The Herald News (Passaic County, NJ), July 30, 2008: Homeless programs in need of federal funds

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About 4,000 people in Passaicand Bergencounties – a quarter of them children – are homeless over the course of a year,a new statewide report has found.

The estimate was among many figures compiled this year byhomeless advocates who will present their findings today during a briefing for New Jersey’s federalrepresentatives. Advocates say they hope to persuade the delegation to fundprograms and organizations that help whom they estimate are 27,420 homeless inthe state during a year.

“The value is grant money,” said Robin Reilly,executive director of the FAITH Foundation in Hackensack. “The social servicesagencies in town need funding.”

The New Jerseystudy came just as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmentreported Tuesday that the number of homeless decreased nationwide about 12percent between 2005 and 2007, with an even larger decline in the number ofpeople who are chronically homeless.

HUD credited the decline to programs that offer permanenthousing and support services for the disabled homeless.

HUD in recent years has shifted resources from emergencyshelters to transitional and permanent housing, placing an emphasis on endingchronic homelessness, defined as disabled people who have been living on thestreets for more than a year or have been homeless at least four times in thepast three years.

But some homeless advocates said HUD’s emphasis on thedecline in chronic homelessness paints too rosy a picture.

“It’s not a true reflection of what’s going on amongthe homeless population,” said Michael Stoops, acting executive directorof the National Coalition for the Homeless. Stoops said there are always somehomeless who are not counted, adding that people who are not chronicallyhomeless are getting too little attention from the government.

In New Jersey,when the Corporation for Supportive Housing sent out volunteers to count thehomeless in a single day in January, they tallied 10,947 homeless statewide.

Bergenhad the most homeless adults in the state with 1,023, according to the secondannual count by the group that promotes affordable housing.

Passaicplaced ninth with 374.

The high numbers for Bergenwill hopefully convince residents that homelessness is a problem in one ofcountry’s most affluent areas, said Barbara Niziol, a spokeswoman for thenetwork and Eva’s Village, an outreach organization in Paterson.

Niziol couched the figures as “baseline” datawhose accuracy is tainted by the varying number of counters working in eachcounty. Cold temperatures on the day of the count probably pushed numbers down,since many homeless people sought cover, she said. Many homeless also leadtransient lives and have a tendency to avoid authority figures, Niziol said.

“People on the street are sometimes untrusting – ofthose asking questions, especially,” she said.

Still “sobering,” however, is the number ofhomeless children, Niziol said.

While a third of the homeless in the state are children,that number was higher – 37 percent – in Bergen.Counters in Passaicfound that children made up 26 percent of the county’s homeless.

Niziol said the numbers help quantify what she’s seenanecdotally at Eva’s Village, where there’s always a waiting list to get into ashelter set aside for mothers and their children.

Alcohol and drug abuse emerged as the leading contributingfactor to homelessness in both counties, with almost half of the peoplesurveyed identifying it as part of their problem. Reilly said that heavyalcohol use is a symptom of depression and mental illness, which she believesare the underlying causes of homelessness in most people.

“I don’t know one alcoholic that enjoys it,” shesaid. “This is where they hide. This is where they find their shelter – ina bottle of alcohol.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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