HOBOKEN - For a few hours yesterday afternoon, as he stood in line for coffee and donuts, 53-year-old Agustin Delgado was safe from the free-falling temperatures outside the Hoboken Shelter at St. John's Lutheran Church.
Delgado, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, said he's been living on the street for three years, often sleeping under a bridge in Weehawken where he said he was planning to sleep last night.
Yesterday, he was given the chance to shower and eat at the Hoboken Shelter, but he couldn't stay there because the facility is filled beyond capacity.
Hoboken Shelter director Sister Norberta Hunnewinkel painfully faced that reality Tuesday night. The shelter, with a capacity of 40, took in 10 extra people that night, but was forced to turn away 54 others.
"It's heart-breaking and it's a big worry to have to do that," she said yesterday. "It puts everyone in a terrible position, because no one wants to say, 'I'm sorry you have to leave,' and there's nowhere for them to go . I've never, never turned away this many people."
Sister Norberta said the shelter has been filled beyond capacity ever since outside temperatures started dropping. "We've been turning people away during the day, but last night was the absolute worst we've ever had," she said yesterday.
Weather experts say it will probably be even colder by the end of the week. Snow was expected to start falling last night and into this morning, with the heaviest accumulation between midnight and 6 a.m. The metro area was expected to get between 3 and 5 inches.
But local weather expert Jim Munley, of Kearny, said Hudson County could get as much as 6 inches of snow and temperatures here could be even colder than in New York City. Munley said the current cold temperatures have been developing since Christmas and that the current cold front has its origins in the polar regions of Alaska, Siberia and the northwest territories of Canada.
Munley said it could warm up to normal temperatures for this period by Saturday, but he doesn't see any break in the cold. Last Friday, Kearny set a record low of 3 degrees.
When it gets that cold, Jose Palacios, 48, says he has no other choice but to sleep on a PATH train or in a station when he can't find a shelter. Palacios, who was born in Laredo, Texas, has been living in Jersey City since 1960 and has lived on the streets since 1994.
"The Port Authority lets us stay in stations," said Palacios, who recited grace yesterday at the Hoboken Shelter before people got in line to eat. "They have a heart. They don't throw us out, because it's too cold."
Christopher Rivera, 37, of Jersey City, was one of the lucky ones at the shelter yesterday. Rivera, who has been staying at the shelter since Dec. 30, said he hopes to get a hotel room once he receives his $563 Supplemental Security Income check at the end of the month.
Responding to a call for help from Sister Norberta, Hoboken Mayor David Roberts said he would provide transportation to the Meadowlands Hotel, at 1300 Tonnelle Ave. in North Bergen, for anyone who could not get into the Hoboken Shelter last night. He said he would use city school buses to transport homeless people and that local students would help out in the effort.
Sister Norberta said she appreciated Roberts's efforts to deal with the shelter's overflow problem, but she said much more needs to be done.
She said more homeless people have been showing up at her shelter after the demolition of the City Chemical building and the only remaining building of the Van Leer Chocolate Co., both on Hoboken Avenue, where Hoboken borders Jersey City. The site where the buildings once stood is now several large mounds of concrete rubble and twisted iron beams.
Last February, Jersey City officials removed about a dozen homeless people from the two vacant buildings, which sometimes housed up to 100 people.
Sister Norberta said last year Hoboken officials allowed homeless people to stay at a multi-service building on Grand Street. However, city officials say that because of complaints from local residents the use of that building is no longer an option.
Kris Mandapat, a family services specialist for the Bergen/Hudson Chapter of the American Red Cross, said yesterday that his organization often refers people to several shelters, including Palisade Emergency Residence Corporation, or PERC, in Union City.
"What we try to do is refer people to shelters," Mandapat said. "We also provide temporary emergency shelter at a hotel. We have contracts with about 10 hotels, but that depends on how much money we have left for that.
"Since there's not much money left, we're only able to pay for one night . We try to save it for the winter months, but we've been using it since it got cold. So it's pretty low."
Mandapat said that through an agreement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, homeless people are shuttled from the Journal Square Transportation Center to various county facilities, including PERC.
The pickup location is bus Platform A3 in the transportation center.
Advocates for the homeless say the official count for the number of homeless people in Hudson County is about 1,500, but some estimate it could be up to 3,000. The county's homeless crisis, they say, is caused by the lack of real affordable housing.
Sister Norberta said only a regional approach to homelessness will solve the county's current crisis. She said currently there are about 160 shelter beds in the county, and that ideally, there would be about 500, spread out in "clusters" of facilities housing between 30 and 50 people.
For now, social service providers often find themselves shuttling people from one part of the county to another.
In Hoboken, Mayor Roberts stressed that homelessness is a countywide problem.
"Many homeless people are regional people that are from the greater Hudson area," he said. "Why do they come to Hoboken, I can't answer that. I can only speculate. What I do know is that we're not going to allow anyone to be left out in the cold. We are going to utilize the various hotels and shelters that are available."
He said a countywide solution is needed, but "tonight is not the night to be bickering over whose responsibility it is.
"Tonight is the night to get people out of the cold . We'll be providing transportation each night when it gets to the levels of it could be a matter of life or death."
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