SOCIAL ISSUES

Volunteers count the state’s unsheltered homeless

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

A group of 70 volunteers from Trenton braved the cold weather to go out and find the unsheltered homeless as part of the annual, statewide point-in-time count.

“The count started overnight, and it’s the overnight period between Jan. 22 and Jan. 23. Trying to find out where folks stayed, if they stayed somewhere other than permanent housing or an emergency shelter,” said Jay Everett, an associate for Monarch Housing.

The organization directs NJ Counts 2019. The Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates local communities conduct a count each year. The survey is designed to better understand and serve New Jersey’s homeless population.

“We’re really trying to get as close to the exact number of folks who are experiencing homelessness in the state because we need to know what types of services and what level of service we need in order to provide housing to them,” said Everett.

Last year’s survey found 9,303 homeless men, women and children in the state. That was an overall increase of 771 persons, or 9 percent, compared to the year before.

Volunteers spent the day searching everywhere — even behind a vacant storefront, where they found tents and makeshift shelter — in the hopes of making contact with any person who is homeless.

“A lot of our homeless people during the daytime are on the move, so we have teams that are circulating throughout the city and throughout the county,” said Ben Thornton, director of outreach services at Anchor House. “But because people are on the move we have to find them in transit, and some people don’t want to be found, so sometimes those are some challenges with the count.”

“Last year was one of the scariest because we were walking towards a lady and she told us not to walk towards her because her pimp was watching her,” said volunteer Cornealia Powell. “Most of the people that I have met through the point-in-time went to college and have been through so much.”

Volunteers at the Trenton train station say they made contact with about 50 homeless people by 12 p.m.

“As far as the person that we’re interviewing, the only information we collect from them that identifies them is their first initial and the first two letters of their last name and their age,” said Bill Hackett, chief financial and administration officer for HomeFront. “We have found that the people we talk to are very, for the most part, very open about what’s going on and happy to talk about it with you.”

Volunteers also handed out bags filled with food and basic necessities to those in need. Everett says they should have the total count for this year’s survey in about two weeks.