July 23, 2014   25 Tamuz 5774
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Fighting for New Jersey's Homeless
Mar. 29, 2013
Barnert Temple provided survival supplies and emergency housing to a large community of homeless men, women and children forced to spend winter in a Tent City because they had been denied access to emergency shelter.

Community Contact Information:
Barnert Temple (Congregation B'nai Jeshurun)
Franklin Lakes, NJ
http://www.barnerttemple.org

Goals:
- Bring the entire congregation together
- Enable a community of approximately 100 homeless -- men, women and children -- to survive the winter cold in a Tent City in the woods of Lakewood, New Jersey
- Bring national and international attention to the plight of this community, by forming a new coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish congregations and organizations across the state.
- Advocate in the courts for recognition of a right to emergency shelter statewide.

Overview:
Barnert provided survival supplies and emergency housing to a large community of homeless men, women and children forced to spend winter in a Tent City because they have been denied the basic human right to emergency shelter. We have gone to court to fight -- successfully -- for this right and brought worldwide media attention to a glaring example of this injustice.

Preparation:
Our rabbis were the catalysts who guided our whole congregation down a spiritual path that has led to unprecedented developments for the homeless in the State of New Jersey. In addition, every part of Barnert Temple -- from our Religious School teachers, to our Men's Club, to our Sisterhood, to our teenagers, and even to our youngest children -- became deeply engaged in our fight for New Jersey's homeless. Along the way, we also learned the power of forming a coalition -- rabbis and Jews, educators, lawyers and non-Jews -- when seeking to effect change on a statewide scale.

Project Implementation:
To start with, our Social Action Committee and our Men's Club, spurred on by its President, led a convoy of congregants on a factfinding mission, through which we brought down warm clothes, blankets and other survival supplies. What we learned was unthinkable in modern-day America: that there was no available emergency shelter anywhere in Ocean County, as well as other counties in New Jersey, and that each year, thousands of homeless men, women and children who applied to Social Services for emergency help had been turned away. Even worse, the City of Lakewood was threatening to bulldoze the Tent City, even though it was on public land, deep in the woods, and the only place the homeless could go. Barnert began to take its help for the homeless to a new level. The next year, Barnert brought down materials to help the homeless help themselves, by the homeless building modern, solar-powered tee-pees.

Partnering with Legal Services of New Jersey, we arranged for a "swat team" of pro bono lawyers to help the homeless obtain any legal benefits to which they were entitled but had been wrongfully denied. We also reached out to the non-Jewish community and partnered with Minister Steve Brigham, who was living in the woods of Tent City helping its residents improve their lives. With the invaluable assistance of the URJ, we were put in contact with another Rabbi, who joined with us I supporting the people of Tent City -- not only with supplies and friendship, but with a march and protest rally of hundreds of people in support of the homeless. Barnert's efforts went national -- and international -- in 2010, when Lakewood sued the homeless of Tent City through what was assumed to be a routine ejectment case. Thus far, there have been two major court battles, and two major victories, for the homeless and social justice.

Barnert also decided that the public needed to be educated about the plight of the homeless -- and that the bright light of media attention could further protect the homeless from injustice. Through Barnert's efforts, this David-and-Goliath battle -- between the government and the desperate homeless living in the woods -- was the subject of newspaper articles, radio and TV not only in New Jersey, but also across the nation and in numerous countries throughout the world.

Results:
We have already had major success regarding all three of the objectives that Barnert set: (1) providing survival supplies and emergency housing to a large community of homeless men, women and children; (2) going to court to fight, successfully, for the right of the homeless to survive and have emergency shelter; and (3) bringing worldwide media attention to the injustice of homelessness. Homelessness is a problem that Barnert will continue fighting for years, but already, at least some lives have been improved and, in some cases, saved, through the emergency assistance that Barnert has provided.

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