South Jersey homeless gather for tally

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South Jersey homeless gather for tally

By JASON LAUGHLIN
Courier-Post Staff

MOUNT HOLLY

Zenda Clinton has spent the past three years wandering from one emergency shelter to another.

“As long as it’s clean and it’s healthy and I’m not picking up anything,” she said of housing standards.

The soft-spoken 31-year-old, bundled in coats and a knit cap, was one of thousands being surveyed across the state Thursday in an effort to put a face on homelessness in New Jersey and to respond to it.

Volunteers scattered throughout the state’s 21 counties to find the homeless and ask them questions, such as where they will sleep, what money they had and what kind of social service benefits they’ve received. The need for the survey became clearer on Thursday as temperatures fell to the low 20s and many counties declared a weather emergency, opening emergency shelters to keep the homeless from freezing on the streets.

The last count in New Jersey recorded 11,000 homeless, but activists estimate there are actually about 25,000 homeless. The federal government allocates $31 million to the state for programs to aid homeless people.

Burlington County officials estimated about 900 live there. There were 180 counted in Gloucester County in 2006. And about 1,200 in Camden County, with about 1,000 of those living in Camden city, said Brian Colangelo, a social worker with Project HOPE.

Camden city has one permanent shelter with 30 beds. For everyone else, the streets or maybe a spot over a grate at the Rand Transportation Center has to suffice, he said.

Even with the declaration of a Code Blue — meaning cold weather requires shelters take all comers — in Camden and Burlington counties, there’s still never enough room.

“I had a client who came in and he was in the hospital a couple weeks,” Colangelo remembered. “Then he was discharged from the hospital and didn’t have anywhere to go and he ended up at the transportation center and someone found him . . . dead.”