Homelessness is on the rise in New Jersey. On Jan. 28, a statewide point-in-time count of the homeless, known as NJ Counts 2014, found 13,900 homeless men, women and children in the Garden State. That was an increase of 1,898 people, or 15.8 percent, compared to last year's count.

(Kim Reinick, ThinkStock)
(Kim Reinick, ThinkStock)

"Unfortunately, this year's count shows that there are still a significant number of adults and children experiencing homelessness in New Jersey," said Taiisa Kelly, senior associate at Monarch Housing Associates, which directed NJ Counts 2014, in a press release Monday.  "But at the same time we have best practices and interventions such as affordable and supportive housing, Housing First, Rapid Re-Housing and Centralized Assessment which we know work to end homelessness."

A portion of the increase can be attributed specifically to a higher count of people staying in emergency shelters. Unlike in past years, a number of counties this year counted people who were receiving Temporary Rental Assistance from Social Services in emergency shelters.

"Despite the change in counting methodology, homelessness is still a persistent problem in New Jersey," said Jay Everett, associate with Monarch Housing Associates. "We also believe that the way this count reflects the numbers this year may even be a more accurate reflection of what the reality is. This only counted homeless on one night of the year, so the number is actually going to be greater."

Other key findings include:

  • 1,499 persons, in 1,246 households, were identified as chronically homeless, an increase of 278 persons, or 22.7 percent, compared to 2013.
  • 931 persons were living unsheltered, a 33.4 percent decrease from 1,399 in 2013.  This decrease may be due to the very cold weather over the time of the count.
(-art-siberia-, ThinkStock)
(-art-siberia-, ThinkStock)

Despite the fact that the economy is improving, Everett believes it is still weighing heavily on New Jersey residents. He also attributes affordability and lack of funding for programs to help the homeless as key factors to the increase. Monarch Housing Associates believes the following solutions can help shorten and eliminate homelessness in New Jersey:

  • Provision of an adequate supply of affordable rental housing and supportive housing.
  • Relief and support systems for low-wage households threatened by foreclosure and eviction.
  • Creation of jobs that pay a living wage in New Jersey's high-priced real estate environment.
  • Increased funding for proven interventions that rapidly re-house and support homeless households.

"Even though we need to address people's immediate needs, longer-term solutions like providing good paying jobs that can support families and maintain housing are needed," Everett said. "We also need to make sure that those who are chronically homeless have the services they need."

According to Kelly, the problem is being made worse by federal funding cuts.

"Unfortunately, proposed cuts in funding from Congress come at a time when it is more expensive than ever for New Jersey families to afford housing," Kelly said. "A $300 million increase for the HUD-funded McKinney-Vento program in FY 2015 is needed to increase our capacity to end homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), 59 percent of renter households in our state can not afford the fair market rent of $1,296 a month for a two-bedroom apartment."

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