"It's tough out here, and I am trying to find any work I can," said Smith. "I filled out applications to work at Extra Supermarket, but I haven't found a job yet."
He was one of several people in Jersey City who responded that night (Jan. 25) to the county's annual Point-In-Time Homeless Survey, in which volunteers count the homeless so that the county can get the appropriate amount of federal funding.
According to Jacob DeLemos, program manager for the Hudson County Division of Community Development, the numbers will be submitted to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He said the final numbers won't be available for another week.
But last year, the count done in April found a total of 2,973 homeless over a 24-hour period. Out of this number, 2,394 were in emergency shelters, 283 in transitional shelters, and 296 were discovered in unsheltered locations.
DeLemos said he knows that this year, 500 homeless people appeared at an all-day event meant to give them food and resources on Jan. 25, the same day as the count. Three hundred of the attendees filled out surveys.
The survey also is being used as part of the county's recently announced plan to end homelessness in 10 years. The plan involves several of the county's agencies and non-profit groups, including an organization called the Jersey City Hudson Continuum of Care.
$5 million in funding
DeLemos works with the Hudson County organizations that are part of the Jersey City Hudson Continuum of Care, which receives "Continuum of Care funding" from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In the 2006 Continuum of Care Funding Application, $5,027,070 in federal funding was requested. That funding will go directly to 12 programs approved by the Continuum of Care.
DeLemos said whatever the numbers are, it only points to the fact there is still little housing for the homeless in Hudson County.
The county has three main homeless shelters: St. Lucy's in Jersey City, the Hoboken Homeless Shelter in Hoboken, and the PERC shelter in Union City.
"Eight units of housing for the homeless are being built in the future in Union City near the PERC shelter," said DeLemos. "But it all goes back to the fact that we have to start finding ways to build permanent housing."
County addresses homelessness
County Executive Tom DeGise recently called on Gov. Jon Corzine to create a statewide system of county-based trust funds to prevent and end homelessness. The trust funds, according to DeGise, could be subsidized through dedicating a small percentage from document recording fees, bond fees, or fees from hotel and motel taxes.
"Governor, if your priority is reducing the cost of services in the name of property tax reform, here is a great way to do just that," said DeGise during his recent State of the County address. "And best of all, it is the right thing to do."
After the address, there was an extensive meeting among the Hudson County Board of Freeholders discussing this issue.
Freeholder Bill O'Dea said the proposed plan to generate funds to fight homelessness has a bright future in Hudson County, partly because of the large number of market-rate residential units being proposed. That could mean more fees to help.
"We have more than 10,000 units in the pipeline," he said. "The MOTBY in Bayonne has 8,000 by itself."
O'Dea proposed that the county impose $1,000 assessment on each new unit. This would generate as $8 million dollars from Bayonne construction alone.
Although this proposal was not voted on during the Jan. 25 meeting, the matter will likely get further review.
Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons said he was very concerned with the loss of affordable housing stock, noting that many of the apartments in Hoboken are now going market-rate.
"We may soon see an exodus like we saw in the 1980s when most of the Latino population was forced out," Fitzgibbons said. "We may be facing the same situation in which every day people are losing their apartments."
Fitzgibbons said Hoboken becomes a destination point for many homeless from other parts of the county, who panhandle here.
Fitzgibbons said a lot of homeless have additional issues such as drug addition and alcoholism. Many hang out in front of stores or inside the train station.
"We need the Port Authority and New Jersey Transit to step up to the plate and help with them," he said.
Freeholder Eliu Rivera said while he appreciated the White House's involvement in the homeless count and the support for Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise's proposal for a homeless fund, he said billions of dollars have been wasted in the war in Iraq when there is a need for investment here in the United States.
"Helping the homeless has to be more than a catch phrase," he said. "Maybe now with a Democratic Congress, we can do more. We can't forget our poor." Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Additional reporting was done by Al Sullivan.