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Annual Survey: Nearly Half of Homeless Have a Disability or Chronic Health Condition

Homelessness Decreased 24% in Middlesex County Since Last Year, Hitting 5-Year Low
Elijah's Promise
The building that houses the Elijah's Promise soup kitchen has been the epicenter of the homeless community for decades. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Middlesex County’s homeless rate has decreased nearly 24% over the last year, according to a recently released report on homelessness statewide.

The Point in Time County (PITC) survey, conducted annually across the state by Monarch Housing Associates, reported that overall New Jersey’s homeless rate has decreased 12% since 2015.

According to this year’s report, the number of homeless reported in Middlesex County reached a five-year low of 457.

“We can attribute some of the reduction to the collaboration shown in Middlesex County to develop a true system to end homelessness,” said Melyssa Lewis, director of the county office of Human Services.

Lewis highlighted some of the efforts the county has made to address homelessness, including:

  • a leasing program which provides rental assistance to homeless individuals and families with disabilities, using Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) homelessness funding
  • the allocation by the County Board of Chosen Freeholders of $1 million annually towards the development of affordable housing and $100,000 annually to the Veterans Housing Assistance Program
  • a new system for addressing the needs of homeless persons called Coordinated Assessment. This process has phases, from screening individuals for shelter placement to then prioritizing individuals for the most appropriate placement in permanent housing

“The most significant finding [of the PIT survey] is that Middlesex County has seen a steady decrease in the overall number of homeless individuals and families over the past five years,” Lewis said.

“This is likely due to a combination of factors including a better system approach to homelessness, the addition of permanent supportive housing units through both tenant-based and project-based units, and a stronger focus on securing mainstream resources and increasing the income of homeless households.”

But the survey also found that nearly half of the County’s reported homeless (46%) identified as having a disability--such as mental health issues, a substance abuse disorder, a physical or developmental disability--or a chronic health condition such as HIV/AIDS.

“Generally, individuals with disabilities who are homeless have a low fixed income, which makes most rental housing in Middlesex County unaffordable for them,” Lewis said. “The subsidies offered through the vouchers, combined with supportive services, are still in need.”

While the statistics on homelessness in the county appear to be moving in a positive direction, Staci Berger, the director of a statewide association for affordable housing, said the picture in New Jersey is still very concerning.

Berger, President and CEO of the Community Development Network of New Jersey, points to the report's finding that "unsheltered" homelessness in the state has increased 48% since 2015.

Unsheltered is defined as having a night time residence that is not normally used for sleeping arrangements, such as a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport or camping ground.

“Women, men and children living outside went up by 50 percent in one of the richest states in one of the richest nations in the world,” Berger said. “It shows that the [homelessness] problem is far from being solved.”

“It’s one number that should jump out at people as extremely problematic,” she added.

Berger noted that the PIT survey data is not the most reliable information due to the fact that it only looks at figures taken from one day during the year, as she pointed out that this year’s survey was taken right after a major blizzard.

The count, which took place on January 26 of this year, was conducted at various locations throughout the county and state, including Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen in New Brunswick.

New Brunswick has several locations that are designed to provide shelter for those in need, including Ozanam House, a men’s shelter which is run by Catholic Charities, as well as Promise House, which includes 10 apartments designated for those who are homeless and have a disability.

During extremely cold nights, designated “code blue” a limited number of people are allowed to stay at the Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen.

In addition, there is a rotating schedule of churches and other houses of worship which open themselves up as temporary shelters during the winter months.