Homeless count for a day Volunteers take statewide census of destitute
Friday, January 26, 2007
BY JEFF TRENTLY
TRENTON — Kathy Shaw scrambles down the embankment toward the river. It is cold; the wind chills her face and ears.
“Hello,” she calls out under a bridge near the city’s Capital dome.
“Hello? Tom?” she shouts, and crawls around a fence. In her bag is a blanket, a scarf, some toiletries.
Kathy Shaw is 60 years old.
Beneath the bridge are cots and sheets, shoes and bedding.
“I tried to get the guys under the bridge to come to the mission,” Shaw says as she paces by the water. “It’s gonna be 12 degrees tonight.”
Earlier, Shaw took the names of the men who live under the bridge. She gave them survival bags and told them to seek shelter before nightfall. One man, Tom, said he’d spend the night at the bridge.
This is how you count the homeless in a city like Trenton.
Under bridges. By train stations.
“They’re everywhere,” Shaw says. “We have too many.”
Throughout the state yesterday, people like Kathy Shaw were counting people like Tom. Over 15 hours, every county in the state worked to complete the largest census of the homeless ever attempted in New Jersey. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the count be done every two years. The results help determine the size of federal assistance grants.
Two years ago, 1,800 homeless people were counted in Trenton. An April count last year registered about 900.
“But about half the people on the street refuse to do the count,” says Tarry Truitt, project manager for the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness.
About 25,000 people are homeless each year in New Jersey, Truitt says. Half of the homeless in Mercer County are families, she says.
“It’s pretty damn sad,” Shaw says as she stands outside the Salvation Army near the Trenton train station, where she meets Robert, who tells her he was homeless for 17 years. Shaw’s been counting homeless people and giving them survival bags since 9 in the morning, and she’ll be at it until 9 at night.
At the YWCA on East Hanover Street, census-takers were offering food, blankets, clothes, haircuts, medical and social service information to more than 525 homeless people as part of Project Homeless Connect.