Freezing Cold Temperatures May Be Biggest Factor in NJCounts 2019

Code Blue Opens Warming Centers at Certain Freezing Point, Possibly Leaving Fewer People Experiencing Homeless on the Streets

On Wednesday, January 23, 2019, NJCounts 2019, the statewide Point-in-Time count of the homeless will take place across the state counting individuals and households who experience homelessness. Exact times of the count vary by county and a list of local county press contacts is available here.

NJ 101.5 covered NJCounts with its January 20 news story, “Government Shutdown, Weather May Impact 2019 Homeless Count.” 
Organizations, agencies and others planning efforts to end homelessness conduct the local counts. For the sixth year, Monarch Housing Associates coordinates NJCounts.  
NJCounts 2018 found 9,303 homeless men, women and children, in 6,982 households, across the state of New Jersey. This number increased by 771 persons (9%) from 2017. Individuals who were homeless on the night of January 23, 2018 were counted. Click here for the NJCounts 2018 reports. 
“While communities across the state are working tirelessly to end homelessness, NJCounts 2019 provides an opportunity to better understand the depth and breadth of the need for housing resources throughout New Jersey” said Taiisa Kelly, CEO of Monarch Housing Associates, which directs NJCounts 2019.  
“However, there are still thousands of our fellow New Jerseyans who do not have a home, a fact highlighted on bitterly cold nights when Code Blue warming centers are activated” said Kelly.  “New Jersey’s Code Blue legislation ensures that our unsheltered neighbors have a warm place to go to on the coldest nights, but it is only the start of the process.”
The factors expected to impact an increase or decrease from NJCounts 2018 numbers include:
  • The ongoing, longest ever shutdown of the federal government impacts housing and homelessness programs funded by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), puts furloughed government workers living pay check to pay check at risk of eviction and foreclosure and leaves programs receiving HUD funding worrying about making payroll;
  • More specifically, formerly homeless persons housed through HUD funded rental assistance vouchers face increased risk of losing their housing and once again becoming homeless as the government shut down freezes agencies’ ability to drawdown rental assistance funding for those individuals and families increasing the likelihood of eviction.  The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that in New Jersey, 62 rental assistance contracts with 2,952 project-based rental assistance contracts expired or will be expiring between December 2018 and February 2019;
  • Even when the federal government is open and all workers are receiving their paychecks, many jobs in New Jersey do not pay a living wage and jobs with living wage are leaving the state; 
  • A shortage of affordable rental housing funding in New Jersey drives up both demand and costs;
  • A growing body of data shows the connection between poor health outcomes, increased health system costs and homelessness.  As hospital systems look into this issue more closely, we hope to see increased participation from local hospitals in NJCounts; and 
  • As more communities work to refine their Code Blue response system and provide warming center services to unsheltered persons coupled with the cold temperatures for this winter, the overall NJCounts numbers will likely be impacted.
“New Jersey is working hard to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness and we are leading the way with one of the top performing housing voucher programs in the nation according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” said Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, who also serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “The annual Point in Time Count provides us valuable information about the demographic make-up of those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless so that we can better target the programs and services we offer to help those most in need.”
“Housing has a direct impact on health, particularly for those who are homeless and may be frequent users of hospital ER services,” said New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) Executive Director Charles A. Richman. “Through our Hospital Partnership Subsidy Pilot Program, we will be working with hospitals to provide affordable housing in their communities not only for families but that also helps residents who are most in need maintain better health through permanent housing.”  NJHMFA funds NJCounts 2019.
According to the NLIHC, in 2017, a family in New Jersey must earn a housing wage of $28.17/hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment and the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in is $1,465/month.  
Over 157,000 low-income households in New Jersey use federal rental assistance to rent modest housing at an affordable cost according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and at least 72 percent have extremely low incomes.  The ongoing government shutdown puts these households at risk of losing their housing.  In July 2019, advocates plan to return to Washington, DC for a Congressional Reception to push Congress increase and sustain its commitment to ending homelessness.
 “We need to protect federal funding to end homelessness against cuts,” said Kelly. “I urge service providers, advocates and concerned citizens to join Monarch Housing Associates in Washington D.C. in July to advocate for increased federal funding for vouchers and homeless services.”  
Monarch Housing expects to make the final report available in spring 2019.  
You can follow NJCounts through social media with the hashtag #NJCounts.
Click here for the NJCounts 2019 Press Release.