The “Bad-Good Old Days:” Remembering Life for the Homeless Prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic

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By Jeff Friedman
Editor’s Note: This week, Jeff Friedman, founder and director of Livingston Philanthropies, Inc., reflects on how life for the homeless of Essex County has changed for the worse since before the coronavirus pandemic.
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The “bad-good old days” ended for the homeless and profoundly poor after mid-March. Prior to the abrupt, life-changing pandemic, conditions were beyond awful for these communities, living with rampant food insecurity in extreme poverty. Those were the good old days.
It has been a heartbreaking transition for these thousands right here in northern New Jersey as COVID-19 grinds into July. The “good old days” quickly shifted into the “much worse, with even less food availability and deeper disenfranchisement new days.”
Was it just a few months ago when the “bad-good times” rolled?
• The day’s main activity, every day, was walking for food when soup kitchens provided sit-down breakfast and lunch meals. It was never an easy chore, day-after-day, waiting on multiple lines out in the elements. For people on the street who are mobile, that is, which is clearly not everyone in daily dire need. Those not walking got what they could, when they could get it.
• Church groups, social clubs and regular families regularly served meals in Peter Francisco Park on days soup kitchens are mostly closed.
• There were plenty of workers in town and on the Route 280 exits and on-ramps for panhandling. While many find panhandling a nuisance, it was a steady income for those who chose this route to generate a few bucks.
• LPI’s Newark homeless friends, like Robert along Route 21 in Newark whom we’ve known for years, benefited from commuters with a heart who stopped to share money or badly needed items like toiletries.
• There was always an abundance of illness, but no worry about COVID-19.
Now, soup kitchens are open but doing pantry take-away bags only, combining breakfast and lunch, all indoor facilities are closed, there are no panhandling candidates available in cars or other popular spots and food served in the park has become less plentiful. The synopsis – it’s far worse than ever before during this national emergency. So much worse.
For those who can help Livingston Philanthropies, Inc. (LPI) continue shipping food to the folks who need it the most, please mail what you can to LPI, P.O. Box 247, Livingston, NJ 07039, donate online at, or visit our website at and click on “donate.”
As always, I’m pleased to share a quote this week: “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” – Saint Augustine.

Photo:     Were the “bad-good old days” for the homeless and profoundly poor just a few months ago? “That’s when most Newark soup kitchens offered indoor dining for both breakfast and lunch,” said Livingston Philanthropies, Inc. (LPI) founder and director Jeff Friedman. “Now,” he continued, “Bessie Green Community, shown before the pandemic, and other non-profits package two daily meals into one for outdoor food pantry service only.”

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