SOCIAL ISSUES

Bergen County rolls out task force to help tackle youth homelessness

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Everything 24-year-old Allen Humphries owns — his most prized possessions — fit inside two clear plastic containers.

“So, to have to get rid of more than half of your belongings was a different sensation, and it made me appreciate what I did have and make the most of it,” he said.

He’s been seeking shelter at the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center for about three months now after his struggles with mental health issues caused him to be kicked out of his parents’ home.

“It was very nerve-racking. I’m staying up using caffeine, coffee or energy drinks to stay up so I can have the energy to walk the city until it’s darker, and then at night head back closer to where I was living at the time,” Humphries said.

Humphries is the exact demographic Bergen County leaders hope to reach. Thursday, they created a task force targeting homeless 18- to 24-year-olds.

“Two years ago we were the first county in New Jersey to eliminate homelessness among our veteran population. Last year, we were the first in the entire country to achieve functional zero in terms of chronic homeless in Bergen County. Now, we’re launching an effort to address homelessness among our young adult population,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.

The 16-member panel will include members of this very population who will use their lived experiences to help guide policies and identify ways to stem the problem.

“A lot of our young adults are hidden. We know about 50 percent of them may even be couch-surfing, so it’s important for us to improve our ways of looking at where our homeless youth are. Whether they’re in college, if they’re going to soup kitchens, looking at different ways we don’t look for our adult population,” said Julie Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Service Center.

“They may be homeless as a result of parental or family rejection, especially in the case of LGBTQ young people who are twice as likely to experience youth homelessness and make up 40 percent of this population nationally,” Tedesco said.

In fact, high housing costs, low wages and student debt were among top reasons for youth to be out of a home. Research shows, nationally one in every 10 young adults ages 18 to 25 endures some form of homelessness in a year.

“We need to look at risk. One of the most important things is in the youth that we’re serving, even in homelessness, we don’t accurately assess their risk. So by some new tools, some new data sets, we’re actually going to be able to determine who needs more services to be successful in community,” said Orlando.

The county expects to see changes within the next 90 day. That’s when the task force will be fully running and operational, with the end goal of a functional zero for all three of these homeless populations.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform 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.