With an anticipated higher rate of homelessness in the city during this unpredictable year of a pandemic, the Rescue Mission of Trenton and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) have come together to create a new Warming Center for those in need.

The new Warming Center will help keep up to 60 homeless individuals safe from the ravages of the pandemic and the equally threatening below-freezing winds of this winter.

“We knew we had to do something different this year,” said Mary Gay Abbott-Young, Chief Executive Officer of the Rescue Mission of Trenton. “Traditionally, to keep warm, those who are experiencing homelessness would come to The Mission and stay in our Center for a meal, spend the day and/or night, and possibly receive counseling; or they would go to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, where they could eat, then linger and have staff and volunteers provide services.”

She continued, “However, neither The Mission nor the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen will be able to safely accommodate the number of individuals that we have in previous winters because of the need for social distancing in response to this pandemic. Still, we know that there will be at least as many individuals experiencing homelessness this year as last. Probably more.”

According to the Point-In-Time Count of the Homeless, which was done on January 28, 2020, Mercer County had 556 homeless individuals, with 105 of them being unsheltered. “Behind each of those numbers is a personal story,” said Abbott-Young. “And that, of course, was before the onslaught of the pandemic and our current economic crisis.”

Under current restrictions, The Mission can now only host 50 people in the Day Center, as opposed to the 80 individuals who could stay pre-COVID. At night, while there are separate rooms for 23 of the most vulnerable individuals who stay at The Mission, there is only space for 75 additional individuals to stay; whereas there was room for up to 200 individuals to spend the night pre-COVID.

Meanwhile, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK), while now preparing twice as many emergency meals as before the pandemic, has switched from sit-down dining to serving meals to-go from their front doors.

“Since we have always been such strong collaborators, the Mission’s executive team and ours began discussions in earnest this summer in preparation for what we knew was inevitably around the corner,” said Joyce Campbell, Executive Director of TASK. “Together, we gained strength and created possibilities.”

She continued, “Fortunately, The Mission has the space, and we have the food. We knew the need. We just had to start planning and hope to find the funding.”

A large portion of that funding for the new Warming Center came from the Princeton Area Community Foundation COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund. Further funding came from individual donations, with the remainder promised through partnerships with the County.

“This project started with recognizing the essential need. Then, by collaborating, we were able to create a solution,” said Abbott-Young. “Still, of course, it is only occurring because of the compassion and generosity of our community.”

Both The Mission and TASK will be working to provide individuals who request entry to the Warming Center with a warm, safe haven where they can receive a meal and companionship along with referral services that could possibly lead to permanent supportive housing.

The Warming Center will be open 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, until April 10, 2021. It will be housed at The Mission on 100 Carroll Street, utilizing a 4,000 square-foot portion of the existing thrift store. (The store size and operations will be reduced during these months.) The Center will be staffed with two shelter associates for each eight-hour shift, three shifts a day, and a part-time meal assistant. The Center will also require the addition of two, single bathrooms and one handicapped bathroom, some minor renovations and furnishing, as well as safety shields and items needed to maintain social distancing.

“The city has never had a Warming Center before,” said Marygrace Billek, Director of the Department of Human Services for the County of Mercer. “The Mission and TASK each bring something special to our community, and when they come together, it becomes even more powerful.”

She continued, “The way they have risen to the challenges presented by this pandemic is truly inspiring. Those challenges are our community’s challenges, and our community is responding with what is needed – which is a collective solution.”

As the two organizations team together this pandemic ridden winter, they hope their collaboration in the Warming Center further emphasizes their collective mission.

Campbell said, “We view this Warming Center as a place that affirms our unwavering belief in the dignity of everyone we serve, and our belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.”