Leading Innovative Efforts to Combat Poverty: The United Way of Hudson County

On May 14th the Chamber partners with the United Way of Hudson County to present WE ARE HUDSON – THE LIVE UNITED BENFIT.  We sat down with Benjamin Dineen, Director of Resource Development & Marketing, to learn more about the United Way’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and their numerous efforts to assist the under-served of Hudson County.

What is the mission of the United Way of Hudson County?

We mobilize resources in local government and the corporate sector to affect positive, long-term change in the lives of homeless and impoverished men, women and children.  In 2011, which marked our 75th year of service, the United Way:

  • kept 400 families from becoming homeless by providing social services and financial resources;
  • provided permanent supportive housing to 30 disabled and chronically homeless individuals;
  • distributed over 100,000 pounds of food to fill the shelves of food pantries across the state of NJ and allow programs to serve thousands of hot meals;
  • provided academically challenging after school programming to over 100 students and;
  • distributed over 21,000 backpacks filled with essential supplies to low-income students through our annual “BackPack to School Drive”;

What other programs enable the United Way to assist the under-served?

We’re also very proud of a program we launched in 2010 to help low-income families prepare their tax returns at no-cost.  This tax season the United Way became the largest provider of volunteer income tax assistance in the County.  And while our programs touch mostly very low- and low-income families, we also help our neighbors through our statewide 211 non-emergency service referral line.

Goya Foods partnered with UWHC to lead the distribution of 100,000 pounds of food to local pantries, soup kitchens, churches, and shelters. UWHC President Dan Altilio praised the Unanue family and Goya’s ongoing efforts to fight hunger: “This is a special and monumental donation but it’s typical of Goya. They consistently give back to the community year in and year out. We’re proud to have them as part of the Hudson County business community.”

The United Way recently opened a re-sale store in West New York.  Tell us about how the store aligns with your mission?

The proceeds of the re-sale store, located at 6401 Bergenline Avenue, will fund our homeless services. The store’s location places it in one of the State’s most vibrant downtown retail destinations—in the center of a diverse community—and enables families with modest incomes to purchase new and gently used items, including furniture, home furnishings, housewares and clothing, at affordable prices.  With the help of local trainers and educators, we are preparing a curriculum to train unemployed and homeless individuals for retail careers. These individuals will train in the store and our warehouse— acquiring workforce habits and skills to become employable and self-sufficient.

Many may think that homelessness is an intractable issue.  How is the United Way addressing the challenge?

Our initiatives to end homelessness in Hudson County are our most crucial. Our Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness and our Emergency Shelter System operated in partnership with FEMA and Hudson County government are both nationally recognized models for best practices and have generated more than $25M of funding for the County over the past five years.  The shelter provides a place for homeless individuals and families to go in the event of winter weather emergencies and during the recent winter season we provided shelter for more than 1500 individuals.

But your initiatives go beyond emergency shelters.  How is the United Way helping homeless individuals transition to permanent housing?

We also operate the HUD Housing First/Collaborative Solutions program. The goal is to help participants obtain and remain in permanent housing, increase their skills and income, and achieve greater self-determination. UWHC locates suitable apartments for participants and provides rental subsidies, case management, and supportive services to help stabilize their situation. 98% of participants have remained permanently housed for the past 4 years and dozens have moved on to live independently.

UWHC is also the lead supervising agency for the Homeless Prevention Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), an innovative program that works to prevent homelessness for at risk individuals and families and rapidly re-houses homeless families in the County. Participants are provided with a combination of housing search assistance, vouchers, financial assistance, case management, and supportive services to stabilize their housing situation or keep them in their current housing.

How does the United Way partner with businesses in the County?

Over 40 local and national corporations with a presence in Hudson County or northern New Jersey participate in our workplace giving campaign. Many other businesses provide grants or donations of gifts or services in-kind.  We are able to advise our partners in the business community on how best to direct their resources in Hudson County. Our goal is to align community need with our partners’ impact goals.

To get involved and support their efforts to alleviate poverty, visit the United Way of Hudson County.

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