This was an overall increase of 1,898 persons, or 15.8%, compared to the 2013 count.
NJ Spotlight’s coverage not only reported on the numbers but also on solutions to homelessness and how local counties are responding to the homeless in their communities.
While the state’s homeless population grew significantly in 2014, according to an annual count, it appears relatively stable when measured over a five-year period — despite a tight economy, residential housing losses due to superstorm Sandy, and New Jersey’s high cost of living.
Major efforts to reduce the number of homeless in the state notwithstanding, the fact that the numbers remained stable is to be expected, given that the economy has yet to recover fully from the collapse of the housing bubble and the financial meltdown of 2007 and 2008, according to advocates for the homeless. Meanwhile, housing prices remain high and there continues to be a shortage of affordable rental units.
He noted that the “numbers present a thorny problem for advocates.“
There have been significant efforts around the state to move the homeless into housing and change the way agencies attempt to address the issue. But some areas, mostly in the state’s southern counties, have not moved quickly enough, advocates say.
The state conducts an annual point-in-time count — a census of the homeless in late January — intended to create a snapshot of the population. The count is used to allocate federal homeless funding every two years.
In the wake of the housing crisis, homelessness spiked and has remained relatively high. There were 8,296 individuals counted in 2005, which doubled to 17,036 in 2007. Tent encampments popped up around the state, most notably in Lakewood and Camden, and there was an influx of homeless from around the region to Atlantic City. Several counties responded with strong plans, advocates say, most notably Bergen, which is considered one of the models for addressing the problem by creating a single-stop social service center and by quickly moving people back into permanent housing. Mercer, Middlesex and Essex counties also have won praise for using a “housing first” approach, which mean putting homeless into permanent housing as quickly as possible and providing support services.