ELIZABETH, NJ - Nine people living on the cold streets of Elizabeth early Wednesday morning were a little better off after being visited by youth members and staff of Community Access Unlimited (CAU), who were participating in the annual Union County Point-In-Time (PIT) Count of the Homeless. The youth and staff helped some of the homeless they encountered get to shelter and services and made sure those who did not want to leave the street were warmer and well-fed.

The CAU members who participated in the annual effort are themselves considered at risk, young people within the care of the New Jersey Division of Children and Families and members of CAU’s Transitional Opportunities Program, which provides comprehensive residential and life skills training services to DCF youth aged 13-21. CAU is a Union County-based, statewide nonprofit that strives to integrate people with disabilities and at-risk youth into the general community through comprehensive supports.

Each year CAU TOP members and staff participate in the PIT Count to support Union County’s efforts to ease homelessness and as a learning experience for the youth, according to Howard Wingard, supported housing coordinator at CAU. This year four youth and seven staff members participated.

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The annual Union County survey of and outreach to the homeless is part of a wider NJ Counts program, the state’s annual Point-In-Time Count of the Homeless that itself is a component of a national effort mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The local count is particularly significant this year, as the city of Elizabeth’s HUD funding for homelessness-related services under the Emergency Solutions Grant initiative is being discontinued in 2020.

Elizabeth agencies working with people who are homeless are concerned about a potential rise in homelessness in the area resulting from the discontinuation. CAU will face a $40,000 loss in grant funding for critical homelessness prevention services, according to Carolee Marano, assistant executive director of development at the agency.  

“CAU will be searching out other funding sources in hopes of filling this funding gap,” Marano said.

Union County’s annual PIT effort is two-pronged: first, government workers and volunteers from local human services agencies such as CAU go out in the early morning hours to identify homeless people, direct those open to assistance to the county’s shelters and services, and survey and assist those who wish to remain on the street; and second, hosting a resource fair during the day for those who came in to introduce them to resources available to them throughout the county, such as from CAU.

Last year the Union County PIT count found that a total of 298 households, including 438 persons, were experiencing homelessness in Union County. A total of 68 persons in 58 households were identified as chronically homeless and 38 households with 39 persons were unsheltered on the night of the count.

Wednesday the CAU team located nine people living on the streets of Elizabeth. They were able to direct some toward county services and provided those who wished to remain outside with gloves, scarves, thermals, and food, while also surveying them, according to Wingard.

“They were gracious,” he said. “They appreciated the help and us listening to their stories of how they found themselves in this situation. They were humble.”

Wingard said one man told how he was living in Virginia, got divorced, lost his license and job and owed child support. With no license and no job, he lived from one friend’s couch to another until deciding to move to New Jersey for a second chance that has not come to fruition.

Shaquine Ingram, 21, was among the CAU youth members participating in the count and said she enjoyed the experience.

“It was good. We talked to them about how they could get services,” she said. “It’s a good experience because you don’t know if you could be that person.”

CAU member and staff participation in the annual homeless count was appreciated by the county, which relies on outside support to undertake the effort each year and particularly in light of the loss of federal funding for programs to fight homelessness in Elizabeth.

“The Point In Time count is more important than ever this year and I would like to thank Community Access Unlimited for participating in this effort, and for their unstinting efforts to ensure that everyone in Union County has a place to call home,” said Alexander Mirabella, Chairman of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders. 

CAU’s participation in the annual PIT Count is part of the agency’s wider ongoing efforts to alleviate homelessness. The agency operates the county-funded Union County Youth Shelter, which offers up to 30 days of temporary placement for youth aged 13-18 referred by the Family Crisis Intervention Unit, the Juvenile Justice Intake Unit and Union County Family and Juvenile Criminal Courts. CAU also operates the federally funded Union County Runaway & Homeless Youth Shelter, which provides up to 21 days of temporary housing for youth aged 13-17, including 24-hour accessibility without a referral. In 2019 CAU provided housing for 37 youths in the two shelters.

CAU also operates a Youth Outreach Program through which agency personnel go into the community to connect with homeless people, providing safety tips for living on the street and information about the youth shelters. In addition, CAU partners with several Safe Place sites where homeless youth can find safe haven and direction to services, including the Elizabeth Public Library, the Hillside Fire Station, several bank branches and a daycare center.

To learn more about CAU, visit www.caunj.org or follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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