By Briana Vannozzi
Theresa Pringle says she’s the new face of homelessness.
“I’m educated. I look just like you. I walk and talk well. But I don’t have a roof. And I don’t have my own key,” she said.
Like many who find themselves without a home, her rent became unaffordable. All it took was one major bill to pull the rug from beneath her feet. She’s been displaced for a little over a year and right now. She’s staying at a shelter in Newark.
“It’s not that you want or I want a handout. It’s a hand up with first affordable housing and secondly to be able to work again on a full-time basis. And that sometimes is often difficult. I’ve done it while being homeless and it was hard,” she said.
According to the state’s annual count, the number of homeless people in New Jersey dropped by nearly 12.5 percent this year compared to 2015.
Monarch Housing conducted the count on Jan. 26. It found a little over 8,900 homeless men, women and children statewide. In 2015 there were just over 10,000.
The highest pockets of homelessness were in Essex, Burlington and Hudson counties.
“Folks that are experiencing barriers such as loss of job income, loss of benefits, maybe they have a disabling condition they’re struggling with or a traumatic event like being victimized by domestic violence,” said Jay Everett.
Everett is with Monarch Housing. He can tick off a number of barriers to preventing and ending homelessness. But jobs, affordable rent and funding for voucher programs top his list.
“It’s really great to have voucher programs that may help someone lease up in the community, be stabilized, but there’s two things that are necessary for that to happen. Number one, you have to have housing available that’s affordable. If you’re giving someone temporary help and they can’t afford it afterwards, it’s not helpful to them,” he said.
Getting back on your feet while under assistance is no easy task either.
“There are some other shelters where you cannot rest safely and your personal life. You might go to sleep with your shoes on and you wake up with them off. And it sounds funny but it is very true, people who will run your pockets, sexual inappropriateness,” Pringle said.
Although homelessness is down, the number of unsheltered individuals has increased. That’s people living here on the street or in cars or other buildings.
That number jumped up 48 percent, from 974 people in 2015 to just over 1,400 this year.
“It is one of the baseline measurements we use to try to track how our efforts are doing and what people are struggling with. So it’s not a complete picture but we also try to glean what we can about what the needs are,” Everett said.
But that picture does offer a glimpse. And for many it’s a sobering sight to how easily a life can fall between the cracks.