The number given this year was lower than the 1,262 counted in 2007, and considerably lower than the 2,973 counted in April of 2006. But there is an explanation.
Susan Milan, Director of Supportive Housing for the Jersey City Episcopal Community Development Corporation, said last week that this year's count was different because the homeless were asked more questions in order to determine if they were completely homeless or sometimes living with friends or family.
"This year, the federal government mandated that [only] homeless people who were living in the streets, in a homeless shelter, or places not meant for habitation could be included in the count," Milan said. "The questions in the survey filled out in this year's count would determine if someone was 'doubling up' or getting temporary rental assistance from the county."
"Doubling up" refers to homeless people staying temporarily in someone else's apartment or a house while they look for a better solution. Temporary rental assistance is funding provided though the Hudson County Division of Welfare for those who are homeless or about to be homeless. It helps them pay rent and other expenses for up to a year.
One of the volunteers who carried out the count was Jacob DeLemos, Project Director for Housing Assistance for the Hudson County Division of Housing and Community Development.
DeLemos said that this year's count is too low, but said that the Point-In-Time survey is a "snapshot." He said he would like to see a year-long survey done of the Hudson County homeless population.
The count was conducted over 24 hours at various shelters and places where homeless people congregate, as well as at a one-day event at a Jersey City church to provide food and services for the homeless.
New laws will address situations
This past Wednesday, July 30, legislators and activists from around New Jersey attended a Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C. on how to help the homeless population in New Jersey. The briefing, in its second year, was organized by homeless advocacy organizations from across the state.
Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires were expected to attend, as well as the United Way of Hudson County and the Jersey City Episcopal Community Development Corporation.
Some asked for treatment
The count in January also included numbers for homeless people who specifically said they wanted mental health services, addiction services, or other treatment.
The Hudson County Alliance to End Homelessness was in charge of the annual Point-In-Time Count in Hudson County this year. The (HCAEH) is a coalition of representatives from local government organizations, the non-profit community, and the business sector.
In September of 2006, the group started work on a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness in Hudson County. The 10-year plan was unveiled in fall 2007 and approved by the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, and Jersey City's City Council. The plan sought mainly to get federal funding to build much more housing.
A "chronically homeless" person is a homeless individual who, due to mental illness or addiction, has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
DeLemos said since the 10-year plan was unveiled, some of the initiatives addressed in the plan are close to fruition, such as setting up a "homeless court" in various Hudson County municipalities in order to resolve homeless people's outstanding misdemeanor offenses and warrants that exists in various U.S. cities such as Houston and San Diego.
Also, DeLemos said that a contractor has been selected for the construction of eight units of permanent housing above the PERC homeless shelter in Union City.
Programs that are under consideration
Rep. Sires is a co-sponsor of the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2007, which amends the omnibus McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act passed by Congress in 1987 to provide money to shelter programs for homeless persons.
There are three shelters in Hudson County: PERC in Union City, St. Lucy's in Jersey City and the Hoboken Homeless Shelter in Hoboken.
The HEARTH ACT, which is currently under consideration in Congress, would expand the parameters of McKinney-Vento with such initiatives as increasing funding for federal homeless programs to $2.5 billion, and more importantly, for funding to go not only toward construction of permanent housing, but also for outreach and mental health services, transportation, legal services, health care, and income assistance.
In a statement issued by his Congressional office, Sires said last week, "By allowing more to be spent on preventing homelessness, Hudson County will be better off and have far fewer homeless persons than today."
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Some homeless asked for mental health or addiction treatment.