Change in approach helps New Jersey cut homeless rate in half

In this Oct 2012 photo

In this Oct 2012 photo

Homelessness in New Jersey has fallen nearly 50 percent over the last nine years, according to a new report from the federal government.

Since 2007, the number of residents living in or at risk of homelessness has dropped by 8,419. That includes a more than 70 percent decrease in the number of chronically homeless.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development analyzed data collected from 2007 to 2016 across the country during annual “point in time” counts — that is a coordinated accounting of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night.

Taiisa Kelly with Union County-based Monarch Housing Associates, which coordinates New Jersey’s annual count, said the significant decrease in the state’s homeless population could stem from more cities and counties embracing the idea of getting people housed as quickly as possible — models known as “housing first” or “rapid rehousing.”

“The older model kind of worked from the assumption that first you had to address your issues before you could be ready to be placed in housing,” Kelly said. “What we found is that there was a segment of the population that was never able to address their issues before they got into housing.”

For example, Atlantic County’s “single point of entry” program, started in 2014, is a one-stop location where people receive a needs assessment and have access to an array of services from housing to mental health and drug counseling.

Last year, Camden County launched its “housing first” program in partnership with Cooper University Hospital, which is working to pull poor and homeless residents out of a revolving door of emergency rooms and jails by providing them with rental vouchers.

Kelly believes if more communities continue to adopt these models and redirect existing financial resources to them, the number of homeless in New Jersey will continue to fall.

“We are hopeful communities can continue to implement these strategies,” she said.

An estimated 5,540 individuals and 3,355 people in families with children are still considered homeless in New Jersey.

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