By Christie Duffy
Barbara Blair is homeless. She lives in a motel room with her grandson and daughter. Ever since the sudden death of her husband, she’s struggled financially.
“I babysit for my daughter so she can work because she is also homeless,” Blair said.
She says they often fall into the gaps. Too poor to qualify for income brackets set by privately-owned but publicly-funded affordable housing complexes. But they collect too many benefits to qualify for other forms of assistance, like Medicaid or enough food stamps.
According to data collected by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the wage needed to afford a decent, one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey is a little over $18 an hour. The average renter makes just over $12 an hour.
“So we’re subject to living in the projects. And then the projects aren’t safe because of all the drugs so to have our children safe, we bring them to hotels,” said Blair.
A non-profit group called Citizens Serving the Homeless are looking to make a change. Rev. Thomas C. Miller calls what currently exists the “band-aid” approach — providing rental assistance for people to pay $65 a night to live in motels.
“That’s been the method for a very long time. It’s a very expensive method for the state and the county, in the millions, to pay for these rooms in what are known as welfare motels,” Miller, of Trinity United Church, said.
Rev. Miller’s group is building what they envision to be a more permanent solution, called Community of Hope. They plan to close on a vacant property in Lumberdon at the end of June where they want to build a multi-acre facility, housing 25 to 50 beds. He says they’ve been met with resistance, a “not in my backyard” push.
A couple of years ago, Burlington County launched a 10-year master plan to address homelessness.
“One of the tenants of our 10-year plan is to create a level of outreach that will make the community aware of what is available to them,” said Burlington County Public Information Officer Eric Arpert.
In addition to outreach, the county is building more affordable housing. They’re two years away from completing 44 new low income units.
Currently, there is one traditional overnight shelter in the county. And over 600 are estimated to be homeless here.