The signs of the homeless have become so common and prevalent that I worry we don’t see them. Whether it’s a disheveled person standing on the street corner with a sign or someone wearing tattered clothing pushing a shopping cart uphill with belongings they deem important, we no longer see the human tragedy. Sometimes, we just avert our gaze. Other times, they look like us, yet they are homeless.
I don’t share statistics with my readers to raise alarm or to sensationalize the issue. But I do share them frequently to provide a sense of scale — how widespread it is — and the depth of the problem.
Here are facts of homelessness in our nation:
- In January 2017, 553,742 people were homeless on any given night in the United States. Of that number, 184,661 were people in families, and 369,081 were individuals.
- Homelessness increased by 1% or 3,814 people overall between 2016 and 2017.
- 1/4 of individuals experiencing homelessness had chronic patterns of homelessness (86,962 of 369,081 homeless individuals or 24%).
- Homeless veterans make up approximately 9% or 40,056 of all homeless adults.
- About 40,799 of those were unaccompanied homeless youth and children, under the age of 25.
Here are facts of homelessness in New Jersey
- There are 8,532 homeless men, women, and children across the state of New Jersey.
- This was an overall decrease of 409 persons or 4.6% since the 2016 count.
- There were 1,092 persons, in 992 households, were identified as chronically homeless, an increase of 256 persons or 30.6% compared with 2016.
- There were 1,415 persons who were unsheltered; a decrease of 27 persons, or 1.9% from 2016.
Source: The New Jersey 2017 Point-In-Time/Dept. of Housing & Urban Development
There are two basic approaches to the homelessness issue. The first is personal involvement, whether it is helping someone find a shelter, working in a food bank (as we have written about in the past), donating a bagful of much needed groceries through church or social service organizations, or simply by showing some respect and love the next time you walk past someone living on the streets. You can help with all of these.
You can also call 877-652-1148 for help if you know of someone who is struggling with homelessness or visit https://www.nj211.org/ and search their database using the term “Emergency Shelter Clearinghouse.”
Then there is the broader or strategic action, and that is my responsibility as your representative in the legislature. Even more so since becoming the Chair of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. When you voted me into office, you indicated that I should, indeed must, serve all our people, and that includes the less fortunate or those who are now struggling.
Homelessness is more than a struggle, it is a life-threatening event, and here are two examples of causes I have championed.
Senate Bill S-177 establishes the Tiny Home Pilot Program in three areas of the state. Tiny homes are modest in size, no larger than 300 square feet of interior floor space. The bill would require the Executive Director of New Jersey’s Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency to select three regions in New Jersey as a three-year pilot program. Under this legislation, we would award grants for the construction of eligible projects with the chosen pilot communities and rent the properties to very low-income families or individuals that qualify for very low-income housing.
This pilot program helps to address the issue of homelessness plaguing New Jersey by providing viable housing options for residents that are struggling financially and for the State’s homeless population. I would add that by providing this option, we could possibly save funds that we already spend on social service efforts that are engaged in helping the homeless.
Senate Bill S-2737 would allow the county homelessness trust funds to be used to help support homeless shelter services when there is an influx of people during Code Blue alerts. A Code Blue alert is declared whenever temperatures drop below the freezing point and weather conditions pose a danger to the homeless population. The Code Blue Alert allows authorities to take homeless people to local shelters or other agencies, known as Warming Centers. These shelters make additional beds and space available until conditions improve and the alert is called off.
Winter months are the toughest for the homeless, as shelters struggle to house an increased number of people seeking refuge from the cold temperatures. Giving shelters the flexibility to access the county homelessness trust fund during a Code Blue alert is a compassionate solution to this very real, human problem. Instead of turning people away, the shelters can instead open their doors and help more homeless find the warmth and comfort they deserve.
There is no easy solution for a problem that seems ever present. But I believe that with your support and helping those you know who might be edging toward homelessness, combined with caring, common sense legislation, we stand a chance of making a difference.
That’s my take, what’s yours?