Child Homelessness Increasing in New Jersey

By Christie Duffy

One in 30 kids growing up in the United States is homeless. That’s 2.5 million children who don’t have any place to call home.

Roughly 17,000 of these kids live in New Jersey. And the numbers are climbing. All of this is according to a new report from the National Center on Family Homelessness.

“The concern is that with the numbers as big as they are, if we don’t have decisive action now to really address this problem, that goal of ending child and family homelessness by 2020 may become out of reach,” said National Center on Family Homelessness Director Dr. Carmela DeCandia.

Back in 2010, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness set its sights on ending chronic poverty in just five years. They’re seeing a steady decline, but according to the new report’s authors not among children.

“One of the biggest issues in New Jersey though is the disparity between the minimum wage and the income it would take to afford a two-bedroom apartment. So the minimum wage in New Jersey is $7.25 an hour. But if you were trying to get a two-bedroom apartment say for a mother and her two children, which is the typical profile of a homeless family, you would have to be making over $24 an hour to afford that apartment,” DeCandia said.

Overall, Jersey ranks fifth among the best states in the nation for child homelessness. But our state plummets about halfway down the list when measuring income and the cost of living.

New Jersey Citizen Action tries to help families stay in their homes.

“Thousands and thousands of families are being displaced in New Jersey. We’re number one there due to foreclosure. It’s causing a problem where children are being shuffled from one school to another because they don’t have a permanent place in which to live,” said New Jersey Citizen Action Executive Director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye.

New Jersey also ranks around the middle in the new report when it comes to state policies to protect our most vulnerable.

“When we compiled this we looked at whether the state has a plan and we don’t see a plan currently, right now that focuses on children and families for New Jersey,” DeCandia said.

“There used to be homeless prevention programs where emergency money was provided to families who lost their jobs or didn’t have jobs to keep them in their homes. Those programs are gone or the money is used up and hasn’t been replenished,” Salowe-Kaye said. “This administration hasn’t refunded them, renewed them or refreshed them.”

An NJTV analysis found earlier this year that for every shelter in New Jersey, there are 194 homeless in need of a bed. And many shelters are for single men only, not families with kids.

But not all the children counted in this report are actually living out on the street. Many are living on campgrounds, in abandoned buildings, in motels or with family and friends.

The reports authors’ say three out of four homeless families are living doubled up in some type of housing.

The National Center on Family Homelessness plans to present all of their findings to Congress this winter.