NEWARK, NJ — It’s been more than 24 years since Jose Lopez has seen his family. But with the help of NJ Transit police, the formerly homeless Garden State resident has been reunited with his loved ones and is on his way to a brighter future.
According to NJ Transit, Lopez, 61, a former Long Branch resident, made his way to New Jersey from Miami earlier this month.
NJ Transit police discovered Lopez at Secaucus Junction Station on Aug. 6. They placed him on a train to Newark Penn Station, where he met with crisis outreach officer Sean Pfeifer.
Pfeifer then took it upon himself to go “above and beyond the call of duty” to help Lopez get home again, NJ Transit spokespeople said.
The crisis outreach officer put in dozens of phone calls to people in the area of Bradley Beach, trying to reach Lopez’s family in Monmouth County. Eventually, Pfeifer got in touch with one of Lopez’s daughters, who agreed to meet at Newark Penn.
Not content with simply finding Lopez’s family, Pfeifer began to set the stage for a grand reunion, taking him for a haircut, a shave and some new clothes.
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Finally, spruced up and with a new hope in his heart, Lopez was greeted by his family on Aug. 15. Their get-together, which included a first-ever meeting between the grandfather and his grandchildren, was as tearful and heartwarming as you’d expect, authorities said. (See video below)
The following day, Lopez and his family boarded a train back to Bradley Beach, where they spent the weekend catching up and rediscovering their family bonds.
Police Chief Christopher Trucillo said the story is a great example of the impact a single crisis outreach officer can make in someone’s life.
President and CEO Kevin Corbett concurred, saying that Pfeifer went “above and beyond the call of duty” to help Lopez.
“As Officer Pfeifer demonstrated, NJ Transit police do so much more in addition to protecting our customers and employees,” Corbett said. “They genuinely care for the people in the communities we serve.”
According to NJ Transit, Lopez is currently working with the PATH Program through the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris County to find permanent housing.
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While Lopez’s story had a happy ending, there’s an urgent need for homeless prevention efforts in New Jersey, advocates say.
According to the 2019 “Point In Time” count for New Jersey, 8,864 people experiencing homelessness were counted across the state on Jan. 22. It was about 5% less than last year’s tally. However, researchers said the drop wasn’t necessarily a “trend,” pointing out that the slight decrease wasn’t seen across the board.
In Essex County, home to Newark Penn Station, the number of homeless residents has steadily risen for four years in a row. According to researchers, 2,235 homeless people were counted in Essex County on Jan. 22 – about 25% of the entire state’s population.
The total dwarfed the next-highest county, Hudson – home to Secaucus Junction – which had 890 homeless people (10%).
See related article: Essex County Homeless Population Rises For 4th Straight Year