HACKENSACK, NJ -- On Thursday afternoon, Bergen County Executive signed an act creating a Young Adult Homelessness Task Force, aimed at providing support services and assisting homeless young adults and unaccompanied youth aged 18 to 24. The effort comes on the heels of the County’s recent success in achieving the status of “functional zero” for both veteran homelessness and chronic homeless and is in line with federal priorities targeting young adults.
The task force consists of representatives from: Bergen County Department of Health Division on Mental Health; Bergen County Department of Human Services Division of Family Guidance; Christ Church; Greater Bergen Community Action, PHASES Youth Transitional Housing; McKinney Vento Program; New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanence; The Visions program of the Bergen County Division of Family Guidance; New Bridge Medical Center; Bergen Community College; Bergen’s Promise; The Housing Authority of Bergen County; Advance Housing, Inc.; The Center for Food Action; Bergen County Division of Community Development; Vantage Health System and Bergen County LGBTQ Advisory Committee.
“We are fortunate to have a great network of government and nonprofit partners who have been integral to our success with ending veteran and chronic homelessness, and these relationships will be key to tackling the unique challenges that come with the 18 to 24-year old population,” said County Executive James J. Tedesco. “They all get it, and they are as eager as we are to get to work to help these young adults receive the services they need."
The Young Adult Homelessness Task Force initial objectives will be to begin the process of data collection and identifying young adults who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or about to age out of the youth system.
"The number of youth who experience homelessness exceeds our resources to address them, which makes it all the more important for us to come together as a community," said Julia Orlando, Director of The Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Service Center.
Alan Humphries, a young man who has experienced homelessness, and relied on the assistance of the Bergen County Homeless Shelter, said he was excelling in school before a fight with his mother lead to destructive behavior that led to his becoming homeless. Director Orlando helped place him with a social worker who helped him find temporary housing, and stop the downward spiral. He knows that things could've been worse for him, but they also could've been easier, had more resources been available.
1/10 young adults endures some form of homelessness in a given year. Acccording to Director Orlando, "LGBTQ individuals are 120% more likely to be homeless," said Orlando. Schools play a big role, and could/should alert communities of the economic struggles their students may experience." That is a big reason why the Bergen County LGBT Advisory Committee, created during County Executive's first term in office, will have a seat at the table on the task force.
The biggest causes of youth homelessness are: high cost of housing; low income; and student debt. According to Orlando, the task force's goal is to make recommendations to create good strategies to solve this crisis, together. "What we allow is what will continue."
"When I go home at night to my wife and three daughters, I'm proud to know we're working to improve the lives of all the people of our 70 municipalities in Bergen County," said Bergen County Freeholder Chairman Thomas Sullivan, who gave remarks beside Freeholder Vice-Chairwoman Germaine Ortiz. "It takes all of us coming together to make this happen. The Freeholder Board, Jim Tedesco, the Sheriff's Office, the Prosecutor's Office, no one does this alone, and without everyone being all in, this doesn't happen."
County Executive Tedesco was emotional in delivering his closing remarks, followed by his signing of the creation of the task force. "To the young people here today, I want to say that we have your backs." Tedesco said Bergen--the largest county in the state--would be the first county in New Jersey to end youth homelessness."