Some NJ counties are leaving the homeless out in the freezing cold
With temperatures staying in the teens and low 20s, and some wind chills in the single digits, all counties in New Jersey, according to a law passed in May, are required to have plans in place to provide temporary warmth for the homeless.
Nevertheless, many counties in one of the richest states in the nation have not developed a Code Blue weather alert plan, according to homeless advocates.
“It varies very much from county to county,” said Kate Leahy, the director of operations and communications for the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness.
She said Burlington, Hudson and Union counties have developed comprehensive Code Blue plans, and are providing the homeless with options to get out of the cold.
According to Leahy, some counties are relying on volunteer organizations to provide warming centers but a few don’t even have any shelters.
“For the most part, the counties have a long way to go.”
She said having a law that requires counties to develop plans to help the homeless is great but “additional resources were not provided to the counties to put the plans into place and to make the changes happen.”
“Some counties are providing a list of warming centers or phone numbers on a website, and that’s really not even close to enough, particularly for people who might not have access to the internet.”
Cumberland and Bergen counties have extensive volunteer groups that do a great job in serving the homeless, she said, but in Ocean County “we’re hearing there is no place for people to go who are homeless.”
There are, however, several warming centers now open in Ocean, including the First Assembly of God Church in Toms River, the Lakewood Community Center and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Brick.
Mercer County has several social providers in the city of Trenton, but not in other communities.
She said the most recent “point in time” count of the homeless found this is a very serious problem.
“Last year the point in time count estimated over 8,500 New Jerseyans were apparently homeless. Unfortunately, the number of unsheltered homeless has been going up since 2015.”
She said many advocacy groups feel the most recent count of the homeless is dramatically lower than the real number, which could be as high as 50,000.
Leahy pointed out sometimes, in certain parts of the state, the homeless are put in motel rooms.
“But that’s not really going to help on a night like tonight with extreme weather conditions. They just can’t coordinate that for enough people.”
She said when the weather gets brutally cold some homeless may be able to stay with a friend or relative, but most are scrambling on their own.
“There are encampments. We’re finding growing tent cities in some parts of the state and it’s very dangerous. It’s potentially a life-threatening emergency.”
She added this is a problem that’s getting worse.
“Many service providers throughout New Jersey are not seeing decreases, they’re seeing increases for a number of reasons. This is extremely important, no one in New Jersey, one of the richest states in the country, should be left with nowhere to go in extreme cold weather.”