Paterson is grappling with a homelessness crisis | Paterson Times

Paterson is grappling with a homelessness crisis


Melissa Fuentes has been homeless in the streets of Paterson for two years. She built a lodging place using cardboard boxes and dirty rags on top of the staircase of an old industrial building behind the Paterson Parking Authority site #10.

Fuentes, 26, originally from Queens, New York, said “family problems” forced her onto the streets.

Steps away, 57-year-old James Edwards, was sleeping inside a box with a traffic cone in front of it.

“I lost my job,” said Edwards. He said he worked in construction delivering sheetrock. He said he had been homeless for three weeks on September 5.

Edwards said he tried to get into the Good Shepherd Mission shelter, but was turned away.

Many of them will remain on the street as the cold months approach.

“We still be out here. We just wear winter gear,” said Angelo Freeman, 38, also known as “Chief Devil Dog.” He was exercising some steps away from Edwards.

Freeman, who previously worked as security guard, has been homeless for four years.

“It’s not really too violent over here,” said Freeman of the alleyway that runs from Van Houten to Ellison Street.

Angelo Freeman also known as "Chief Devil Dog"

Angelo Freeman also known as “Chief Devil Dog”

Fuentes, Edwards, and Freeman are not alone on the streets. Number of homeless people in Paterson is on the rise.

In 2019, 314 people were counted as homeless. In 2020, 424 people were counted as homeless, a 26 percent increase, according to the Passaic County point-in-time count of the homeless survey.

Edgardo Collazo, a small business owner and secretary for the Paterson Regular Republican Organization, said there’s been a massive increase in the number of people sleeping in the streets of Paterson.

Downtown Paterson virtually turns into a bedroom for the homeless at night, according to Collazo.

“There were about 20 homeless sleeping in front of the Motor Vehicle,” said Collazo on September 24 referring to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission office in downtown Paterson.

That’s because the number of unsheltered homeless has skyrocketed. In 2019, Paterson had 80 unsheltered homeless persons. In 2020, Paterson had 150 unsheltered homeless persons, a whopping 87 percent increase. Those figures were tallied before the coronavirus struck.

“I’ve seen a large increase in the homeless throughout the city,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz, chairman of the health and human services committee. “I have not seen a plan for homelessness as of yet.”

Collazo has been blasting mayor Andre Sayegh and his health and human services director Oshin Castillo for not doing enough to address the growing homelessness crisis in Paterson.

“They are not doing enough. They have to see what’s going on. They are playing it blind,” said Collazo.

Sayegh said his administration has taken steps.

“During this pandemic we have placed over 400 homeless people in hotels through a partnership with Passaic County and Catholic Charities,” said Sayegh.

Sayegh also released a two-page “plan.” Collazo was provided a copy of the plan. Collazo said the plan is inadequate. He said it keeps talking about the city working with nonprofit organizations and other government entities.

“Why don’t you work and do what you need to do?” remarked Collazo. He said the city needs to take more responsibility.

A key part of the mayor’s plan involved homeless people calling 211 for assistance. At least three homeless people, including Fuentes, said they could not obtain shelter by calling the number.

211 stopped placing single individuals in hotels, according to the plan, hampering the city’s efforts to get shelter for the homeless. Homeless shelters, fearing Covid-19 cases, have also stopped taking new residents.

Health officials conducted rapid Covid-19 tests for some homeless individuals to convince shelters to let them in. 134 homeless people were put into permanent homes through the Catholic Charities, according to the mayor’s plan.

Vast majority of the homeless are not residents of Paterson, acknowledges the mayor’s plan document.

“People come into this city and they never go back home,” said Abdelaziz.

Many are drug addicts.

“How’d they get here?” asked councilwoman Ruby Cotton. She said the city needs to meet with drug treatment program operators. “If the people do not survive, you just let them walk out?”

Municipal officials have long said drug recovery programs in the city are releasing those who fail to beat their addictions onto the streets.

Cotton said treatment programs need to make sure their clients return to their communities of origin if they fall off the wagon.

“We have to put an exit plan in place. When they’re not surviving, they need to go back to their cities where they came from. We got to put something in place. We’ve got to,” said Cotton.

Cotton intends to meet with some of these program operators to tell them to come up with better plans to prevent their clients panhandling and living in the streets of Paterson.

“It’s just not fair to the city of Paterson and to the residents,” said Cotton. “I think that we need to start applying pressure to these programs. You’ve got to come up with a better plan than just letting people walk out of your program.”

Cotton said some of the homeless refuse to go to shelters.

“They didn’t want to go. I couldn’t believe it,” said Cotton recalling an experience when she tried to get a homeless person to a shelter. She spent an hour trying to convince the person to go to a shelter, she said.

Some predict the problem will only get worse.

“They haven’t started doing evictions. When they start doing it God help Paterson,” said Collazo.

Homeless Paterson

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  • MarquinhoGaucho

    They are all drug addicts. That's why they come to Paterson to be closer to their dealers after they are kicked out of mommy and daddy's because they stole the TV and grandma's silver set. . You cant be homeless in white towns the cops harass you etc etc. They come here and beg they dont go to shelters because they cant leave to meet their dealer and return. I tried giving them food they dont want it or they;ll take it and throw it in the trash. Paterson is the only city in the area that tolerates homeless. You need to be like Florida, or the white towns, harass them,search them and you find drugs, lock em up. Maybe theyll get clean in prison and straighten their act up

    • David

      I live in Florida. I also live in a city with a large homeless population. That is not at all what happens.

      • MarquinhoGaucho

        My folks live there now. In the ritzy parts by the beach they do that. More inland they dont care as much

        • HankMorgan

          You need to chill with all that, Mark. How, exactly, does the homeless population in Paterson affect you personally where you’ve become so bitter, clueless and cruel? If someone didn’t want to eat your “handout” can you really blame them? I’d get a clean and healthy meal at Eva’s.

          • MarquinhoGaucho

            It's Marcos dont anglicize my name. go down the street from me on main Ave they all hangout in that park, get drunk, litter, urinate in public, driving down my property values, imagine the prospective buyers who turn up my block and the 1st thing they see are a bunch of vagrants. Go by grand st. see the mess under the overpass and they beg and walk in the middle of the street off the 19 exit so they can hold up traffic so people give them change when I am late for work. The thing is many do not want to be helped as the article states. Also in before in Brazil with Lula and Dilma they would set up camps in the private playground next to my family's buildings and they couldnt take their kids there. On top of that at night they would rob the residents as they tried to go home. Bolsonaro changed that.

  • Eric B. McKenzie

    Why don't we force some of these treatment centers to operate in other nearby towns so they can experience what Paterson has to deal with, Woodland Park has signs stating Proud to be Stigma Free !! because they changed the name of their town so it wouldn't be associated with Paterson.
    But yet Paterson has to deal with their residents who come here for drug treatment and assistance, buy drugs, prostitute.
    Homelessness is also a choice for some people because they don't want to go to the shelters and follow the directions and hours of the facilities.
    Paterson should push the State legislators and Governor to pull the funding the neighboring towns receive and give it to Paterson to help correct this growing problem.
    ** Paterson then must use the funding in the right manner for what it is allotted for**

  • HankMorgan

    It might be a minor point but Ruby Cotton seems to be confusing the word “survive” with either “sober” or something else. It does show a lack of knowledge of the recovery process which usually starts with detox then rehab and continues with recovery once the client is discharged. At that point the client made plans for how they will continue on the path to recovery. That’s where things get dicey. Most addicts will struggle with their disease for the rest of their lives.
    The notion that they simply be “shipped off” to “wherever they came from” once discharged and vulnerable is awfully short sighted and cruel and illegal. But it gives Cotton the opportunity to say that most of the homeless aren’t residents of Paterson. She gives no information that would support that idea.
    So what happens next? The community needs to fund a massive outreach and social services safety net that can engage, counsel, provide job training, educational opportunities, jobs and housing for this segment of the population. Such a plan could provide good paying jobs for Paterson residents interested in helping their community. Everyone from planners to social workers to carpenters and construction workers would be needed to make it successful.
    You can’t wish for simple solutions to complex problems like addiction and homelessness. The current state of affairs should alert everyone that these problems will inevitably and soon become much worse and needs to be dealt with quickly.

  • John Brown

    The Mayor and his administration is not interested in these people. most don't or won't vote
    and none has any money to contribute to his campaign.

  • TK Kirkland

    Drug addicts should demand reparations from the Colombian/Peruvian/Sicilian/Afghani/US(CIA) & Central American governments (primarily Mexico) lol

  • Josh Q Baitor

    If your not or never have been a resident of Paterson you should be transferred back to where you came from and have those towns deal with their residents. I'd lock them up and have their county jail pick them up. They should have to use their own resources to get them help. They are breaking laws by transpassing an public intoxication. I grew up seeing the same shit and nothing has changed.

    • HankMorgan

      You’re a master bator.

      • Josh Q Baitor

        Lol it's Bait or for next time.
        Just so you I can agree to disagree with you on the homeless subject. I grew up in Paterson and to be honest nothing much has changed since then. Mental health and drug addiction is a serious illness but it shouldn't be all up to Paterson to provide the help. People are coming in for their drugs and not leaving not fair to our youth to have to see that everyday.

  • http://www.facebook.com/animalabusewar Animal Abuse War

    The tax $ paying for all these hotels are unacceptable. Why not make mandatory inpatient drug and alcohol treatment centers or the choice of jail instead? For those not on drugs, set up neat rows of tiny trailers in the hidden parts of parks,hook up solar panels for heat or fans,place a mobile police unit at the site, provide food or they can go to Eva's to eat.i am sure people would volunteer to build the trailers. The only cost would be solar panels. It's not like homelessness is going to get better. How long can tax dollars be used to pay for thousands to stay in hotels when most of us working can barely afford food and bills ourselves, especially when our money is being spent on those who are taking advantage? How long can we pay thousands for each month of rehab, where the addicts walk out repeatedly and centers keep the money? Paterson needs to seriously come up with very low cost, long term solutions. Trailers that each has a key to their own door is much better and cheaper than sleeping on sidewalks isn't it?