During a soggy ceremony on the Morristown Green on Tuesday, April 3, the Morris County Sheriff’s Department launched Navigating Hope – a new van providing a broader range of services than the Hope One van.

The launch was on the first anniversary of the introduction of Hope One, which also took place on the Morristown Green. That is the location where the Sheriff’s Department was formed in the 1700s, according to Sheriff James Gannon. The vehicles, converted SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) trucks, provide services to addicts and the homeless.

Hope One, which goes around the county on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., made 114 stops in its first year and spent 549 hours on the road, said Gannon. Some 2,983 people were served, with 118 immediately referred to rehabilitation and mental health services.

“Every time it goes out, someone goes into the program,” Gannon said.

One of the goals is to serve the homeless population, which numbered 378 in Morris County in 2017. Another is to fight the opioid epidemic, which has claimed 170 people in the county since 2016. Gannon said the age span of people affected by opioids is from 15 to 80.

To run the vans, the community services unit of the Sheriff’s Department partners with the Morris County Department of Human Services, the Mental Health Association of Morris County, and Morris County Prevention is Key as well as CARES, its Center for Addiction and Recovery Education Services. Gannon calls Sheriff’s Department Corporal Erica Valvano the “mother” of the program.

Corporal Erica Valvano, pictured. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

The sheriff explained that the old SWAT truck was wearing out, so they retrofitted it and removed all police markings. There aren’t even government license plates, he said, so that it looks “all about recovery.” Having an intern from Montclair State University adds a touch of youth and academia to the program, he noted.

The conversion of the van cost $15,000 taken from the drug forfeiture account, so drug dealers paid for the rehab services, observed Gannon.

Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo said Hope One and Navigating Hope go along with the county’s Stigma Free program, which attempts to address mental health issues without stigma. DeFillippo has the bright green Stigma Free logo on the card holder on her mobile phone to encourage people to ask about it, giving her an opportunity to explain.

Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo, pictured. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Jennifer Carpinteri, director of the county Department of Human Services, said that “partnerships and collaboration are the future of combating addiction. Everyone can make a difference.” The addition of Navigating Hope broadens the range of services for the homeless, those in need of affordable housing, the aging, veterans, and many others. The programs provide critical resources to each municipality in the county.

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