Homeless Encampment letter details need for a plan to end homelessness

We received this letter that was also sent to the Asbury Park Press regarding the recent articles on the homeless encampment in Lakewood. The letter was written by Alison Recca-Ryan, NJ Director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

In an article that ran on October 18th concerning a “homeless encampment” in Lakewood, Freeholder Director John P. Kelly is quoted as saying, “There’s no shortage of housing for these homeless.  There is funding for anyone who qualifies.”   People experiencing homelessness are at immediate personal risk and have a basic right to safety, as do all members of our community. The homeless population in Ocean County is as diverse as those of us who reside in our own homes throughout the state.  Our identities are mixed – families, individuals, single parents raising children, churchgoers, employed – underemployed – and unemployed, with personal histories of mental health needs, addiction issues and histories of incarceration.  The only thing that separates many of NJ residents from those living in the homeless encampment is one to three paychecks.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandates that a point-in-time count of the homeless be conducted every two years.  On January 25, 2007 when that count took place, 366 adults and 134 children were identified as homeless in Ocean County.  While that number may not seem highly significant to some, empirical research tells us that in reality the true homeless numbers are two to four times higher than a count identifies.  And while Ocean County should be applauded for a 14% decrease in the number of people living on the street,  it is time for Ocean County to move forward with other counties in New Jersey and communities across the county to develop and implement a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.   Ocean County must move forward to develop a plan that actively seeks long term and sustainable solutions to the issue, rather than continuing to simply manage episodes of homelessness as they occur.  Ocean County Freeholders need to make a commitment to ensure that there is an appropriate, affordable roof over the bed of everyone living in Ocean County – whether young or old, living alone or with families, sick or well.

Ending a complex problem like homelessness requires a commitment from all members of our communities – government officials, philanthropies, faith and civic groups, communities of color and their institutions and organizations, businesses including small business owners, housing and service providers, and concerned individuals. It requires a willingness to examine the assumptions under which we have approached this issue in the past, to assess honestly and critically our activities and initiatives, and, ultimately, to do business differently through changing systems, redirecting existing resources, and securing commitments for additional funding.

I urge Freeholder Director John P. Kelly to take ownership of the homeless situation in his county and to form a Committee to End Homelessness  that will be a unified effort to provide the vision and leadership required to develop and implement a plan to end homelessness in Ocean County. Homeless or formerly homeless youth and adults, faith communities, philanthropy, businesses, local governments, non-profit human service providers, non-profit housing developers, advocates, and other stakeholders from throughout the county need to be engaged and involved in the planning process.  In crafting such a plan, I further urge Freeholder Director Kelly to insure that the plan encompasses more than just creating housing units – it should also call for implementing a range of prevention and service-delivery strategies that have been demonstrated to be more effective and efficient than current practices.  A significant focus of the plan needs to focus on investing our precious local resources in a manner that better serves homeless people and, in so doing, using our resources more effectively.

Alison Recca-Ryan, NJ Director
Corporation for Supportive Housing
650 South Broad Street, 3rd Floor
Trenton, New Jersey 08611