Annual count finds N.J. homelessness inching up, with racial disparities persisting

22% of the state’s unhoused population lives in Essex County

By: - October 5, 2022 7:00 am

About 20%, or 1,750 people, were identified as chronically homeless, with 37% of those counted unhoused for more than a year. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Homelessness is creeping upward in New Jersey, with race — rather than poverty — a more predictive indicator of who is unhoused, according to a new annual report.

Advocates counted 8,754 people living in emergency shelters, motels, transitional housing, or unsheltered on the street statewide during what’s known as the Point in Time count.

Black people were disproportionately represented, accounting for 48% of those counted even though only 12% of the state’s population is Black, according to Monarch Housing Associates, the nonprofit that coordinates the count and issues the annual report.

The daylong calculation, done on Jan. 25 this year, offers a snapshot of the scope of homelessness in New Jersey. Advocates agree it’s an imperfect assessment because everything from how many volunteers participate to how bad the weather is can impact the numbers.

The pandemic so affected last year’s effort, when counters tallied 8,097 people experiencing homelessness, that advocates warned against drawing comparisons to this year’s count.

Still, it’s one tool that helps policymakers craft interventions to help more people get housed, said Taiisa Kelly, Monarch’s CEO.

“This information can serve as the basis for significant investments in strategies that end homelessness and support the understanding that housing is a human right,” Kelly said.

The count is also key because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development relies on it to divvy up federal funding for homelessness programs.

Monarch’s report, released Tuesday, also found that:

  • Most people without permanent housing live in sheltered locations, with 7,776 people, or 88% of those counted, living in emergency shelters, motels, transitional housing, or safe haven programs, and 978 people unsheltered.
  • A third of unhoused people were counted as families. Twenty-four unaccompanied minors were identified.
  • About 20%, or 1,750 people, were identified as chronically homeless, with 37% of those counted unhoused for more than a year.
  • Unhoused people were more likely to be male (57%), while 48% reported having at least one disability. Twenty-one percent were children under 18, while 22% were 55 or older. About 7% were veterans, and 12% were domestic violence survivors.
  • Essex County, by far, had the most severe homelessness crisis — 22% of the state’s unhoused population live there. Union and Hudson counties were next, with 8%, and Camden, Middlesex, and Burlington counties, at 7%.
  • COVID-19 continued to impact homeless services statewide, with shelters reducing capacity for social distancing, adopting isolation protocols, and shifting outreach outdoors.
  • Lifting New Jersey’s eviction moratorium on Jan. 1 created an “influx” of people seeking homelessness services that hasn’t yet subsided.

Ending racial disparities in homelessness will require policymakers to confront structural racism and build equity, Kelly said.

“When we build systems to address the needs of the most marginalized communities, we create avenues to stability for all,” she said.

(Graphic courtesy of Monarch Housing Associates)


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.