Fighting to End Homelessness in New Jersey

June 8, 2016
The Housing and Community Development Network of NJ held a summit spotlighting homelessness.

By Erin Delmore

“The real way to solve homelessness in New Jersey is to make sure that people can afford to live here,” said Housing and Community Development Network President and CEO Staci Berger.

Affordable housing is the first line of defense against poverty. That’s the message the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey preached at its fourth community development spotlight.

“The median income that you need to rent a two-bedroom apartment is $55,000 a year. Which, in most communities, is not something that is easy for people to get,” Berger said.

The group says that number is even higher — above $58,000 a year — in Hudson County. Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation is tackling homelessness in the area. Director Susan Milan says a recent $1.3 million award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will go a long way.

“We have seen an increase in the number of homeless families that we serve, an increase of 580 percent over the last program year,” Milan said. “We’re bringing together supportive services, case management, mental health, substance abuse, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and any other services that might be needed for people who are homeless.”

The “one-stop shopping” approach blends community services with those offered by area nonprofits, all with the aim of lifting up New Jersey’s poorest citizens.

“We have over a million residents of the nearly 9 million residents in New Jersey under the federal poverty line. When you factor in a livable wage, that swells up to 2.8 million residents,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

Prieto said affordable housing has a place in every community. He pointed out the growing number of young people moving back in with their parents, unable to live on their own, in their own hometowns. New Jersey is one of the five most expensive states to live in.

“For the same amount that I pay for rent for our lovely but small three-bedroom apartment, I could get a four-bedroom split level ranch in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a yard,” said Maisha Perez.

Perez leaned on supportive services when she was became unemployed, then homeless, with two young kids. She said the help she got finding a home enabled her to land and keep a full-time job.

“Instead of spending my off-work hours figuring out what we were going to do tomorrow for housing, I could advocate for my son who is special needs. I could plan for our future. I wasn’t just worrying about the now,” she said.

Officials are hoping with recent successes in aiding its homeless population, Hudson County can become a model for the state.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.