This story takes place in Trenton, New Jersey. However, it could have been set in Camden or Newark or Elizabeth or lots of other cities and towns in our state today. The problem of homelessness and lack of housing isn’t an issue unique to Mercer County – it is a national emergency. With winter just beginning to show us the force of nature’s power, the holidays might be a good time for those of us that “have” to sit down and think a little bit about others less fortunate right now.
The Hard Statistics
Currently, about 580,000 people are homeless tonight in America. Of those roughly half million people, about 10,000 of them are currently living in New Jersey. Erik Lydick, a graduate of Allentown High School and lifetime New Jersey resident, doesn’t need to be reminded of the statistics. Pastor Erik has been helping and ministering to the homeless for the past twelve years.
A Man with a Mission
Lydick used to work for TD AmeriTrade. He has two grown children and is a grandfather. But he is a man not only on a mission – but with a mission. He leads Restoring Hearts Ministry, a non-denominational Church, Calvary Chapel of Mercer County in Ewing. Three to four days a week, with Saturday being the busiest day of all, Lydick takes his min vans and heads to the Trenton Train Station. The Trenton Transit Police work with Lydick in assisting the homeless. Instead of harassing the homeless, the Transit Police actually have a Community Outreach Liaison. This Officer helps to make sure the homeless are given access to any available resources, like Restoring Hearts Ministry – and the officers care. The morning I rode along the Transit Officer was visibly concerned that the previous night 50-60 people had to sleep in the train station, usually it’s only 20-30.
Too Much Need
Why are people sleeping in the train station? Don’t we have “social services” to assist people in need? The Rescue Mission of Trenton does great work, but the problem is just too big. The Rescue Mission has helped 3,300 people and counting this year and has been able to secure housing for 233 families; but obviously the problem is just too big. The City of Trenton has a waiting list for affordable housing. Secure food and housing are an everyday need.
Lydick saw a need and he felt a calling to help. He has dedicated his life to showing people that no matter where you are in life right now, you are loved and you are worthy. He uses his ministry, his vans and his quiet good nature to bring people a little love and comfort. Lydick also found a unique way to connect with people that sometimes may have drifted to the borders of human connection. He uses rescue dogs in his outreach.
Lydick and Tank, a thirteen-month-old Landseer, or Newfoundland mix, who came from Amazing Mutts Puppy Rescue, eagerly greet the people as they board the minivan at the Trenton Train Station. On the day I went, there were two vans and Mike was the second driver. After our pick up at the train station, the vans head to the Trenton Rescue Mission to pick up any residents who would like to come to the Church for a break.
Warming the Body and the Soul
The Church is in Ewing. On arrival the guests are given an opportunity for a hot meal and a chance to relax, converse, use the restroom and get warm. Tank walks among the group happy to be snuggled and petted. It’s moving to see people who may not have a lot to say to other humans take comfort in the companionship of a dog. The group sang, led by volunteer of ten years, Kyle. After singing, the guests had Bible Study Group. They took turns reading and Lydick led the discussion with a lively question and answer session. Lydick referred to everyone by their first names throughout the morning. People are “seen” here. After Bible Study is the “hard part” according to Lydick. That’s the time when we have to take everyone back to Trenton.
Lydick also runs a Men’s Mission House in Ewing. Currently, five to six men are living at the house. Lydick’s goal is to provide not just housing – but a home, there are three rescue dogs at the house. All the men have assigned chores and responsibilities. Caring for the dogs is one of those chores. There is no limit on how long the men can stay at the house. Technically, the house can hold fifteen people but Lydick is trying hard to maintain that family feel for his residents. Lydick has an ultimate goal of opening a house for women as well as the need is obviously there.
Finding a Community
One of the current residents is Mike, the van driver. Mike was gracious enough to share his personal story with me of how he went from living like the rest of us to where he is now. Mike’s story is far from unique, it could happen to any of us if the circumstances of our lives were tweaked in a particular way. After a bad divorce, a little too much drinking, fill in the blanks, and Mike was homeless and adrift. He met Erik at the Train Station one day and now Mike has a home – living at the house since the Spring, a job and a calling. Mike said something to me that has stuck in my head. “We had the best week last week. We took six people to detox because they wanted to go – they were ready.” The joy of knowing that someone else may have a chance to get back on track was evident in Mike’s eyes and his voice. It’s clear that Lydick is building a community that cares about each other, and that’s a beautiful thing to witness.
A Little Help from My Friends
Running the Men’s House, the Church, the vans and stocking a warehouse with supplies so that he can provide sleeping bags, coats and warm clothing and food in addition to caring for several dogs is a lot of work. Lydick is a big man with broad shoulders and he carries this all well; but his work is funded 100% by donations. Restoring Hearts Ministry can certainly use financial assistance, but donations of goods are always welcome and desperately needed at this time of year.
We all get a little overwhelmed at the holidays. Sometimes we get caught up in our day-to-day drama and we forget how lucky we are just to have the very basics in life; food, shelter, warm clothes, companionship. I am grateful that there are people in the world like Erik Lydick, who “see” a problem and decide this can not stand. He can’t save the whole world but he is willing to act, one individual at a time to show each person they are loved and have value. He uses all the tools at his disposal, kindness, compassion and big fluffy dogs. Is it just me, or does Erik look a little like Santa to you too?
About the Author/s
Sue graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English back when you could still get a degree for reading great literature. She spent nearly 40 years working in the Sales & Marketing field with companies ranging from non-profits to small businesses to Fortune 100 Corporations. Most recently retired after nearly 20 years with S & P Global, she is now free to pursue her true passions for hiking, writing and photography. Sue was born and raised in New York State. As a New Jersey transplant, her passion for the special blend of culture and nature that is uniquely Jersey is what Sue loves to share with the world. She has one grown son that she is insanely proud of. Her husband of many decades is an amazing partner both in life and hiking. When not out exploring, Sue is most likely at home reading a novel with her dog.