Camden County Freeholders Launch Hearts and Hands Homeless Initiative

Freeholder Carmen G. Rodriguez at a 2017 announcement of new programs and partnerships to address homelessness

Initiative to Connect Donors, Volunteers and Individuals with Homeless Service System

Camden County has launched the Hearts and Hands for the Homeless initiativeFreeholder Carmen G. Rodriguez and Rob Jakubowski, Deputy Director of the Division of Administrative Services and the County’s Homeless Coordinator, were instrumental in establishing this initiative.

The goal of Hearts and Hands for the Homeless is to connect residents of Camden County with efforts to help end homelessness in the County.

The Camden County Freeholder Board encourages Camden County residents to think past helping individuals experiencing homelessness with small cash donations one person at a time and instead to connect through the Hearts and Hands for the Homeless website with organizations working as part of the homeless service system.

According to Freeholder Rodriguez, launching the Hearts and Hands for the Homeless initiative took some time. This included the time that it took to develop the website, partner with local organizations in need of donations to help the homeless and that provide services and housing to the homeless and encourage new organizations to participate. A soft launch took place during the summer of 2019 to allow participating organizations time to share through the website what their organizations need.

“The purpose of the Hearts and Hands for the Homeless website is to be impactful,” said Freeholder Rodriguez. “We want to connect people living on the street with the services that need they need. Some people are working and need more money for housing. People with addiction and mental health issues need to be connected with services. We are trying to make an impact.”

Freeholder Rodriguez was concerned as she saw that while shelters were receiving donations, the items being donated were not always what they needed. She thought to herself, “How do we give individuals and organizations what they need, not what people want to donate to them?”

TapintoCamden reported that the Hearts and Hands for the Homeless initiative is working to redirect charitable interests aimed at helping the homeless. The initiative would like to shift one time giving in this area toward opportunities to volunteer or give more strategically.

The initiative also aims to shift public perceptions about which forms of outreach are most impactful. It aims to do this by giving community members opportunities to support the work of homeless shelters, food kitchens, and other social service networks and interventions. While individual acts of charity and kindness may help someone in the short term, the donations might sometimes miss the mark as to what is needed. Together, aggregated and more targeted donations can help end homelessness on a larger scale.

And in the long-term, connecting indivdiuals experiencing homelessness with service providers can help those with health issues from facing exacerbating health problems. And across the County, organizations can use donations and volunteers to end homelessness and create affordable housing.

“People want to be helpful and they are doing what they believe is within their reach in order to help individuals in need,” Freeholder Rodriguez said. “The truth is that the five dollars you were going to give to someone on the street would go much further and help more people if it was given to a charitable organization or agency dedicated to serving the homeless.”

Freeholder Rodriguez told the story of a young man who wanted to help, researched how much it helps to costs for one night of shelter at Joseph’s House. He then set the goal of raising money to pay for one night of shelter. This is a true story of the impact of the initiative’s effort.

On the night of January 22nd, 2019, NJCounts 2019 found a total of 560 households, including 603 persons experiencing homelessness in Camden County. NJCounts is the statewide point-in-time count of the homeless coordinated by Monarch Housing Associates.  NJCounts 2020 will take place on January 29, 2020.

Additionally, NJCounts found a total of 170 persons in Camden County who were identified as chronically homeless and 161 persons were unsheltered on the night of the count.

Volunteer and donation opportunities for local agencies who are serving the homeless in Camden County can be found here.

A current list of organizations looking for community support includes the Sanctuary Foundation for Veterans in Lawnside; Building Bridges Family Success Center; Center for Family Services in Clementon; and Joseph’s House in Camden City.