Annual count tracks NJ’s homeless population
On Wednesday, all 21 New Jersey counties will participate in #NJCounts 2016, an initiative in which volunteers search for and identify homeless residents around the state.
"The idea is to count those both in emergency shelter and transitional housing programs," said Katelyn Cunningham, a member of Monarch Housing Associates that is organizing this year's count. "The goal would be to see if the numbers are decreasing or if homelessness is affecting more households than we've seen in the past."
The results are examined and used to guide efforts for communities to try and curb homelessness in New Jersey.
NJ Counts 2015 found 10,211 homeless individuals across the state, which was an almost 14 percent drop from 2014.
While the figures show progress on the issue, advocates and agencies continue their efforts to decrease that number even more.
And there are several hurdles to overcome.
Factors that will contribute to this year's count of homeless families, youth and veterans include:
- Shelters reporting inability to house homeless families throughout 2015;
- A shortage of rental housing driving up demand and costs;
- Failure by Congress to increase funding for the federal Housing Choice Voucher; program harming progress in creating affordable and supportive housing;
- Foreclosures causing many owners and renters to lose their homes; and
- The many jobs in New Jersey that do not pay a living wage.
Cunningham said many counties are moving away from traditional shelters as they attempt to provide long-term stability for these homeless individuals and families.
"Communities are focusing less on transitional housing as a step and moving people more immediately from the street or emergency shelters straight in to permanent housing," she explained. "They're really trying to, kind of, put them on the fast-track to permanent housing."
While the problem is widespread across demographics, adults ages 45 to 54 marked the highest number of homeless residents. The counties that saw the most cases were Essex, Burlington, Hudson and Passaic.
Cunningham said this yearly count, which is mandated by the U.S Department Housing and Urban Development for federal funding, offers the chance to compare trends and to see which type of issues homeless residents face in different communities.
That way, a county is equipped to handle those situations, whether it be for substance abuse, disability, mental health concerns, or a different issue.
"It's important to really see the demographic of the population that you are serving," Cunningham said. "It really points out the need of the population."