Survey of homeless required for U.S. aid

This was in today’s Bergen Record. To read the full article click here.

Survey of homeless required for U.S. aid
Friday, January 26, 2007

By RICHARD COWEN and MONSY ALVARADO
STAFF WRITERS

It was time to count the homeless. And it was cold, the brutal kind that tells you right away what it’s like to live on the street.

But somewhere out there were perhaps thousands of people in need of help. Armed with clipboards and questionnaires, a small army of volunteers endured Thursday’s blast of winter, searching North Jersey’s hideaways for a segment of the population that often seems unreachable.

They visited soup kitchens and shelters, alleys and bridge trestles in a one-day survey needed to secure federal funding.

And although the numbers were still being compiled at day’s end, the problem’s scope could forecast using last year’s count: 1,033 homeless in Bergen County and 654 in Passaic County.

The survey, known as the Point-in-Time Count, is conducted twice a year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how much federal aid New Jersey will get to deal with homelessness.

The plummeting temperatures added a sense of urgency for the volunteers. But the weather also made it harder to find the homeless, who were hunkered down.

“It’s frustrating,” said Roger M. Lindahl, 51, who searched Paterson in a van. “They picked the coldest day of the year and it looks like it’s driven a lot of people off the streets. They’re hard to find.”

The volunteers carried blankets and food — and survey forms. When they found someone, they asked six questions, beginning with the big one every homeless person asks each day:

Where will you sleep tonight?

Then: How long the person had been homeless; family, medical history, and whether they had received any government help. Respondents didn’t have to give their names.

Bergen and Passaic counties also used the survey as an opportunity to set up outreach programs. The Orchard Street shelter in Hackensack and the Harbor House at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson became drop-in centers offering not only food and clothing, but Social Security benefits, drug and alcohol counseling, medical screenings — even haircuts.

Among the visitors to Harbor House was New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells, who told social workers that many people are only one paycheck away from homelessness. She added that Hurricane Katrina showed the face of homelessness on a huge scale.

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