Cumberland County strives to end chronic homelessness by 2020

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 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)

Cumberland officials and a slew of nonprofit, health care, and faith leaders announced an ambitious plan to end chronic homelessness in the South Jersey county in three years by offering permanent housing to qualified residents.

Looking at John LaTourette’s obituary, it is not obvious that he died on the streets.

But the 61-year-old Bridgeton man was one of several deceased homeless people remembered at an event Friday announcing a new initiative to offer permanent housing to Cumberland County’s chronically homeless.

“Triaging the effects of homelessness is not a sustainable practice and, indeed, will be a failure if we allow the problem to continue,” said Rob Weinstein, president of the M25 initiative, a religious nonprofit aimed at helping the needy in Cumberland County.

County officials and a slew of nonprofit, health care, and faith leaders announced an ambitious plan to end chronic homelessness in the county in three years by offering permanent housing to qualified residents.

The “housing-first” approach is based on the belief that homeless people need a roof over their heads before they can truly get back on their feet.

The group, known as the Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative, will distribute 42 housing vouchers provided by the state Department of Community Affairs.

Recipients of the vouchers will have to pay 30 percent of their income to their landlord, while DCA will cover the rest of the rent cost.

Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly said a new approach to combating homelessness was needed in Cumberland County, which is largely rural and poor.

“We really don’t have the resources of big cities,” said Kelly. “So we have to utilize some type of ingenuity in dealing with this.”

Residents are considered chronically homeless if they have been living on the streets for the past year or if they have been homeless for a total of 12 months over the past three years.

Getting by without a homeThe 2015 point-in-time homeless survey found more than 200 people living on the streets of Cumberland County.

Officials estimate that about 60 people are chronically homeless in the county.

One of them is Michael Carter, who said he became homeless five years ago after an argument with the mother of his child.

“Sometimes we have to panhandle for something to eat,” said Carter. “[Sometimes we] go out and do a yard or something like that, or ask people if can we can cut their grass or cut down trees.”

An Air Force veteran and a senior citizen, Carter said living on the streets has been a constant struggle between providing for himself and conserving what resources he has. “This morning I went to Dunkin’ Donuts. A girl that knows me there gave me a free doughnut. And right now I know I’ll go to Salvation Army to eat lunch. And then from the Salvation Army I’ll go up to St. Teresa [of Avila church] to eat lunch again and package my food so I’ll have something at nighttime to eat.”

Carter said he lost his job three months ago, so he collects unemployment benefits. He won’t apply for the new housing vouchers, he said, because other homeless people need them more than he does.

“Me? I’m a hustler. I’m a man. I can do for me. But there’s a lot of people who don’t get no money at all, don’t get no assistance at all, that’s not able to do for theirselves.”

Weinstein said three people have already applied for the housing vouchers in Cumberland County. He hopes to secure more vouchers from DCA next year to distribute to the rest of the county’s chronically homeless population.

In addition to housing assistance, the collaborative will offer homeless residents wraparound services, including vocational training, mentoring, drug and alcohol rehab, and physical and behavioral health care.

Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative partner organizations include the Cumberland County Jail; Inspira Health Network; Monarch Housing; Family Strengthening Network; Rutgers University; Gateway Community Action Partnership; PRAC of Southern New Jersey; Resources for Independent Living; CompleteCare; and Revive South Jersey.

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