By Erin Delmore
In Bergen County, a first in the nation: the community is being hailed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for ending chronic homelessness.
“We triaged our by-name list one person at a time until we had no one left on that list. And then we started a new list so that we could house people before anyone could age into chronic homelessness again,” said Director of Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center Julia Orlando.
It’s the term the U.S. government uses to describe “long-term homelessness among people with disabilities and other complex needs.” Officials said Tuesday, around a quarter of Bergen County’s thousand-plus homeless residents were considered “chronically homeless.”
“Not only is this an accomplishment for this particular community, this is a proof point for us in the federal government and across the nation, for our partners at community solutions, for our partners and other federal agencies. It’s the proof point to show that we can actually end chronic homelessness across this country,” said HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Ann Oliva.
Chronic homelessness is on the decline nationwide. The current population is around three-quarters of what it was in 2010. But Bergen County — the site of the greatest gains — is also one of the wealthiest communities in the state, leading some to ask how its success can be replicated.
“So many cities across our country are struggling to end chronic homelessness but people who need shelter the most cannot get into them because of alcohol, or drugs, or mental illness, because of behavioral challenges. We made sure that all of those people, that before couldn’t get into shelters, not only could get into shelter, but were prioritized for shelter and prioritized for housing,” Orlando said.
Several hundred people use this shelter over the course of a year. Advocates say, consolidating resources saves taxpayer money.
“We eliminated all the temporary sub-standard shelters and consolidated into this beautiful building that offers shelter, nourishment, health and human services and access to permanent housing for anyone that needs it,” Orlando said.
“Our fellow human beings, especially the ones who have fallen on hard times, deserve our compassion and support. And they deserve a chance to overcome the circumstances that have led to their homelessness,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.
Bergen County made headlines when it announced an end to veteran homelessness last August. With today’s announcement on ending chronic homelessness, officials say they’re looking forward to the next goal: reducing homelessness overall in Bergen County.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.