Partnership with Mercer County Ensures Returning Citizens Have Housing Options

A group of six people standing outside together. They are all looking at the camera and smiling.

Recently, several members of Catholic Charities’ Community Services team, two of the men they serve and Deputy Director of the Mercer County Department of Human Services DuEwa Edwards-Dickson sat down to talk about ways to improve the Returning Citizens to the Community program. Afterward they stopped for a photo. Shown are (from left) Community Services Director Arnold Valentin, Alex, Case Manager Teri Wilson, William, DuEwa Edwards-Dickson and Housing Program Director Mosudi Idowu

An African American man wearing a uniform shirt is  seated on a set of stairs outside.
It is fair to say that Alex felt adrift after being released from Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, following his release after a long prison sentence. “It was good to be out,” he said, “But I felt a little discombobulated at the same time. I was released to the streets with no place to go and it was frustrating.”

Alex, who grew up in Camden and Trenton, returned to the Trenton area after his release where he stayed with friends. Fortunately for him, he found a job with the local housing authority, preparing apartments for new tenants and doing maintenance work. Unfortunately, the housing authority had such a long waiting list for housing that all the units he worked on went to others. When his friends’ couches were no longer available, Alex moved into a shelter.

Challenges Led to Homelessness

Working full time and adhering to the shelter’s rules and schedule proved difficult. Alex ended up homeless, living in his car – but he still showed up for work each day. Then he heard about the Returning Citizens to the Community Program (RCCP), a program offered by Catholic Charities with funding from the Mercer County Department of Human Services. “I was searching for a place to live, but no one was getting back to me. Then someone at work said they thought I would qualify for this program, and I called. It was a blessing when I heard back from Mr. Mosudi,” said Alex.

Housing Program Director Mosudi Idowu assigned Alex to Case Manager Terri Wilson for a screening. “Alex’s mind was set to take himself to another level,” said Wilson. “He wanted more for himself. He was ready to make better choices. And we were here to guide him.” In addition to working for the local housing authority, and working with Catholic Charities to obtain housing, Alex expressed a happiness in starting his own trash removal business. “Life is all about opportunities,” he said. “I feel like things are just getting greater and greater. The sky’s the limit.”

William’s Story

After serving a 17-month sentence at a New Jersey correctional facility, William was released in December of 2021. “I got out with nothing and nobody to help me.” William was raised in Mississippi and had no family in the area to assist him upon his release. He found a job at a grocery store and worked steadily, but finding a place to live was difficult. “I couldn’t afford the security deposit and my first month’s rent,” said William. One potential landlord examined his pay stubs and told him his income just wasn’t high enough.

A young man with short black hair wearing a navy blue hoodie is seated on a picnic table. He is looking intently at the camera.
Thankfully, a friend told William about RCCP and gave him Idowu’s number. “William is very persistent. He wants a better life for himself and he doesn’t give up,” said Idowu. “When he wasn’t making enough at his first job, William got another.” Today, he works as a package handler in a FedEx warehouse. He’s on the overnight shift so he can pick up another part-time position during the day. “This program helped me out so much,” said William. RCCP helped him with his security deposit and found him several studio apartments to select from. “I never had my own spot,” said William. “I am learning as I go.”

Community Services Director Arnold Valentin, Jr. said RCCP provides individuals returning to the community following incarceration 45 days of temporary housing in a motel, while the team assists in finding permanent housing opportunities. We also assist with covering the security deposit and subsequent rental payments and even new furniture, when they move in. “These are people looking for a fresh start. We need to establish systematic programs to support, advocate and empower them to sustainability,” said Valentin.

Wraparound Supports Provided Too

The individuals in the program also receive case management services and referrals to the other kinds of assistance they may need, including to Catholic Charities’ food pantry and behavioral health services, as well as to support offered by other organizations in the area. “It is important that we give these individuals a real chance to succeed,” Valentin said.

Deputy Director of the Mercer County Department of Human Services DuEwa Edwards-Dickson noted that when the county received funding earmarked to help make the reentry process smoother, it looked first to its community partners. “We got this funding and we looked at who we were working with, and asked how we could enhance the services already being provided,” she said. “We wanted to do everything possible to make this transition as smooth as possible. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

FOR INFORMATION about the Returning Citizens to the Community Program, please call (609) 599–1246, ext. 2513.

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