June 12, 2020
A groups of researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswickand the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) has won a $150,000 Emergency Grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Made through Luce’s Theology Program, the grant addresses the problem of housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Titled SHELTER, the project is a unique partnership between Rutgers, the Seminary, and two local non-profits. 75% of grant funds will go directly to families and individuals whose housing and other basic needs have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals and families are variously experiencing challenges related to undocumented or immigration status, recent release from parole or incarceration, HIV and other medical needs, and other social services needs that make them especially vulnerable during the COVID crisis.
The community partner for SHELTER is the Reformed Church of Highland Park Affordable Housing Corporation (RCHP-AHC), a non-profit that provides affordable housing, supportive services, and connection to meaningful community for low-income individuals and families in central New Jersey. RCHP-AHC estimates that the grant money will help them to house 15 families or 60 individuals.
The remaining twenty-five percent of the grant funds will be directed to public humanities and public arts projects. Led by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, Coordinator & Instructor of Public Historyat Rutgers, Nathan Jérémie-Brink, Feakes Assistant Professor of the History of Global Christianity at NBTS; Colin Jager, Director of the Center for Cultural Analysis and Professor of English at Rutgers, and Producing Director Dan Swern of coLAB Arts in New Brunswick, this portion of the project will involve masters-level students at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, undergraduates at Rutgers University, and local artists. The goal is to provide an “archive” of this pandemic moment and to foster creative expression in response to it. Outcomes will include oral histories, web-based projects, and public art, with the goal of fostering new ways to reimagine community engagement that enfolds artists, social advocates, and clients.
In sum, the SHELTER project aims to analyze and respond to the social, economic, and political conditions that leave people without housing, deny opportunities after incarceration, detain those seeking refuge and safety, and provide inadequate services for those who are ill. Itoffers a rapid response to a pressing question for some of the most vulnerable people in the wider community: In an age of pandemic, what does it mean to shelter in place when you have no shelter?