PASSAIC — Two of the city’s parochial schools, Passaic Catholic Regional and St. Anthony of Padua, will merge in the fall. The announcement was posted in a letter to parishioners on St. Anthony of Padua’s Web site and confirmed Wednesday by diocese spokeswoman Mariana Thompson.
Beginning in September, Passaic Catholic Regional School at 212 Market St. will operate out of St. Anthony of Padua School at 40 Tulip St.
The move comes amid a restructuring effort by the Paterson Diocese at a time of decreased enrollments and financial woes at its 50 schools. Two weeks ago, the diocese announced it faces a $37 million deficit, and in the previous week Paterson Catholic administrators appealed in a letter to alumni to raise $350,000 by April 15 to save the 400 student co-educational high school.
Two other diocesan schools in Passaic, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Nicholas, merged in 2006.
The Diocese of Paterson said the merger of the two pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade schools will broaden educational opportunities for all students. State-of-the-art technology will be brought to St. Anthony, including computer access in every classroom as well as computer labs and library updates.
“The new configuration should also give parents and children from both schools more options for social and education interaction,” diocese spokeswoman Thompson said in a statement. “Parents sacrifice to send their children to Catholic school. Strategic planning at the diocesan and local level must work consistently to ensure that Catholic education is accessible, sustainable and affordable for our families.”
Passaic Catholic serves 172 students with 11 teachers on staff, according to the Web site, privateschoolreview.com. The Web site says 88 percent of the children enrolled are students of color.
St. Anthony of Padua, also K-8, serves 242 students, of which 100 percent are students of color.
The diocese said Sister Joselle Ratka of the Felician Franciscan order will take over as principal of the new combined school, St. Anthony-Passaic Catholic School.
Three nuns at St. Anthony of Padua, from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, a Philippines religious order, will return home. Thompson said the decision was agreed upon by all parties concerned.
Thompson said school officials are waiting to hear from teachers about whether they intend to return next year before making any staffing level decisions. She did not rule out the possibility of layoffs.
“We are going to do an evaluation of staffing levels,” Thompson said.
Thompson said no determination has been made about whether the building would be sold.
On Wednesday, Magarita Lozano, who has a 13-year-old enrolled in the sixth grade at Passaic Catholic, said it was a shame the school would be shutting its doors. She said school officials held a meeting with parents at 7 p.m. Tuesday night to tell them the news. She said the principal told parents the school did not have the funds to stay open.
Lozano, who said she pays $250 a month for her son to attend, praised the school’s principal, Ratka.
“She is able to manage the children very well,” she said. “In the public schools they need police, they cannot control the students.”
For some, life on mean streets is a desperate choice
PASSAIC — Mary Forys sleeps curled up in a ball behind a garbage can to shield her from the wind.
The homeless woman is a familiar part of the Main Avenue landscape. Business owners call her “Smelly Mary” for her unpleasant odor. Police have arrested the 53-year-old woman more than a dozen times for loitering, panhandling and drug use. Mayor Samuel Rivera said he’s received calls about her soiling herself in the post office. Some passers-by give her dollar bills or cigarettes, others simply yell obscenities.
But most ignore her as they walk by talking on their cell phones, running to catch buses or picking up children at school.
Mary is just one of an estimated 1,300 homeless people on any given day in Passaic County and among the 349 chronically homeless, according to the county’s Point in Time survey, part of a one-day effort to get an accurate snapshot of homelessness in the region.
The reasons people remain homeless for years are complex. Many suffer from mental illness or drug addiction. Some avoid shelters because they refuse to accept curfews or zero-tolerance rules. Others feel less safe in a shelter than on the street. In Mary’s case, police said they have tried bringing her to a shelter or a hospital, but she steadfastly refuses.
“She just wants to be left alone,” said Detective Andrew White of the Passaic Police Department. “On the police end, we can only do so much. We can bring her to the hospital but if she refuses any kind of medical treatment, that’s up to her.”
Jane Grubin, the city’s human services director, said if someone comes to her office seeking help, the city will try to get them into a shelter. The city’s municipal alliance runs free HIV testing and drug intervention programs, but if people do not seek help, Grubin said, there’s not much else that can be done.
“It’s not against the law to destroy yourself,” she said.
Grubin said many homeless people she deals with suffer from mental illness. She said the trend of deinstitutionalization — moving the mentally ill out of large-scale psychiatric institutions such as Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, a state facility in Parsippany, into community-based and family-based housing — leaves local officials like herself to deal with the problem haphazardly.
“Since Greystone and all these mental institutions have closed down, they put the mentally ill on the street and what are you supposed to do?” she said. Grubin said that in extreme cases of those who find themselves deinstitutionalized, there are those who “don’t take their meds. They don’t have the wherewithal or the ability to take care of themselves, and they have created a whole new class of homeless people.”
Some homelessness advocates have suggested Passaic needs a shelter. The Salvation Army operated the city’s only homeless shelter until the Fire Department cited its officials for several building code violations. The facility was shut down in 1996. Several years ago, the city attempted to purchase a homeless shelter, but the deal fell through when the owner sold the building to another buyer, Grubin said. Some believe the city should use some of the federal housing money it gets to build a shelter, but city officials say it isn’t enough and there isn’t any room.
“We are a densely populated community and we don’t have a large vacant building that would be adequate,” said Ronald Van Rensalier, the city’s community development director. “Even if there was a facility big enough, we wouldn’t have enough money to adequately rehabilitate it.”
Rivera said many people come into his office who say they are about to be evicted, can’t pay their bills and are on the verge of losing their jobs.
“My heart goes out to all these people and I want to help them, but the federal government should come to the aid of municipalities,” Rivera said.
Last March, after a group of homeless squatters allegedly sexually assaulted a young woman beneath a Route 21 underpass, the city’s homeless problem came to the forefront of public attention. The squatters lived beneath the road in squalor, posing a danger to themselves and other city residents.
About 10 people, concerned for the homeless, started Homecoming, a group that occasionally meets in the basement of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The organization’s secretary, Grace Wolfe, said the group has made little progress in 10 months and she’s frustrated.
“Why isn’t the city of Passaic stepping up and saying we need to find a shelter or help the Salvation Army fix the problem?” she said. “We’re just 10 individuals who really care and we want the officials to guide us on how we are going about getting this shelter. We can be workers, but tell us how we go about doing it.”
Mary said she never imagined her life would turn out like this. She once lived a middle-class lifestyle in Garfield. She said she can still picture the yellow house with brown trim where she celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family. An only child, she said she took ballet lessons and loved it. After she graduated from Garfield High School, she went to work at Englewood Hospital where she drew blood as a lab technician.
She said things took a turn for the worse after her parents died five years ago. They were alcoholics and died of cerebral hemorrhages, she said. She began showing up to work drunk. Then she took heroin. She said she soon began to snort it every day. She started showing up at work intoxicated and soon lost her job. Then, when she couldn’t make mortgage payments, the bank foreclosed on her parents’ house and she ended up on the street, she said. Three years ago, she overdosed and spent about a year in drug rehab at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus. She insists that she is clean now.
Mary has two elderly aunts. One is 81-year-old Olga Tripple of Garfield. Tripple’s brother, Joseph, was Mary’s father, she said in a telephone interview Thursday. Tripple said Mary used to live with her parents a block away and confirmed that after Mary’s parents died, she became hooked on drugs. Tripple said Mary used to come over and ask her for cigarettes and money. Since Mary moved to Passaic several years ago, Tripple said, she lost touch with her niece.
“I have macular degeneration. I have enough with my own children and my own problems. I couldn’t take her. She’s a big, big problem,” Tripple said.
Mary’s other aunt is 86 and lives in Virginia Beach, Tripple said. That aunt used to visit Mary frequently until she was injured in a car accident and could no longer make the journey to New Jersey, Tripple said.
Mary said she returned to the streets because she prefers Main Avenue to a homeless shelter, where, she said, she doesn’t like the people. Mary fears being robbed. It’s happened before. Two men once took $50 that she had collected. A few weeks ago, someone else took her crocheted blanket.
Mary is quite blunt about her life on the street.
“Hi, I’m Mary and I’m homeless, and I have no place to go and I need food and that’s it,” she said, introducing herself a few weeks ago during an interview. Her body shakes as she speaks, the result of her Parkinson’s disease, she said.
Those who study homeless behavior say people like Mary are homeless not only because of their individual ailments — such as addictions or mental illness — but because of larger socioeconomic and political forces.
“People have free will, but they make choices among the opportunities available to them,” said Columbia University professor Brendan O’Flaherty, author of “Making Room: The Economics of Homelessness.” O’Flaherty said national studies show that there was very little homelessness in the 1960s and ’70s. In the 1980s, on the other hand, he said, the number of homeless began to rise as more expensive housing units were built and the income gap widened.
Glenda Kirkland, a professor at Bloomfield College who wrote a paper titled “Homeless in New Jersey: Why does it happen?” said homelessness persists because the problem has slipped away from the public consciousness.
“There’s not much focus on homelessness anymore. It’s just not the topic of the day,” Kirkland said. “Do you hear any of the presidential candidates talking about homelessness or hunger? If this were important to anybody, it would be discussed by the 18 candidates running. We would be asking questions in town meetings. How do you feel about this, Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton? There’s no political will to make sure that people don’t fall through the safety net.”
Part of the problem, Kirkland said, is that legislators have disparaged those in need as “welfare queens” and have made cuts to social programs, such as the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program known as Section 8, that can help keep people off the streets.
“We tend to medicalize it and blame the individual,” she said. “We tend to look at it as an individual problem, not a public one.” Kirkland said she believes elected officials find it easy to dismiss the homeless because “they don’t vote.”
Meantime, Mary continues to live out in the cold, alone and disheveled.
When it’s raining, Mary said, she sleeps in hallways or sometimes at the Hotel Passaic on Henry Street. Occasionally, she’ll take the bus to Bergen Regional Medical Center where, she said, she goes for treatment of her drug addiction. In an interview earlier this month, she lay on the street, curled up on a soiled blanket, wearing paper-thin blue hospital slip-ons. She said she went to the hospital to get treatment for a sore on her foot and that the hospital took away her sneakers, leaving her with nothing but the slippers.
“Could you buy me some sneakers?” she asked. “My feet are cold.”
Mary spends nearly her entire day sleeping. She never looks at a newspaper, she rarely sits in a chair or lounges on a sofa. She can go a full day without having a conversation with anyone. Her only concern is getting food.
“I sleep, I eat, and I ask people for change and that’s it.”
By MEREDITH MANDELL, HERALD NEWS | 12/06/07 02:11 AM
Lois Allen, left, and Wanda Rogers prepare meals at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Passaic. (AMY NEWMAN / HERALD NEWS)
PASSAIC — A few years ago, a police officer approached city officials about starting a homeless shelter, but nothing ever happened.
“A lot of people are fearful of a shelter,” said Ed Lyons, executive director of the United Passaic Organization, a nonprofit city agency that provides assistance to the homeless. “They think it’s going to bring the city down, increase violence and drugs. I don’t buy it. There’s enough violence and drugs, even without it.”
Some say that Passaic should have a homeless shelter, but the city first must find the space, the millions of dollars to fund it and local agencies willing to operate it. Opening a shelter also takes a mayor and council willing to support it and residents willing to accept it.
Brenda Beavers, the state human services director for The Salvation Army, said the organization, which operates a soup kitchen in the city, could not accommodate a shelter because of the many obstacles.
“Our building is not built to accommodate a residential program. There are rooming requirements, licensing requirements, space, privacy and fire suppression systems,” she said. There also are maintenance considerations, including laundry costs, sanitizing bathrooms and utility costs. Additionally, Beavers said a shelter needs to employ professionals and a case-management team to help people with detox or other problems.
“It’s not, open a door, have a cot and here’s some soup,” she said.
The Salvation Army operates shelters in Montclair, Elizabeth and Perth Amboy, Beavers said. In Montclair, residents pushed for a shelter by urging the City Council to lease an old house the city owns to The Salvation Army for $1 a year, she said.
The operating costs a homeless shelter incurs depends on its size and range of services.
In Paterson, Eva’s Village, a nonprofit social service agency, offers a variety of shelters on its campus for men, women and mothers with their children. Medical treatment, dental care and drug treatment programs are also available.
“Our shelters are not dumping grounds or flop houses, said Sister Gloria Perez, executive director. “Anyone who comes to us, we are working with them.”
Eva’s Village this year has an operating budget of $5.5 million, said Perez, with half of it coming from private donors.
“If we didn’t have a great donor base, we would have to close,” Perez said.
Perez believes that Passaic needs a shelter of its own because it is a poor city, and the number of homeless who come to Paterson seeking services taxes resources of the city and Eva’s Village.
“The people in Passaic and other towns should not be dumped into Paterson,” she said. “We will take anyone, but you don’t know how much of a drain it is on our hospitals and shelters.”
Statistics show that nearly a quarter of Passaic’s population lives below the poverty line. The city’s unemployment rate is 7.1 percent and thousands of people are on the waiting list for public housing and Section 8 rental assistance.
“There’s no doubt the city needs a homeless shelter,” said Lyons.
When the homeless in Passaic go to a city agency for help, they are sent to shelters elsewhere, such as Eva’s Village in Paterson.
“Going to Paterson, with no means of transportation, that’s like going to California for a homeless person,” Lyons said.
The Salvation Army had operated the city’s only homeless shelter until the Fire Department cited officials for building code violations in 1996, and the facility was closed. Several years ago, the city attempted to purchase a site for a homeless shelter, but the deal fell through when the owner sold the building to another buyer, according to Jane Grubin, the city’s human services director.
Mayor Samuel Rivera said that in the past, when city officials tried to create a shelter, they received angry telephone calls from residents opposed to the idea.
“They say, those people are going to start problems — we don’t want this here,” he said.
Lyons said that the police officer who approached city officials a few years back became so discouraged that he quietly backed away from the plan. Another homeless advocate, Grace Wolfe, approached the council in March, shortly after homeless squatters living beneath a Route 21 overpass, police say, sexually assaulted a woman. Wolfe proposed starting a task force that would attempt to create a shelter. The task force was established in May, but no shelter plans are in the works, and Passaic has not applied for funds to open one.
Charles Featherson, an official with the county Department of Human Services, said that it is unusual for cities to start their own shelters.
“Cities don’t usually do it, agencies do it,” he said. “I think between the municipality and the county, we all need to put our synergies together to figure out how to get this done.
Community Development Director Ronald Van Rensalier has said there is no empty building available to place a shelter in Passaic and even if there were, it would be unlikely that city officials would designate all of its money from federal community block grants toward one homeless shelter, with so many other needs to be met.
“Everyone wants the money and unfortunately, there’s just not enough of it to go around,” he said.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Passaic marks centennial
By MICHAEL WOJCIK
PASSAIC – It was 34 years ago, when Capuchin Franciscan Father Santo Sam Frapaul as a “summer assistant” first met the friendly parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, an active multicultural faith community here. “The cook here had left, so I ended up cooking. I called my mother for some help with some recipes,” recalled Father Frapaul, who was serving Mount Carmel in 1971 as a Capuchin priest candidate. “I remember that the people were kind and welcoming.”
More than three decades later, parishioners are just as warm and welcoming as ever at Mount Carmel, which last Saturday marked its centennial with a Mass of Thanksgiving with Bishop Serratelli as the principal celebrant. Established by Italian immigrants in 1905, the parish today serves a rich mix of cultures, including Italians, Hispanics, Indians, African-Americans, Asians and Filipinos. “Mount Carmel is a melting pot,” said Father Frapaul, pastor for more than 12 years. The Mass was followed by a dinner-dance in the school’s Father Sabatini Hall. “We all work together. We have the same faith calling, even though we speak different languages and have different cultures.
We are connected to each other,” he said. Head of the 400-family parish in the center the multicultural and historical Passaic, Father Frapaul added, “I tell our parishioners, ‘If you are involved, the parish will go on. It’s the faith commitment we all have. You are the lights of the parish.'” Also at the Mass were former clergy, former and current religious and laity who have staffed the parish or school and school alumni. The pastor said parishioners insisted on holding the dinner-dance in the church hall, which they consider “their home.”
For the centennial celebration Saturday, Mount Carmel’s church bells were rung by hand 100 times. In preparation for the jubilee Mass, the parish had a new electronic bell system and a new lighting installed and had leaks and peeling paint repaired, Father Frapaul said. Over the decades, Mount Carmel has received another type of makeover: a change in the complexion of its parishioners. Today, the parish continues to meet the needs of the community with Mass and other spiritual activities, faith formation and an outreach to the poor, which includes a food pantry and prepared food baskets for the holidays, Father Frapaul said.
“Our parishioners are generous and kind,” the pastor said. Today, many of Mount Carmel’s second-generation Italians – many of who have moved to Clifton and elsewhere – remain active at the parish, attending Mass and staying involved in such groups as the Altar Rosary Society. In 1986, they also revived an annual old-time tradition, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel feast day celebration and street fair.
It features a triduum with prayers and Benediction, a July 16 feast day Mass and a street procession. The celebration continues with a four-day street festival, which includes many international foods, games and rides, Father Frapaul said. The more recent immigrants also have been getting more involved at Mount Carmel’s ministries, including the various societies and as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.
The annual feast day celebrations also point up the parish’s diversity with booths, among them Italians and Hispanics, which include Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Mexicans. Father Frapaul said he hopes for participation by other ethnic groups. “At first, some were reluctant to participate in parish ministries,” Father Frapaul said. “But we made people feel welcome. I tell them, ‘Whatever you do for the church is appreciated.’ They have stepped forward when we called for help.” Located on the corner of St. Francis Way and Park Place, Mount Carmel has operated a day-care center for 28 years and has sponsored activities for children of all faiths including the CYO basketball leagues and scouting.
Since 1954, the 253-student school – which has received Middle States Association accreditation – has given students from Passaic and Clifton a faith-based education. One of Mount Carmel’s active immigrant parishioners, Romanita “Mengie” Ayala arrived at the parish 21 years ago from the Philippines. A married mother of two sons, ages 33 and 36, and grandmother of four, she has been involved in hospital ministry and choir and has been a lector. She also attends daily Mass. “When I came here, I liked the people,” Ayala said. “They were friendly.”