Annual count says homelessness drops in New Jersey, more kids on their own

 Michael Carter, a homeless veteran in Bridgeton, N.J., says he sometimes finds shelter in abandoned homes. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Michael Carter, a homeless veteran in Bridgeton, N.J., says he sometimes finds shelter in abandoned homes. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Overall homelessness has declined in New Jersey since last year, according to an annual point-in-time survey conducted by Monarch Housing, a Cranford-based nonprofit, in January.

But chronic homelessness and the number of unaccompanied children living on the street grew, the report found.

“Even though there is a reduction in homeless, which is always a good thing,” said Jay Everett, an associate at Monarch Housing, “there’s still a long way to go.”

When it surveyed the entire state on January 24th, Monarch tallied 8,532 homeless people, a 4.6 percent decrease from 2016.

While advocates applauded an overall reduction in the state’s homeless population, the report concluded that the number of people lacking reliable housing in the Garden State remained roughly the same year over year.

Within that number, specific populations of homeless ebbed and flowed.

Homelessness among families dropped slightly, but the number of children on their own without housing nearly doubled. Canvassers found 49 homeless kids, fending for themselves.

Chronic homelessness also increased, accounting for more than one thousand of the people counted.

The failure of every other system

Monarch researchers say a number of factors can force stable New Jerseyans out of their homes. Low wages, limited access to the social safety net, the foreclosure crisis, and a high cost of living are among the risk factors for a life on the streets. “One of the things homelessness is sometimes called is the failure of every other system,” said Everett.

“Rising housing costs in New Jersey and across the nation put the gains made in recent years to address homelessness at risk,” said Diane Yentel, President & CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “We should be expanding investments in proven housing solutions to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.”

Yentel and other housing advocates have criticized proposed cuts in President Trump’s budget that they say would exacerbate homelessness in states like New Jersey, including cuts to Medicaid and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But Robin Weinstein, founder of the M25 initiative, a Cumberland County anti-homelessness project, said that local lawmakers and residents are realizing that homelessness can happen to anyone — and it’s preventable.

“Having a home should be a human right — not an economic privilege,” he said.

Counter to the statewide trend, Cumberland County saw a slight increase in homelessness this year.

Weinstein is aiming to end chronic homelessness in the South Jersey county by offering housing vouchers and wraparound services to people without a home for an extended period of time. “That way, when people lose a job, they’re not necessarily losing a roof over their head.”

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