief operating officer.
Young said financial donations are helping the Rescue Mission buy its own supplies to use during the pandemic.
The Rescue Mission is also seeking additional staff members to help it fulfill its mission during the pandemic by providing direct oversight and care for clients.
“We’re looking for people with high energy who want to help and work in a caring field,” Young said.
For more information about the Rescue Mission of Trenton, visit rescuemissionoftrenton.org.