The annual "point-in-time count" is federally mandated by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to count the number of homeless persons in every community across the nation.
The #NJCounts 2022 counted individuals experiencing homelessness this year on the night of Jan. 25, 2022. It is the most comprehensive count of the unsheltered and sheltered homeless in each community.
What did #NJCounts Point-Time Count find?
This year’s #NJCounts found that 8,754 men, women, and children in 6,631 households experienced homelessness across New Jersey, said Kasey Vienckowski, team leader at Monarch Housing Associates.
The report also found that 7,776 persons were in sheltered locations (emergency shelters, hotel/motel placements, transitional housing, and safe haven programs). 978 persons were unsheltered.
She also said 1,750 persons in 1,592 households were identified as chronically homeless, representing 20% of the total homeless population. 988 households were counted as families which included 2,945 persons, and 24 unaccompanied youth under the age of 18 were identified in the count.
It’s hard to break down the county-by-county numbers because the numbers were not compared between 2021 and 2022 because of the pandemic. But there was an undercount, said Vienckowski.
But in 2020, more people in New Jersey were experiencing homelessness than they were in 2021 and 2022, she said.
What were some of the factors that impacted the count this year?
Three main factors had a huge impact on the #NJ Counts this year, said Vienckowski. The first one was the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had many shelter providers that had to reduce their capacity to allow for appropriate social distancing so we had a lot of shelters operating under new protocols that aimed to protect both staff and guests from spreading and contracting COVID-19,” Vienckowski said.
Shelter providers and homeless service systems shifted to having isolation protocols in place so there were more people in hotel/motel shelters instead of traditional congregate shelters.
This affected the way agencies were able to safely conduct outreach, she said. In previous years, communities relied on volunteers and Project Homeless Connect events to conduct surveys.
But Vienckowski said in 2021, all communities canceled these in-person events due to the pandemic. In 2022, some communities had these in-person events again, but the approach was altered to either be outside or have limited numbers of people inside a space at any given time.
Surveys were conducted over a 7-day period by homeless service providers that had been working in the community and interacting with those experiencing homelessness throughout the pandemic.
Another factor that impacted this year’s count was Code Blue efforts in New Jersey, which rely heavily on volunteers to operate warming centers.
Vienckowski said typically the point-in-time count falls on a Code Blue night when the temperature falls below 32 degrees. Municipalities are required to mobilize warming centers to accommodate unhoused persons out in freezing temperatures.
“But during the 2021 and 2022 Code Blue season, many of these centers were closed as they had been the previous year, due to health concerns, and specifically the Omicron surge that was happening at that time in January. Communities had to alter Code Blue efforts to include non-congregate sheltering options, mainly hotel/motel placements.” Vienckowski said.
This made it more difficult for agency staff to outreach and complete surveys.
A third impact on the count was the eviction moratorium that ended in New Jersey on January 1, 2022. Courts began hearing eviction cases and moving forward with lockouts.
This led to an influx of persons entering the homeless service system statewide. Homeless service systems had been preparing for this surge since March 2020 when the eviction moratorium was put in place, she said.
Despite efforts to get prevention money out to those at risk or pending eviction, she said there was still an influx of persons entering the homeless service system since January.
Has New Jersey seen disparities in those who experience homelessness?
“Yes,” said Vienckowski. There are a little more than 9 million people living in the Garden State. In 2022, 9% of those people are living below the poverty line.
She said white persons make up 52% of the total population living in New Jersey. Of them, 33.8% of white persons in New Jersey live in poverty and only 25% make up the homeless population.
Whereas black or African-American persons make up 12.4% of the total population in New Jersey, 22% of the population live in poverty and almost 48% of them make up the homeless population.
“Homeless service systems have had to respond and adapt to ever-changing circumstances during the last two years. Shelter operations, outreach, linkage, and connection to community resources have all had to alter operations to reach those that are in need in the community in a safe and effective manner,” Vienckowski said.