CAMDEN, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — A pastor and civil rights activist in Camden is demanding that city officials help protect the homeless as temperatures drop to dangerous lows.
"We're gonna stand up, we're gonna speak up and take care of our homeless and the most vulnerable," said Rev. Amir Khan, president of New Beginnings, a nonprofit in Camden that serves the homeless and formerly incarcerated.
He said more than 85-90% of all homeless in Camden County are in the city of Camden, and he fears that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren't enough protections put in place by the city for this growing population.
"In Camden, we have the highest population of homeless in the county," said Khan. "All the other municipalities have warming centers and code blue centers. Nothing in Camden."
The two warming centers that were originally listed are no longer open due to the pandemic.
"Many of us are one check away, one job away from being out in the street ourselves," he said. "We wouldn't want our families to be treated this way."
Khan argues every other municipality is finding the means to open centers, sterilize them and offer PPE to protect their homeless, but Camden isn't.
Therefore, he and his organization have some demands.
"We want signed agreements this week with business and nonprofits that are willing to open up their doors as warming centers in code blue," he said.
Among the demands, Khan says they want Trenton to allocate funding from the Homeless Trust Fund Act to go to Camden's homeless immediately, and he wants Camden city officials to lead the charge.
If action isn't taken as temps drop, Khan said he's going to "rent a big cruiser bus, load the Camden homeless up and drive them out to the Cherry Hill Mall."
Khan said that when night falls, he'll bring the group back to Camden because Cherry Hill Mall is legally an official daytime warming center. He insists plans be made for the homeless this week.
However, Vincent Basara, a spokesperson with the city mayor’s office, said a location is available for the homeless at the Isabel Miller Community Center.
“We are working to procure additional locations and services,” he added.