New Jersey's 9th annual Point-in-Time count of the homeless takes place tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 26.

Volunteers and homeless service providers will canvas the state, counting individuals and households who experience homelessness.

Kasey Vienckowski, senior associate and member of the ending homelessness team at Monarch Housing Associates said these volunteers and homeless service providers will interview people to find out where they slept the night before, those who stayed at shelters, transitional housing programs, hotels paid for by agencies, in the woods, under bridges, in vacant buildings and other locations.

She said the #NJCounts 22, which is mandated by The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a critical task made even more important amidst the omicron COVID-19 surge and the end of New Jersey's eviction moratorium.

"It's really important that communities have a clear picture of who is homeless, who is currently homeless, who is entering homelessness, and what are the barriers to getting people into permanent, stable housing," Vienckowski said.

Due to the pandemic, communities have had to change how they approach the count. They are relying more heavily on homeless service providers and community partners to conduct surveys and outreach to people experiencing homelessness in both sheltered and unsheltered locations.

Vienckowski said the planned outreach will be through Feb. 2.

Due to safety concerns, the traditional large events that used to be held have been reduced or canceled to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Data will be collected and analyzed by the people at Monarch Housing Associates. They expect to make the final report available in spring 2022.

In 2021, the statewide Point-in-Time count found 8,097 homeless men, women, and children in 6,210 households across New Jersey.

While she doesn't know what this year's Point-in-Time count will yield, Vienckowski said the pandemic has really impacted homelessness in the state. With the eviction moratorium, there were not a lot of people entering into homelessness. But she said, for two years, homeless providers have been preparing for this surge, knowing it was coming, just not knowing when that would be.

"This year's count will be critical to help communities respond to the wave of households that will be in need as the courts continue to work through the backlog of eviction cases that have been pending since as early as March 2020," Vienckowski said.

But she said there has been a lot of money from The American Rescue Plan and NJ CARES Act that have been able to help prepare for the surge and help households experiencing homelessness.

"So there has been a lot of really strategic work and looking at the data of who's homeless in the communities, working with the service providers and getting money out there to the people who need it," she said.

What could affect this year's count, however, is the temperature. Vienckowski said most communities will meet the Code Blue temperature of 32 degrees or below to open emergency warming centers. So that does provide communities with the ability to go to one central location, locate people who may have been unsheltered, might have the temperature been a little bit warmer.

The statewide NJ Counts 2021 report is available here.

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