NEW JERSEY – “Where did you sleep last night?”
A simple question for most of us. Not so simple for the small portion of the population that is out of the public eye most of the time: the homeless.
This was the question asked to people coming in to the annual point-in-time count throughout the country. It’s meant to provide a snapshot of the larger problem of shelter insecurity – when people are not sure where they will be living.
In Monmouth County, the counts were conducted at the Jersey Shore Rescue Mission in Asbury Park, New Beginnings Agape Christian Center in Freehold, St. Mark’s Soup Kitchen in Keansburg, and Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank.
There were three locations in Ocean County that were used: the Lakewood Community Center, Ocean Community Church in Manahawkin, and the BEAT Center in Toms River. There were hygiene kits, snacks, and other donations available for them.
There were multiple reasons for this event, said Kathryn Colhoun, director of community resource development for Ocean Partnership for Children, while at the Toms River location. First, it helps local service agencies get an idea of how many homeless there are in an area. Second, it tells the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development how to distribute aid. Third, the direct giveaways to the area’s homeless bring them in where they can partake of other services.
The county Health Department was offering flu shots. Mental health, basic health screenings, legal services, veterans affairs, family planning, and of course housing situations were all part of the equation. Whether they were a veteran and are able to apply for benefits, or a victim of domestic violence, or in need of help with addiction, there were options available for them.
“A lot of people are getting linked to other services,” Colhoun said. “The goal is to count the homeless and get them services, but it’s really open to anyone in need.”
Everyone is asked where they are in the process of getting food stamps or housing from various agencies, said Rose Bulbach, coordinator of Human Services Advisory Council for the county department of human services. Some will say that they were already turned down. To this, staff will tell them to try again because criteria changes and people’s personal situations change.
Not everyone can come to one of these centers. Volunteers were also going out to where homeless are known to be and engaging them there.
Last year, NJCounts 2018 reported 9,303 men, women and children who were homeless on the night of Jan. 23, 2018. This was an increase of 771 from 2017, according to a press release.
In Ocean County, there were 311 people experiencing homelessness in 2018. Of those, 52 were identified as chronically homeless.
This number might be impacted this year by a number of other factors, according to NJCounts. The current federal shutdown will put government employees at risk of missing rent or mortgage and might cause them to lose their home. Additionally, federal programs are lacking funding that would normally help people who are at risk, causing them to slip closer to being homeless.
Other reasons that the count might be higher include less funding for affordable rental housing, and the increasing cost of health insurance and treatments.
Monarch Housing Associates is coordinating the count, and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency funds NJCounts 2019.