A one-night sweep spotted 8,864 men, women and children experiencing homelessness in New Jersey.

The state's experienced a significant decrease in its homeless count over the past few years, but this is likely just a snapshot of a much more pervasive problem.

According to the 2019 point-in-time count of the homeless, executed by Cranford-based Monarch Housing Associates, nearly 1,500 individuals were unsheltered on the night of the count, January 22. Most of the individuals experiencing homelessness were staying in an emergency shelter.

Twenty percent of the 2019 count was made up of children under 18.

The state has seen an overall decrease of 1,347 identified homeless persons since 2015. The 2019 count was down 5% from the year prior.

"While the slight decrease in homelessness in New Jersey is a positive result, unfortunately it is not indicative of a statewide trend as decreases were not demonstrated across the board in all communities," said Taiisa Kelly, CEO of Monarch Housing Associates.

According to Kelly, often the actual number of individuals experiencing homelessness is two to three times larger than the number counted. But this yearly count provides a consistent benchmark from which advocates can evaluate the effectiveness of strategies in place to combat the problem.

Essex County was home to the highest count of homeless persons — 2,235. The county represented a quarter of the total homeless population recorded. Hudson was the only other county with more than 800 homeless individuals counted. As few as 29 homeless individuals were spotted in Salem County, and 74 in Warren County.

The findings uncovered huge racial disparities in who experiences homelessness.

"Persons identifying as white and non-Hispanic are 56% of New Jersey's population, but only are 26% of those experiencing homelessness," said the nonprofit's Jay Everett. "Whereas black or African-American persons are 13% of New Jersey's population, and 49% of the homeless population."

In its report, Monarch Housing Associates said barriers to limiting homelessness include a shortage of rental housing, inadequate funding for related services, and many jobs that do not pay a living wage.

"Unfortunately, New Jersey continues to be one of the most expensive states to live in," Kelly said. "We applaud New Jersey's work to raise the minimum wage but it is still not quite enough. It is critical to invest in our future by assisting those experiencing homelessness to regain stability."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.