Homelessness exists beyond urban streets. Yet, in many rural communities throughout the country this problem goes unobserved and unaddressed. In 1990, a group of Hunterdon County residents who recognized the reality of homelessness here decided to take initiative.
With the Union County’s successful Interfaith Hospitality Network as inspiration, individuals from different Hunterdon churches joined together to form the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Hunterdon County. Their mission: to provide a temporary home for those people of Hunterdon County living without one, and to help them get a new start.
“The Program will be a two-way street — offering respite and help for people down on their luck and at the same time offering church volunteers a chance to help others one-on-one, said George Olive, … one of the leaders of the effort.” (1)
IHN of Hunterdon County opened its doors in October of 1990 with several hundred volunteers and 23 participating churches. Nine congregations served as host sites and 14 provided additional volunteers and supplies. Each host church housed guests for a week, after which time the guests moved by van to another of IHN’s sites. (Law established that an individual could only remain at one church for up to 7 days a month.) The shelter accepted single women, couples, and families with children.
In 2012, IHN of Hunterdon County became Family Promise of Hunterdon County.
The scenes of Hunterdon County rarely impel visitors or residents to imagine that homelessness and poverty exist here. However, as Hunterdon grew throughout the 20th century, long-time residents found themselves in tougher financial situations. A 1991 issue of Hospitality explains:
“[M]any families who have lived in this area for generations have neither the resources nor abilities to update their dwellings. Gentrification, disintegration of current homes, and the lower profit-margins for farming have aided the development of … homelessness” (3)
Additionally, chance accidents and hapless situations — which might affect anyone without warning — played and continue to play their part:
“The slide into the homeless state can be insidious: a working father is hurt and thrown out of work; a fire forces a family out onto the street; a marital brake-up leaves a mother struggling to keep a roof over her children’s heads” (1)
During IHN of Hunterdon County’s first month, twenty individuals met the organization’s eligibility requirements. According to NJ’s Department of Community Affairs, of the state’s 30,000 to 35,000 homeless individuals, more than half of them are children (1). Most of IHN’s first guests had been living in cars (2). In 2003, Hunterdon County provided “homeless-related services” to about 1,330 individuals (264 of whom were children) (4).
Hunterdon: A History of Helping
“In their efforts to raise money for IHN, area citizens have used both originality and creativity.
From selling decorative jewelry and book sales to ‘un-birthday parties and coffee houses,
these fundraisers have run the gamut.”
-Laurie Hughes, IHN Director, June 24, 1993, Letter to the Editor
“From our first night at IHN we felt welcome and safe”
“I especially loved the conversations we had and the companionship that I felt… It feels like I have a bunch of Guardian Angels looking out for us”
They helped me and my family… Now I know that I am never alone… When I get older … I want to be a director of an IHN”
“[M]y 3 kids & I came to IHN with nothing but the clothes on our backs.. We were welcomed with open arms”
(2) Drautman, JJ. “Housing homeless in churches explained to Clinton Council.” Oct. 1990
(3) Hospitality, Spring 1991
(4) Dawson, Deb. “County’s Homless Population Up 17%.” Hunterdon County Democrat [Flemington] 26 Aug. 2004: n. pag. Print.