TOMS RIVER, NJ – Toms River Township Councilman Terrance Turnbach hopes to one day become a judge in the State of New Jersey, but before that, he wants to leave his legacy in his home town. Turnbach has been lobbying for a homeless shelter for all of Ocean County to be built in Toms River. It’s a noble and valiant effort made more critical during the long cold Jersey winters where temperatures have been in the teens recently, overnight.
Turnbach last month lashed out at the freeholders for not having a plan for the homeless here at the Jersey Shore and he lashed out at other towns for not sharing his fervor for a legitimate homeless shelter.
But many ask where? Where in Toms River can a homeless shelter be built? There are several locations actually. There is a lot of land owned around the Ocean County Mall that was slated for a Veterans Affairs hospital, but that plan for now is not on the table. With close distance to the mall for indoor recreational warmth and a nearby lake it could make a great location.
The township is also knee deep in a pay to play scheme to turn downtown Toms River into a city. There are plenty of parking lots downtown and land around the area of Toms River High School South that could provide a great spot for a homeless shelter.
Toms River just sold a bunch of land by Ocean County College to the county. That land, not bought with open space fund can used to build a large homeless campus just off the grounds of the college.
Turnbach hasn’t given any hint of where he wants to build his homeless shelter, but there are many places that could accommodate his dream before he heads, hopefully to the bench.
Here’s what happened last month when Turnbach lashed out at towns and other elected officials who don’t share his vision of a homeless shelter here in Toms River.
Toms River Democrat Councilman Terrance Turnbach is a kind and caring friend of the homeless population in Ocean County. Turnbach has been driving force, since being elected two years ago to construct a homeless shelter in Toms River, but on Tuesday, as he was touting the success of the township’s “Code Blue” program for the homeless, he slammed surrounding communities for not sharing his desires. The state’s code blue laws were inspired by Toms River’s code blue program and mandate that any time the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, towns must provide warming centers for the homeless.
Turnbach explained the code blue as a program that provides shelter to those facing “housing insecurity” to open overnight warming centers to present the homeless population from injury or death.
“November marks the start of the code blue season for municipalities in New Jersey,” Turnbach said. “Ocean County remains the only county in the state of New Jersey without year-round transitional housing center [homeless shelter] for at-risk individuals.”
Turnbach, after criticizing the county for not having a year-round homeless shelter tore into the rest of the towns in Ocean County for not implementing the code blue program.
“Only two of Ocean County’s 33 municipalities operate a code blue program,” the Democrat lawyer said. “Those two municipalities are the township of Lakewood and Toms River.”
Toms River’s code blue program, Turnbach said operates out of the recreational center at Riverwood Park. That building was built in 1924 by the Ku Klux Klan.
Turnbach said if those towns don’t seek shelter, he’s concerned about out-of-town homeless [housing insecure] people will seek out shelter at Toms River’s facility.
“Inevitably the will see shelter in Toms River,” Turnbach said. “These people will be taken in if not already at max capacity.”
During the meeting, Turnbach announced that the Lakewood community center that once housed the township’s code blue center had been closed, leaving Toms River as the lone solution for the county’s homeless during a code blue scenario.
“This is simply unacceptable,” Turnbach said. “We’re in a covid pandemic now…I’m respectfully calling upon the other 32 municipalities in Ocean County to step up do their part in providing for the homeless residents of their municipality in accordance with the code blue laws.”
Turnbach slammed the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders for not acting upon his request to provide homeless shelters.
“They consciously choosing not to act on this,” Turnbach said. “But their failure to lead doesn’t mean local municipalities should not follow suit. Housing insecurity is not a partisan issue.”
Turnbach thanks Ocean County Assemblyman Gregory P. McGuckin for joining his efforts to fight homelessness and to bring a homeless shelter, eventually to Toms River and other communities.
The Democrat said Code Blue is required when a town has 10 or more homeless individuals and cited
Toms River has 87 homeless individuals, Lakewood has 50, Seaside Heights has 49, Brick has 34, Point Pleasant Beach had 10, Seaside Park had 10 and Beachwood had 10. Seaside Heights is well known for its transient winter population that includes homeless individuals and section 8 rentals. It has become known as a safe haven for those individuals, but also known for a higher rate of drug use and violent crimes while those populations are housed in motels and vacation rentals which are virtually empty after the summer tourism season ends.
Turnbach said those towns are violating the law by not offering homeless shelters.
“They should all have code blue shelters,” Turnbach said as he put those municipalities on notice to open up homeless warming centers.
He said Code Blue is not the answer and won’t stop until a homeless shelter is constructed in Ocean County.