Could a new, permanent homeless shelter come to Burlington County?

MOUNT HOLLY−The county is pursuing a plan for a permanent homeless shelter.

In her state-of the-county message at the annual Burlington County Commission reorganization earlier this month, Democrat Felicia Hopson of Willingboro announced a new county initiative to help those with no place to stay − a permanent homeless shelter.

Hopson was nominated to be this year's commission director.

Hopson’s unexpected announcement that the county already has developed plans for a shelter was brief and without details. It followed the installation of new county sheriff James Kostoplis to a three-year term, the swearing-in of county Commissioner Allison Eckel to a three-year term after she had served an unexpired term that ended Dec. 31 and the selection of Tom Pullion as the commission's deputy director.

“I am pleased to report we are making progress on a permanent shelter. And we will have more to announce very soon,” revealed Hopson, who previously served as commission director in 2020 and 2021 before Commissioner Daniel O’Connell was named to lead the all-Democrat body last year.“Burlington County needs a permanent shelter where individuals can receive a warm bed, food and support — not just during the frigid cold but throughout the year. This is decades overdue,” the director explained.

“We’re a community of compassion, one that welcomes residents of all races, nationalities and backgrounds. We work to protect the vulnerable and lift up the underserved ... and must remain community-focused and mission-driven.”

County officials have declined to provide specifics about the shelter plan, such as the location. However, a review of the new fiscal 2023 federal budget contains an earmark requested by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker for $3 million in housing construction funds specifically for a Burlington County shelter to benefit low and moderate-income families. The earmark also is posted on his website.

County government is headquartered in Mount Holly but has major complexes in Westampton and Pemberton Township that could be possible shelter sites if one was to be built on existing county land.

The last annual point-in-time count taken of homeless in New Jersey in January 2022 found that Burlington County had 15 homeless persons without shelter but 570 others in various types of emergency shelter or transitional housing that included hotels, motels and individual rooms or apartments operated by housing nonprofits, such as the five agencies under the umbrella Affordable Homes Group of Westampton.Gloucester County Democrat Steve Sweeney, attended the reorganization and offered brief, congratulatory remarks to those taking office. State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, administered the oath to most of those taking office.

In her four years in office, Hopson has been committed to pursuing new community-based services for the needy, businesses and veterans and, this year, outlined expansion of some of the county’s other community-based programs for 2023.

These community programs created by the county since 2019 include the Housing Hub, which has provided various types of assistance from emergency shelter to utility bill payments for 2,000 clients experiencing housing issues, and Lift Up (Lunches & Information For Tenants and Underserved Populations) in Pemberton Township and Mount Holly.

Hopson said there are plans to expand Lift Up to other municipalities this year.

She also announced that Burlington County Restaurant Week, a popular once-a-year initiative by the county started during the pandemic to help small businesses, would be held twice this year, in March and August.

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