HEALTH

Camden County launches program to expand homeless outreach

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Lack of Housing is only one of multiple challenges for people who find themselves homeless. Camden County is working on a new way to help. And their model may lead to a re-definition of the term “homeless” for those still chasing the dream. Briana Vannozzi reports.

Sharanda Williams, 24, searched for new clothes at a homeless outreach event in Camden County. She’s been struggling with addiction and has been out of work for more than three years.

“It’s been a struggle, it’s been a struggle,” said Williams, “My mom just threw me out on the street and I’m depending on St. Joseph’s or other homeless organizations that can help, so I don’t know. Hoping for a few new doors to open here.”

Camden County freeholders want to draw more people like Williams off the street and in for assistance. They’re rolling out a new multi-pronged, holistic approach to ending homelessness.

“What we’re doing is we’re looking at all aspects of what leads and causes homelessness and how to fix it. From couch-surfers, to the chronic homeless, to the person re-entering,” said Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez.

“We use the term homeless, but we’re talking about vulnerable people, people who have health vulnerabilities, substance abuse, mental health and they’re all interrelated and if we don’t attend to them they’re not likely to come off the street.”

For starters, they’ll hold resource fairs at Cathedral Kitchen in Camden City to bring social service agencies together under one roof, and eliminate the need for the unsheltered to hop from office to office in search of aid.

“Through our new initiative called ‘Give Hope,’ Volunteers of America will expand our homeless outreach team to provide shelter and housing placement to people experiencing homelessness and navigate them to the needed treatment services so they can remain stably housed,” said Pat McKernan, COO of Volunteers of America.

Volunteers of America is also spearheading a re-entry and navigator program by linking the homeless with social service workers available 24/7. They can access those services online or by calling the homeless hotline at (800) 331-7272. The organization will also provide opportunities for those returning home from incarceration, like Mark Woodall, who got a second chance as a chef at CK Café.

“Coming home from prison and not having a place to stay is a very scary thing. And, with programs not in place to help the people, they have no opportunity or choice than to go back to what they usually do,” said Woodall.

“One of the needs we’ve identified over the past three years through the creation of the Camden County Opioid Addiction Task Force is to help those with addiction and substance abuse problems who find themselves homeless as a result of their disease,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.

Outreach coordinators will work with local and county law enforcement to comb the streets and encampments. Roughly 40 percent of the homeless population in Camden county comes from the city alone.

These resources aren’t just for the unsheltered, but for those who are one missed paycheck or one medical emergency away from being in the same position.

“We use the term homeless, but we’re talking about vulnerable people, people who have health vulnerabilities, substance abuse, mental health and they’re all interrelated. If we don’t attend to them they’re not likely to come off the street,” said McKernan.

“It’s all about believing in people, believing people can change, that people can make it,” said Williams.

And, by focusing on the causes and a solution.

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.

TOPIC: HEALTH