Jersey Journal Editorial on County Homeless Plan

The Jersey Journal published the following editorial today about the importance of ending homelessness.

Homelessness stats not moving, Thursday, January 31, 2008

For the homeless in Hudson County, time has stopped and the words about improving their condition are just echoes of years past.

Tuesday, there was a news conference at Grace Church Van Vorst in Jersey City. It was to coincide with Project Homeless Connect, an annual event where many Hudson County nonprofit agencies set up tables to provide services to the homeless.

Officials are saying the obvious by offering that the basic approach to ending homelessness in the county is to provide housing. County Executive Tom DeGise said that ideally, with housing, service providers can “bring them there and bring the services to them.”

At the press conference, it was noted that the county has about 300 chronic homeless and another 2,700 people who are in and out of homelessness, but enrolled in programs.

Last year, a mix of professionals and volunteers scoured places where homeless people are likely to be found – from traditional shelters to PATH stations to the hills of North Hudson. They came up with a count of about 2,900 homeless, about the same as the previous year. The constant homeless number was set at about 300 for those years.

And each year, it is mentioned that Hudson County only has 180 shelter beds.

The figures do not change much.

The idea of homes for the homeless sounds nice, but Daniel Altilio, president of United Way of Hudson County, is right when he said the focus on permanent housing has a long way to go in Hudson County. Altilio added that affordable land is hard to obtain for additional shelter facilities.

This is not to belittle the county executive’s suggestion. Actually, there is merit in the concept. First, if housing is available, then there can be a concentrated case management approach to help these individuals.

Some around the country attack the problem by targeting the chronically homeless who make up a smaller percentage of the homeless population but absorb the majority of the resources available. Success here could mean a wider range of help for the larger portion of this helpless population.

Homeless advocates and politicians have a challenge to go beyond an annual count and wishing for more shelters.