Counting the homeless in Sussex County

This is an article appear in the New jersey Herald on the Sussex Point in Time Count and Project Homeless Connect.

Counting the homeless

Friday, January 26, 2007

By BILL WICHERT

Herald Staff Writer

NEWTON — “Hello?”

GiGi Heim stood at the front of an abandoned tractor trailer off a back road in Sparta, and waited for a response. After trudging along snow-covered, rocky paths, and past a stream and thorny bushes, Heim was looking for anyone who might be sleeping outside in the cold.

“Anybody need some help?” called out Duke DeGroat, one of the three people assisting Heim.

No one was there, and the group hit the roads to continue their search Thursday for homeless individuals as part of the fourth survey conducted every two years around the country to find people and get them the help they need.

The survey is used both as the basis for federal grants to social service agencies and to provide services to homeless people living outside the public eye in rural Sussex County — moving from one friend’s couch to another, sleeping behind supermarkets and living in motels.

“It’s an invisible issue in the county. They blend in. We don’t know who they are,” said Suzanne Rosen, director of the Sussex County United Way. “This count will be submitted and, hopefully in future years, our funding will be increased and services will go up.”

The final tally from Thursday’s count was not available yet, but the last count in January 2005 found at least 354 homeless people in Sussex County, 66 more than the number counted in the previous survey. Statewide, about 11,000 homeless people were counted two years ago.

The newest addition this year was an event called “Project Homeless Connect” at Manna House on Church Street, where residents received food, clothing, hair cuts, massages, and the opportunity to meet representatives of different social service agencies. About 76 people came to the site for lunch Thursday, organizers said.

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