Union County will once again participate in the national Point-in-Time Count of the Homeless, a national census of homeless persons that takes place each January. In Union County, it will be conducted from the night of Tuesday, January 28 to Wednesday morning, January 29.
The count will also be coordinated with two walk-in community outreach events, in Elizabeth and Plainfield, in order to help persons in need connect with the resources available to them in Union County.
“The Point-in-Time Count provides the kind of consistent detail that can help bring about more effective programs to assist people in need,” said Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak. “With an unusually cold and stormy winter upon us, it is now more important than ever to ensure that every person in Union County can depend on a safe, healthful place to call home.”
The program is mandated nationally by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Union County it is a volunteer-assisted effort coordinated by the Union County Department of Human Services.
Personnel from the office of Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich also assist. The Union County Police Division provides transportation to shelters as needed and the Plainfield Police Department also assists in Plainfield.
The Elizabeth walk-in outreach event is coordinated by the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless at 119 Division Street, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm on Tuesday, January 28.
The Plainfield event is coordinated by the Salvation Army at 615 Watchung Avenue, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm on Tuesday, January 28.
In addition, a special Union County initiative called “Union County Street Count” will take place from 3:00 am to 7:00 am on January 29. During these hours, Union County will provide shelter to anyone found homeless on the streets.
Federal regulations require an annual count of homeless persons in conventional shelters and a biannual count of persons sheltering outdoors or in other unconventional locations. In Union County and statewide in New Jersey the program goes beyond that basic requirement to include annual counts for both categories, to help develop improved strategies to prevent homelessness and assist the homeless.
One new program in Union County is the nationally recognized Code Blue Homeless Emergency Shelter Initiative. Launched in 2007, Code Blue puts county and local resources on a coordinated alert during cold weather events to ensure that persons needing shelter are located and can be transported to shelters.
“Code Blue has made an enormous difference in our ability to help homeless people find a safe haven under life threatening conditions, but the ultimate goal is to ensure that this kind of crisis-to-crisis service is needed rarely if ever,” said Hudak.
Homelessness in New Jersey is driven by many factors, including a shortage of rental housing and consequent upward pressure on the cost of renting. Other significant factors include the ongoing foreclosure crisis, a shortage of affordable or supportive housing, a shortage of jobs that pay a living wage, and the continuing effects of housing loss after Superstorm Sandy.
In Union County, the 2013 Point-in-Time Count revealed that a significant majority of homeless persons were members of homeless families.
The count included 371 homeless family households, totaling 1,222 persons. Another 526 individual homeless persons were also counted, for an overall total of 1,648 persons.
Persons interested in volunteering to assist with the 2014 Point-in-Time count in Union County can contact Maureen Segale-Glenn, email@example.com or 908-527-4838.