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Homefront hero
• May 24, 2022

It's been 31 years, but Mondays have never gotten easier for HomeFront CEO Connie Mercer since she founded the organization that provides comprehensive services for the economically challenged and homeless in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Monday is the day that the organization decides which applicants will receive housing funds and be able to stay in its housing program. While the organization has helped thousands of individuals and families over the years, it simply doesn't have enough resources to help everyone who needs it. In 2021 alone, the organization answered over 52,000 calls for help including requests for shelter, permanent housing, job training, children's programming, food, and other services.

Connie and her team review requests each Monday, after they have been previously vetted, but are only able to accept about 70%.

"We help people move beyond constantly living under the spectra of homelessness and towards self-sufficiency," Connie said. "That includes things in addition to housing, like food and diapers. We want to provide the things people need to live a life of dignity, which everyone deserves. Having to say no to people hurts so much. I hate Mondays because we can't help everyone who needs it."

What makes the pain of Mondays worthwhile is the help HomeFront has provided to people like Crystol Thompson. Crystol came to HomeFront 15 years ago when she was pregnant, unemployed, and on the verge of being evicted the next day.

HomeFront provided Crystol help with housing, finding a job, guidance, and emotional support. She was inspired by her case managers to continue her education. Today, Crystol has a master's degree and is working towards her second one. She works in the Trenton School District helping families in need. Her family bought a lovely home of their own in 2020.

"There were days we had to have water with our cereal," Crystol said in a video about her story. "When I met Connie, it really changed. I wasn't just a statistic. HomeFront helped me, and it enabled me to help others."

The TD Charitable Foundation's grant will provide funding for much needed case managers

The success of HomeFront was the reason it was recently named as one of the 33 recipients of the TD Charitable Foundation's 16th Annual Housing for Everyone grant program, which has provided more than $42 million dollars to support more than 500 affordable housing projects and initiatives since the program launched in 2005

This year, the Foundation focused Housing for Everyone on helping local housing non-profit organizations deliver critical resident services, like housing search and eviction assistance, childcare, and job training, to individuals and families in need.

HomeFront received $150,000, which will be used to help fund the costs for new case managers, who are integral to HomeFront's ability to aid people.

"The goal of Housing for Everyone is to support projects and initiatives that help people across TD's footprint find or keep a safe, affordable place to call home," said Paige Carlson-Heim, Director of the TD Charitable Foundation. "Over the past several years, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing housing affordability crisis, the needs of individuals and families have grown and finding a place to live has become more challenging."

"Housing organizations need help to meet these growing needs, and we are thrilled to be able to support HomeFront and all the Housing for Everyone grant recipients. We know this grant will help HomeFront continue to provide these desperately needed services for the long-term," Paige said.

The needs keep growing

The roots of HomeFront started in 1991, when Connie accompanied a friend to visit the decrepit motels on Route 1 where families who are homeless were given shelter. The sight of hopelessness on their faces spurred her to gather a group of volunteers to deliver food. Today, the Lawrenceville, New Jersey-based organization, with its Family Campus in Ewing, provides shelter and manages permanent, service-enriched housing for a approximately 500 people each night.

Connie will be transitioning from the role of CEO at HomeFront on September 30. She will be moving on to other roles, including homelessness advocacy on the state and national level. She is working closely with the board of trustees to select a new CEO.

Unfortunately, homelessness and the related problems do not appear to be subsiding anytime soon, particularly as housing prices continue to rise nationwide. While it seems overwhelming, Connie is an example of how we can all make a difference, and she asks everyone to consider what actions they can take.

"There are so many things that people can do," Connie said. "You can donate your money. You can donate your time. You can mentor a young mom. You can organize a diaper drive at your church or at your place of business. Most importantly, you can tell the politicians in your community that it's not okay for there to be hungry, homeless kids in your community. Your voice gets heard."

You can learn more the TD Charitable Foundation's Housing for Everyone grant program and the 2021 Housing for Everyone 33 grant recipients here.

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