ERMA- Cape Hope, a local non-profit that works to end homelessness, invited speakers to the Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene in Erma Sept. 12 to discuss how to improve the effectiveness of helping those in need.

“I answer the phone and there’s a young lady on the other end. She was just raped because she was sleeping under the boardwalk. That’s a crisis,” said Cape Hope Director Denise South. “We believe that the most effective plan for reducing homelessness must address the cause and not simply treat the symptoms.”

South explained how there are many reasons people become homeless, from financial issues to fleeing domestic abuse.

She said some people leave a situation and face having nowhere to go, to avoid their issues getting worse. She also spoke with individuals who could only find work seasonally along the county’s shore and had to scrape by in the winter, living on the streets.

“Were there addiction issues? Yes, but whereas some addiction causes homelessness, homelessness can cause someone to become addicted,” South said.

In a Cape Hope pamphlet given to attendees, it said that Cape May County lacks warming centers or homeless shelters, affordable housing for low-income families on the verge of homelessness, and Code Blue, which signifies the emergency measures for the homeless when temperatures drop below freezing, is flawed.

Executive Director of Philadelphia’s Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, Jeremy Montgomery, visited to address better ways to assist the homeless, including how they are viewed in society.

“Instead of looking at someone and saying ‘what’s wrong with you?’ Say ‘what happened to you, what brought you here, and how can I help?’” Montgomery said.

He said to ask about their stories because they are like everyone else and deserve to be treated with respect.

Montgomery said another way to serve the homeless is to focus on getting them back on their feet, versus continuously providing temporary relief.

Montgomery said it is important to relieve those in a crisis, but the goal is to help them recover from their financial, emotional and physical barriers and develop stability so they can be a contributing member in the community.

If constant temporary relief is given, those being helped will become reliant and even manipulative, he said.

Alfred Defeo, executive director of Freedom Homes, a faith-based program where those troubled can get help, lived in Vineland when he became a substance abuser. He moved to Maine because he could not find help in the area.

Defeo said that it’s not specifically about having religious or government help, but it’s about everyone in the community joining forces to solve the problem.

“As a community coming together, doing what we can to help these people, that’s the key to everything,” Defeo said.

Cape Hope has been helping the county’s homeless since 2014, offering ways to overcome barriers that keep people from permanent housing and goals. Some of the organization's work includes transitional housing, blessing bags filled with necessities, spiritual help, scholarships, a cooperative farm and more.

Cape Hope encourages those in the county needing help to call (609) 997-1794.

To contact Christina Urban, email curban@cmcherald.com.