NJ Counts 2014, the most recent count of the homeless, found almost 850 homeless people in the two counties. Housing prices have increased drastically in recent years. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, the wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent is $21.90-per-hour and $19.71-per-hour respectively. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the two counties is $1,139 and $1,025 per month respectfully. Too many people who work but do not earn enough are falling through the cracks without a safety net to catch them.
Young adults are one of the most vulnerable populations. Chelsea was 18 when, two years ago, she first came to Atlantic City’s Covenant House, an international organization dedicated to serving the needs of homeless and at-risk young people. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Bipolar Disorder and experiencing abuse in the home, Chelsea had been asked to leave home by her mother when she was 16. Having nowhere else to turn, Chelsea stayed in adult shelters and psychiatric hospitals before finding Covenant House.
During her two years living at Covenant House, Chelsea learned to stabilize her mental illness, made amends with her parents and participated in life-skill classes. In 2013, when she became eligible for Covenant House’s Rental Assistance Program, she moved into her own apartment. She receives assistance from a voucher program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She learned to follow a budget and saved the $1,500 she needed to move into her own apartment.
Today, Chelsea maintains her apartment in Atlantic City and receives support services from the Covenant House staff, who help her with the basic necessities of food and clothing and ensure that she continues to develop life skills such as managing her medication and budgeting. Chelsea plans to study for the High School Equivalency exam and hopes to enroll in college. She and her cat love their home and neighborhood. Giving back to her community, Chelsea regularly volunteers at the local animal shelter.
Contemplating life without her apartment and support services, Chelsea said, “I think about that a lot. I’d probably be in one of the other shelters or programs I was in before, and I didn’t like any of them. They were bad. Everyone here is so positive. … I’m so thankful.”
Write Kelly and Brown.
They stress the importance of adequate funding for housing assistance.
In the proposed HUD House appropriations bill, funding for housing programs, including vouchers, has been reduced by $769 million. This means no new funding would be available to create permanent supportive housing units to serve people who are chronically homeless. The 40,000 housing vouchers lost to sequestration would be permanently lost, and money used to rehabilitate existing affordable rental housing would be cut significantly.
New Jersey needs new investments in affordable housing to continue to recover economically and grow. Our congressional delegation should lead the effort for increased HUD funding so that supportive housing can continue to be the cost-effective solution to housing the most vulnerable populations.