Two Sites in Southern Ocean County Prepare to Count Homeless on Jan. 24

Jan 16, 2018

The annual New Jersey Counts Point-in-Time census for the homeless is on Wednesday, Jan. 24. On that day, anyone who is homeless is asked to report to local sites to answer basic questions that will determine the amount each of New Jersey’s 21 counties receives from limited federal funding to help the homeless. The survey also helps state and county workers to understand the nature of the homeless population in order to best serve them.

In Ocean County, many of the sites are in Toms River or Lakewood, but two are in Southern Ocean: at the Ocean County Southern Service Center and the Greater Tuckerton Food Bank.

At both sites there are additional services offered that day: at the OCSSC in Manahawkin, 179 South Main St. (Route 9), the Board of Social Services will be offering help and Ocean County Family Planning will be there; also health screenings are offered plus free food and clothing. The OCSSC is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is being staffed by volunteers and workers from St. Francis Community Center.

The Greater Tuckerton Area Food Pantry, located at 148 North Green St. in Tuckerton behind the First United Methodist Church, will offer services from the Board of Social Services, health screenings, food and clothing. The Food Pantry is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers from Family Promise will be collecting the surveys.

In more-urban areas, volunteers actually search out the homeless in shelters, woods, under bridges and the like while our area requires the homeless to pull together their meager resources and find their way to the sites.

The federal Housing and Urban Development requires the Point-in-Time survey for its Continuum of Care Funding that comes from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency; Ocean County has just received word that it will receive funding of $612,635 for fiscal year 2018 (which runs from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018). In fiscal year 2017, it received  $566,500.

Last year Ocean County had 2.6 percent of homeless counted in New Jersey, or 224 persons in 148 households, a decrease of 206 persons (47.9 percent) and 98 households (39.8 percent) from FY 2016.

According to the statistics compiled by Monarch Housing Associates of Cranford, N.J., which compiles the yearly statistics for all of New Jersey, over the last five years there has been a significant decrease in homelessness: 458 persons or 67.2 percent. The largest decrease was seen in persons served in emergency shelters (Ocean County does not have a homeless shelter but uses hotels and motels), and the unsheltered homeless decreased 50 percent.

There are many ways a person becomes homeless. It may be because of a job loss, an illness, a rent increase, addiction problem, a falling-out between roommates or family members, or domestic violence.

Again according to Monarch Housing Associates, fleeing domestic violence was the number 1 reason for becoming homeless.

“When asked to share their primary factor that contributed or caused their homelessness, more households (26) attributed their homelessness to domestic violence (17.6 percent); the next biggest was being asked to leave a shared residence (14.2 percent) followed by a release from prison or jail (10.1 percent),” read the report.

Persons identifying themselves as white made up 55.8 percent of the homeless, 33.5 percent identified as black or African American, 10.3 percent identified as Hispanic, with 2.7 percent identified as others in the racial spectrum.

Most adults also reported a disability (72.2 percent), with mental health issues and substance abuse disorder the most prevalent (58.7 percent).

Thirty-nine adults were homeless due to domestic violence during the one-day Point of Service survey last year. Only six of the homeless counted in Ocean County last year were veterans – but this was an increase of four over 2016.

For this count the homeless who are living with relatives or on friends’ couches are not considered homeless. The survey counts only those who are in nonprofit or government shelters and those who are unsheltered at night – sleeping in doorways, under bridges or in the woods.

In 2016-17, 43 persons in Ocean County were unsheltered, an increase of 11 households. Of these, 74.4 percent were male and 23 percent female; 81.4 percent were white and 11 percent were black or African American, and 2.3 percent were Hispanic; 81.4 percent said they had a disability: half were physical and half mental.

Those responding last year when asked for priority services cited emergency housing, food, transportation, substance abuse treatment, mental health, medical care, dental care, utility, moving expenses, domestic violence, legal and immigration (only 1 percent), but 15 needed help with obtaining state identification. Fifteen requested childcare, 24 asked for education and 27 for employment training, three asked for veterans services and nine asked for help in family unification.

According to a press release from Monarch Housing Assistance, there were 8,532 homeless men, women and children statewide in 2017, a decrease of 4.6 percent from 2016.

Factors that contribute to homelessness in New Jersey are: a shortage of rental housing, driving up demand and costs; failure by Congress to increase funding for the federal Housing Choice Voucher program; New Jersey’s higher than the national average for foreclosures; and the fact that many jobs do not pay a living wage, plus those that do are leaving the state.

“According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 165,800 people in 70,000 New Jersey households use a voucher to afford decent, privately owned housing. In 2018, New Jersey could lose 5,500 vouchers if Congress does not increase renewal funding sufficiently to cover rising rents and other costs. In July of 2018 advocates plan to return to Washington D.C. for a reception to push for increased federal funding for vouchers and homeless services.”

And this year, Code Blue legislation requires any municipality with more than 10 homeless people to provide emergency warming centers during severe winter weather events.

— Pat Johnson

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