After questions from the Hudson Reporter staff two weeks ago, Hudson County Administrator Abe Antun has notified all county offices that they are required to keep a countywide homeless hotline number available for anyone who calls.
The hotline number, which is supposed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is run through the county welfare agency.
Seasoned homeless activists are familiar with the number, but before the Feb. 12 weekend when weather forecasters were predicting record-cold temperatures, many other county offices were not aware of it. And one office even had a recording directing callers to a different number, which was also incorrect.
In order to provide people with information that they might need during the cold spell, the Hudson Reporter sought to put together information to help the homeless. A check of several websites listed several numbers that claimed to be the Hudson County homeless hotline.
When called, one number was not working.
Another proved to be a number to a business.
A third number kept ringing with no answering machine.
A call to the Hudson County Clerk’s office resulted in a series of transfers to various departments. Two had voicemail picking up.
“Anyone calling the county should be able to get the information they need when it comes to getting help for homelessness.” – Bill O’Dea
Raiz Wahid, a well-known homeless activist, later steered the Hudson Reporter’s inquiries in the right direction. But this was after more than two hours and many redirects – which might have proved difficult to a homeless resident standing in the bitter cold with no place to go.
The paper informed Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who had been instrumental in setting up a temporary homeless shelter in Kearny, of the difficulty in simply securing a phone number to call for help for the homeless.
O’Dea said the matter was unacceptable.
In response, the county administrator issued a countywide email blast last week.
“I want to inform all of you that the County Welfare Agency maintains a homeless hotline number 24 hours a day 7 days per week,” Antun wrote. “The number is 1-800-624-0287. Should you receive a call from someone seeking assistance with finding shelter, please provide them with the homeless hotline number instead of referring them to other offices. Please share this information with staff in your office that regularly answers calls.”
Randi Moore, division chief for the Hudson County Division of Housing and Community Development, also responded to the Hudson Reporter saying that he has also notified Ben Lopez, director of Family and Human Services, under whose department the hotline is maintained.
Hudson County has a number of resources to prevent and end homelessness, and information has been provided by The Hudson County Alliance To End Homelessness at
“Anyone calling the county should be able to get the information they need when it comes to getting help for homelessness,” O’Dea said.
Officials at the welfare office answering the hotline number said that someone is always available to answer the phone during regular working hours. After hours, the call is picked up by an answering service, whose operator then connects the caller with the needed service.
Wahid, who is deeply involved in finding shelter for homeless during cold days, noted that in the past, needy people in Hudson County can be transported to shelters – including a facility in Kearny – when the temperature falls below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. This was changed to 32 degrees last year.
Jersey City, Hoboken, and other cities sometimes provide warming centers when the weather becomes deadly, publicizing their locations sometimes just a day or two ahead of a predicted drop in temperature. Some senior buildings and public libraries also open their doors to act as warming centers during their regular hours of operation.
In Jersey City, the Resident Response Center keeps an inventory of services for the homeless, and works with local hospitals and other organizations to provide a safety net.
Wahid’s team goes out into the community and uses the Kearny facility to provide warmth during overnight hours, especially when other shelters reach capacity. Wahid’s group also works with a number of local businesses and churches to provide meals for people living on the streets several times a day, going to locations where the homeless are known to gather.
If the group runs out of prepared food, it buys pizza. During the historically cold weekend, his group provided 75 pizzas to need people at the PERC shelter in Union City and on the streets, Wahid said.
(The county has three regular homeless shelters – PERC in Union City, Hoboken Homeless Shelter, and St. Lucy’s in Jersey City. But they are sometimes filled to capacity.)
For those with an immediate need, again, the Hudson County Homeless Hotline number is 1-800-624-0287.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.