A group of nonprofit agencies and interfaith congregations throughout Union County are holding its second annual Homeless Sabbath Weekend from Dec. 15-17. The goal is to encourage people to talk about the housing and homeless problem in New Jersey.

One nonprofit involved is The Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. Executive Director Linda Flores-Tober says "the idea is to create awareness of the issue of homelessness and we've designated a weekend during the holiday season when people are thinking about other people."

She says they want to get people talking about homelessness, why are people homeless and what can be done about it.

She says in the North Jersey region, "we are seeing a huge increase of rents becoming really unaffordable and we are seeing more and more working people who are homeless." She adds that there is even a 92-year-old man living in a tent in the region.

About 1,500 people are homeless in Union County alone, says Flores-Tober. The number has gone down a bit from a year ago and she's not sure why. But she doesn't believe it's because there's a plethora of programs and funding for affordable housing.

However, on the night of Jan. 24, 475 people, including 55 people without shelter, experienced homelessness in Union County, according to NJ Counts.

Between 5,000 to 10,000 people in Elizabeth are living doubled up. That's more than one family living in a unit intended for one unit, according to Flores-Tober.

She says an informational packet has been created and sent to various religious groups. There's prayers, sermons, reflections, things they can put in their bulletins. Churches can start a collection or start a group.

Flores-Tober says one church is holding a drive for blankets and other necessities. Another is collecting pocketbooks and stuffing them with personal care items. Others are performing short plays or incorporating the theme of homelessness into a holiday display or live scene.

Twenty-five congregations took park in Homeless Sabbath Weekend last year. Flores-Tober says they are hoping to double that number this year.

Any church in New Jersey can take part in the weekend, she says. Last year, it was just Union County. This year, six counties are becoming involved. Go to the Monarch Housing's website for more information at www.monarchhousing.org.

The Homeless Sabbath Weekend aligns with Homeless Persons Memorial Day Vigil, hosted by The First Presbyterian Church in Cranford on Dec. 21 at 7pm.

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