Edgewater Fire: The Aftermath & How To Help

On a cold and windy night last Wednesday, January 21st, the Avalon at Edgewater apartment complex in Edgewater, NJ was engulfed in a horrible 5 alarm fire. It took many hours for the 500 first responders from 35 towns in New Jersey and New York to finally control the blaze but not before several of the 408 units in the complex received damage or were completely destroyed.


The reports from the media in North Jersey state that the police investigation determined that the fire was accidentally started by maintenance workers who were using a blowtorch to fix a leaking pipe in the southern end of the complex. The Borough of Edgewater took steps today to set aside over $240,000 in funds to cover the estimated costs of dealing with this massive fire.


In the end, these tragic events initially displaced 400 families, according to the American Red Cross. However, some of those families have been able to return to their homes, but 240 families lost their homes completely. Most of those people also lost everything that they owned. It is estimated that 1,000 people were impacted in some degree by this terrible tragedy.


Edgewater Strong


It has been about one week since the fire in Edgewater, and the focus is now on how to help those who are in desperate need and are displaced from their homes during a stretch of brutal winter weather in New Jersey.


First, the Borough government began a Go Fund Me page for the victims which has raised over $60,000.00 for those in need. I will include the link because several pages are up on that site related to the Edgewater fire, but this is the official page set up by the Mayor: http://www.gofundme.com/edgewater-fire


Next, a non-profit called Edgewater Strong was started to accept and receive donations of gifts-in-kind of supplies, food, and clothing. They received so many donations the volunteers have been overwhelmed by the response.


The Red Cross stepped in and provided disaster relief services including finding temporary shelter for those displaced. I talked with a Red Cross public relations spokesperson yesterday regarding my own personal interest in donating and I was told that the need for cash donations is critical at this point to help those who are displaced to assist in paying rent or for hotel rooms for temporary shelter.


The other pressing need moving forward is for money for school supplies because the fire destroyed the supplies of more than 150 children. The town is hopeful that those children can continue going to school in the district, but the reality is that some families might have to find temporary housing at a distance from the schools in Edgewater, which will force the children to lose their sense of stability and continuity.


How To Help


If you would like to take action and help those impacted by this horrendous fire in Edgewater, you can use the link mentioned earlier in this article to visit the Go Fund Me page set up by the Borough.


Next, you could contact the American Red Cross, as the spokesperson told me yesterday they have provided disaster relief to 7 more fires in the 7 days since the Edgewater blaze just in North Jersey alone. The Red Cross can be reached at 1-800-Red-Cross or http://www.redcross.org/ or you can mail a check to:

American Red Cross – North Jersey Region

209 Fairfield Rd

Fairfield, NJ 07004


Please keep in mind that if you donate to the Red Cross you cannot stipulate that the funds go directly to the Edgewater fire, they provide disaster relief to any number of situations including fires.


Additionally, you could contact Edgewater Strong to help with educational supply related costs by writing a check to:

Edgewater Education Foundations (appears on check)

Edgewater Strong

c/o EVG School

251 Undercliff Ave

Edgewater, NJ 07020


This fire at the Edgewater at Avalon complex was one of the most horrific fires I have ever seen. Some of the residents there have been displaced at the worst possible time of the year in the dead of winter and lost everything. If you can help in any way they need your support and generosity. I know that through this tragedy will come the promise that tomorrow holds for a better future for those effected.


(Background information courtesy of North Jersey.com and ABC News.com)




Follow Up: Homeless Veterans In U.S. Cities

In a follow up to an article series I wrote last year, the pledge by the government leaders across all levels to end the terribly high levels of homeless military veterans achieved a milestone in the first days of 2015. The City of New Orleans is the first city in the United States to provide housing for all of their veteran population.


The announcement represents some good news which is welcomed to counterbalance the often distressing reports of chronic homelessness in our cities and towns. In addition, the methodology which was used by New Orleans provides a framework which is under consideration by many other cities at this point in order to address their homeless veterans and their total homeless populations.


In fact, some other cities such as Phoenix and Salt Lake City have also made great strides in providing housing to their homeless veteran populations. Both of those cities have effectively ended chronic long-term homelessness of veterans, which is the most difficult circumstance to resolve within the nature of this terrible societal problem.




The counterpoint that is being made to this news announcement which I have to include in fair balance, is that the numbers of homeless veterans in New Orleans is much smaller than in the larger American cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.


The total number of homeless veterans in New Orleans was 227 in 2014, therefore that is a much more manageable number to place into housing than in a larger city. The homeless veteran population in New York City is staggering, and the city lacks the amount of affordable housing needed to shelter this group.


The detractors would also point out that New Orleans could handle this scenario more effectively than other cities because of the availability of housing due to the population migration in the post-Hurricane Katrina period.


However, my view on the ability of New Orleans to house the homeless veterans in their city is one of optimism for the progress of this movement to gain momentum across the country. It is also my hope that this approach used in New Orleans could be modeled to provide housing to combat homelessness on a more widespread level.


A New Model


The main stumbling block in the process to end homelessness in the United States is the propensity for some of the groups involved to approach the situation in a vacuum of sorts, which hampers the overall success of the effort. A good example being that the tendency is to think that the best way to help the homeless population in a given area is through the local government.


However, if the local government in this example has limited resources, then the correct aid will not be accessible to effectively resolve the issues with providing housing to the homeless in that area.


The approach by New Orleans in effectively ending homelessness for their veteran population, provides a new model for the rest of the nation to implement in the fight to end homelessness. In New Orleans the local government, the state government, the federal government, local and regional non-profit organizations, and landlords of potential residential properties worked in a collaborative partnership to address the needs of their city with regard to homeless veterans.


It was by working together that they were able to provide housing for the homeless veterans in their city. The rest of the country should utilize a similar model in order to coordinate and consolidate their respective efforts to provide housing to those who are living on the streets or in shelters.


The City of New Orleans provides the housing for veterans with the initial rental assistance being provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The project also receives support from non-profit agencies including Catholic Charities.


Furthermore, New Orleans has used this same collaborative model to address and decrease their chronically homeless population from 4,579 in 2009 down to 677 in 2013. That is a huge decline in the numbers of homeless people in their city, and the goal is to eliminate homelessness by the end of 2015.


The solution of providing housing to the homeless is not straight forward, it is a complex situation that for many cities requires a variety of resources in order to effectively resolve. The New Orleans model essentially pools all of the various resources and respective expertise of the groups involved in order to accomplish that desired outcome.


The model used in New Orleans could be cumbersome initially for other cities to implement because the collaborative approach is not the usual American method of solving complex social problems. In the interests of providing an adequate resolution to the troubling trend of long-term homelessness in military veterans, the most cost effective way is to work together on every level to coordinate every step of the process.


In addition, this holistic approach enables each group to utilize their individual strengths and talents in a collective way to solve this issue and move military veterans, who served our country bravely in battle, off the streets and into housing they can call their own.


It is through this collaborative effort that American cities of all sizes can bring an end to homelessness in our veteran population. Then, once a standard protocol has been developed that spans all levels of the government and includes the non-profit organizations and residential landlords, the larger issue of the total homeless population can be addressed.


In my previous articles on this topic, I have detailed the reports of studies that quantify the costs of housing the homeless population in the U.S. versus keeping that same group of people in the same system we have now of shelters, the streets, and emergency room care. The cost of providing housing to the current homeless population is far more cost effective when compared to the manner in which those same people are dealt with today, living on the streets.


In the end if everyone works together in a truly collaborative manner, with each group contributing to the process within their own area of expertise, then the issue of homelessness in America could have a legitimate chance of resolution.


(Statistics, demographic information, and some background information courtesy of Yahoo! News, The Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, and New Orleans Times – Picayune)





Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have been reflecting throughout the course of the day today, as our nation pauses to remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on my earliest memories of this great man. My first recollection is in learning of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I recall, as a young boy, being so mesmerized by his oratory presence, and thought the speech was powerful yet eloquent at the same time.


The next series of memories I have is of Selma and the march in that town in the Deep South and as a boy, being so profoundly moved by the resilience of the people and the movement; while at the same time being horrified by the images of police brutality and the unabashedly evil policies of the Jim Crow laws. I could not imagine a place where everything was separated for people on the basis of their skin color. I could not believe as a child, and still cannot believe it as a man, that those hateful policies could happen in America.


The “Freedom Riders” movement has always struck a chord with me, the bravery of those men and women to stand up for what they believed in despite the serious consequences, that type of courage is inspiring. However, at the same time, it was wrong on so many levels that our society had devolved into that situation in the first place. Dr. King said it repeatedly, that if we all treated each other as sisters and brothers, none of those terrible events would ever have had to take place, our society would never had allowed itself to be degraded into such barbaric policies and behaviors.


When I was older, I remember reading Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” one summer when I was home from school. I was struck with how poised and succinct his writing was during what must have been incredibly difficult conditions during his confinement in a small prison cell. I recall being drawn to his methods of nonviolence because I do not believe that violent behavior of any kind is acceptable, nor is it a capable way of resolving any dispute.


In the years since that summer night, I have worked in jobs where I had this day off and others where I had to work on Martin Luther King Day. In the years where I had to work, I would always listen to a recording of his famous speeches on my commute into work in the car. It was a small way in which I would pause and remember and reflect on Dr. King’s remarkable life.


I went to the National Civil Rights Museum with my wife one hot summer day in Memphis several years ago, and I recall feeling so many emotions at one time. I felt a profound sadness when we saw the suite where Dr. King was assassinated that April evening so many years before. I felt regret because I realized that while some things had changed in the area of race relations in America, not much had changed at all.


Even still today, almost fifty years after the death of Dr. King, we still have so much room to progress in race relations in our country. I am deeply saddened by the inequalities that still divide our society, our educational system, and our socio-economic structure. The events of the past six months are evidence that we have a long way to go with progressing toward a better tomorrow for all Americans.


I return to Dr. King and his position towards nonviolence as the best way to progress towards further advancements in these issues which still divide our society. I think we can all agree that his movement to promote peace between all races should still be the model utilized in order to make that progress today.


On a personal level, I was at a crossroads in my life at one point, around this time of the year, and it was in remembering the extraordinary life and remarkable courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that I made a bold decision in my own life. I have not regretted making it ever since.


In the end, I hope that one day the dream of Dr. King can be realized and we can all live together in peace and harmony. It is possible, and it is by honoring and remembering Dr. King that I hope our society can move ever closer to that ultimate goal; and by revisiting the Judeo-Christian core values of our country and loving each other as sisters and brothers that it will become a reality.

Collateral Damage: The Disposability of Coaches in Our Society

In writing about the recent firing of New York Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke for another website, and reading about the New York Giants dismissal of their defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell on Friday; I started to think about the seemingly inherent instability surrounding sports coaches. Our society treats these men and in some cases, women, as collateral damage in the major college sports and professional sports ranks.


The news cycle today includes the Denver Broncos, who were eliminated from the playoffs yesterday, “mutually agreeing to part ways with Head Coach John Fox” and the team fired all of the assistant coaches on the staff. Coach Fox guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl last season, though they lost to Seattle in that championship game, the decision today illustrates the cold reality in which these decisions are made.


Another recent example of a situation I was directly involved in covering was the firing of Head Coach Peter DeBoer by the New Jersey Devils. The team was mired in a slump and has not played consistently the entire season, but he was fired the day after Christmas, from the emotional standpoint that must have been very difficult for his family as well.


I understand that the world of major college athletics and professional sports has evolved into a scenario where a lot of money is at stake. The revenues of certain sports leagues are at all-time highs and the sheer amounts of money being exchanged for season tickets, personal seat licenses, and television/media rights are enormous in scale. The pressure on the respective front office and coaching staff of any team has to be tremendous given the circumstances. The emphasis on winning and delivering championships is at a tipping point in today’s sports landscape.


The players in major professional sports are highly talented and well compensated, they are the best and most gifted athletes on the planet. However, the blame seems to usually fall on the coach or the coaching staff if a team underperforms their expectations. The end result is that head coach, or in many cases an entire staff of coaches, being terminated from their jobs.

Hired To Get Fired


I understand from being a big sports fan that one of the sayings that coaches use, especially in the pressure cooker that is the NFL, is “you get hired to get fired”. There is a genuine understanding going into the situation that it is probably not going to end well. The rare exception is a coach finishing his tenure and leaving on his or her own terms; the majority of the time the situation ends in termination for the coach and their staff based on a losing season or poor performance.


A good case study of that scenario is Head Coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants. He has gone through some rough patches during his tenure with the team, at two different points the fans were ranting about the poor performance of the Giants. The team looked lost on the field, and both times the Giants turned their seasons around and ended up winning the Super Bowl. This past season was no different, with two championship victories on his resume, the focus still shifted to whether Coughlin should be fired because of the poor performance of 2014 Giants during their season.


The other scenario that costs a coach their job is essentially team politics which seems to be the case with Mike Petke and the New York Red Bulls. The team hired a new Sporting Director (essentially a GM or director of personnel) and he dismissed Petke after the best two years in the history of the team, to bring in a coach he had worked with in the past. Those type of relationship driven decisions on coaches have happened in the NFL and the NBA as well, in the rare case that the General Manager is fired and the coach has remained with the team. Most of the time the new GM will then fire the coach and bring in “his own guy” with whom he has a prior working relationship.


The attitude of disposability when it comes to these people is rather concerning to me. I know some others within the sports media world that have the same misgivings about the way our society approaches these matters. I understand that people spend their hard earned money on attending games and buying merchandise to support a given team and that we all want to see that team win.


However, at the same time, I do not think it gives any of us a license to demand that somebody, or an entire staff of people should lose their jobs. These people have families, they have children and dependents that rely on those jobs to live. Yet when a team hits a losing streak I turn on sports radio in the car and every caller is screaming about firing the coach. These people are human beings, they make mistakes, and they should not be treated as disposable items.

I am all for accountability, and we each are held to certain performance metrics in the workplace, but could you imagine having several hundred or a few thousand people coming into your place of work and yelling that you should be fired? I would imagine that would be very unsettling to many of us.


I know that, as a fan, watching losses pile up, like in the case of the New York Knicks who are having one of the worst seasons in their history, is upsetting and frustrating. I am also upset that the fans were chanting “fire Fisher” about their head coach, who has a family to support and a daughter who is very sick.


I also know that my detractors would say that these coaches, especially in the higher profile universities or in the top of the professional ranks, understand the pressure that comes with “the territory” and that if they “cannot take the heat then get out of the kitchen”. I also understand that many of the head coaches, and in baseball it would be the manager, are well compensated for their talents.


However, the assistant coaches and other staff members are not always well compensated and they are subject to dismissal, and very often are dismissed with the head coach when they get fired. In many cases, the head coach will find work again elsewhere and usually rather quickly. The assistant coaches and other staff members can be out of work potentially for much longer periods of time. It is difficult to find work if you are a particular type of assistant coach such as strength and conditioning, quality control, or offensive line coach; those job openings may be few and far between.


In comparison, if John Q. Public got fired from his job in marketing, there are other marketing jobs out there. He may have to take a different level job, maybe a step back from the level he was working as far as seniority, but he can find other work. The coaching ranks are competitive and unforgiving. The same goes for General Managers of sports teams, those job openings are rather specific and are generally pretty sparse.


Take A Step Back


I understand as sports fans, we want our teams to be successful and compete for championships. I understand that some coaches can make some rather dubious decisions with players, lineups, and strategies.


I just ask that the next time you are ready to go on a ranting tirade about a coach or a general manager that you consider what is at stake for those people. I ask that before you get ready to make that phone call to your favorite sports radio talk show, that you take a step back and realize that these coaches are people too. They have the right to be treated with respect and not as disposable parts, and certainly not as collateral damage.