Jon Bon Jovi helps open expanded Joseph’s House homeless shelter in Camden
By Phaedra Trethan, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
CAMDEN — Jon Bon Jovi, rock star, philanthropist and Jersey guy, is probably not used to being upstaged in his home state.
But when Liz Holmes’ turn at the podium at Joseph’s House, a newly-expanded homeless shelter in South Camden, ended Thursday, she got a standing ovation.
And the man behind mega-hits like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” didn’t seem to mind not being the star of the show.
In fact, he gave Holmes a long, strong hug and a smile to melt a million Gen-Xers’ hearts.
Holmes brought the standing room-only house to its collective feet with her story of addiction, homelessness, recovery and hope — and how Joseph’s House helped her find her way out of a 30-year addiction and five years on the streets.
“I came to New VIsions (the daytime shelter that closed in 2018) because I was hungry and I needed to eat,” Holmes remembered. New Visions was next to Joseph’s House, then a nighttime shelter, and where she met Ernest “Radio” Lindsey, the intake supervisor.
“The atmosphere was lovely,” she recalled. “I had to trust someone, and I trusted Radio. He came from where I was, and he’s my heart.”
Today, Holmes has a year and four months’ sobriety under her belt, a part-time job and a place of her own. She still attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and goes to church regularly.
And she returns to Joseph’s House often, only now it’s to volunteer and talk to others who are struggling with the same issues she once did.
“I learned to volunteer, to keep busy, to give back, to keep clean,” she said, wiping tears.
Donors — including Bon Jovi, through his JBJ Soul Foundation — and local officials took tours of Joseph’s House’s $1.2 million expanded facility, a renovated space where New Visions once was. The larger facility now serves those in need round the clock.
The facility on Atlantic Avenue just off Broadway now includes space for other service providers, including Center for Family Services, Project Hope and Rutgers Behavioral Health, to offer on-site assistance and outreach.
Computer rooms enable guests to search job sites, prepare resumes and look for housing. There are private conference rooms and washer-dryer banks for people to do their laundry. Next month, Joseph’s House plans to install lockers, too, something program director Tricia Bradly said many guests asked about.
Shawn Sheekey, who took over as executive director two months ago, said many homeless people have to lug everything they own with them so it isn’t stolen or lost. That means carrying things on the bus or train, and to and from work, job training, treatment or therapy.
Sheekey called the expanded facility “the Taj Mahal of shelters: warm, inviting, bright,” and it is. Round tables in the kitchen area foster more interaction and conversation; expanding the size of the room meant more space for meals, too.
“When you have a lot of stressed people, tired people, cold people, in a small space, tensions can flare and you can have issues,” Bradly said. “This helps with that.”
There are even a few flat-screen TVs in the room now, “so people can watch the Eagles games,” Sheekey said.
The shelter also got new cots, and will serve 80 to 90 people each night, about 30 percent women and 70 percent men, Bradly said.
Several of Thursday’s speakers, including Bon Jovi, recalled Monsignor Bob McDermott, who founded Joseph’s House and who died in February.
Rev. Michael McCue, a Joseph’s House board member, said in his invocation that the shelter’s mission recalls God’s “hope for us that no one should be lost.”
Mayor Frank Moran called Bon Jovi “an angel” for his philanthropic work in Camden, which also included assistance for Joseph’s House’s 2013 move from a small building on Stevens Street to its current location.
“We have to keep a balance here,” said Moran, “whether you’re from the city or just in the city, we will extend a helping hand, a missionary hand.”
Later, he said Bon Jovi’s celebrity was welcome, but “more than that, it’s his focus, his commitment, his passion,” that helps bring attention to issues of homelessness, addiction, mental illness and poverty.
Tim Durkin, speaking on behalf of another major donor, The Connelly Fund, said his organization helped as a part of its Catholic faith, but also because “we live humbly enough to know that anyone in this room, on any given day, due to a slight change in circumstances, might need the services of Joseph’s House.”
Bon Jovi took the podium last, and applauded Holmes “for your courage and determination, which is inspiring to so many people.”
When he first visited the city in 2013, he remembered, “transforming Camden seemed like an impossible task, but in the word ‘impossible’ is ‘possible.’
“We partnered with Joseph’s House to try to take hope to the next level,” he said. He’s been back several times, including to shoot a series of music videos and a documentary about the city.
“Hope is now visible here,” he said.