Camden County seeks to eradicate homelessness

Camden County has unveiled a six-point plan to address and eradicate homelessness.

This ambitious plan – a concerted effort by the board of commissioners, in conjunction with the Camden County Office of Homeless Services – will leverage programs and partnerships to provide essential support and services to those experiencing homelessness, with the collaborative involvement of community partners such as Volunteers of America, the Community Planning and Advocacy Council, and various other social service providers.

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According to data from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Camden County is home to approximately 600 residents grappling with the challenges of homelessness, encompassing both individuals lacking shelter and those on the brink of homelessness.

“Homelessness is a pressing issue affecting not only our community but communities nationwide,” stated Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. “Understanding the contributing factors to homelessness, we have engaged experts to develop a plan aimed at reducing these numbers and facilitating stable, supportive housing solutions. Transitioning individuals off the streets and into supportive housing not only benefits the community but also empowers individuals to regain stability and self-sufficiency.”

The six-point plan comprises the following key components:

  1. Policy: Advocating for policy reforms at local and state levels to address systemic issues contributing to homelessness, advocating for the right to housing for all.
  2. People: Collaborating with individuals with lived experiences to develop impactful strategies and combat the stigma associated with homelessness.
  3. Partnerships: Promoting engagement and collaboration with stakeholders to provide comprehensive services, with an internal working group dedicated to collaborative efforts.
  4. Prevention: Focus on preventing homelessness through partnerships with nonprofits, offering resources such as rental assistance, shelter beds, and supportive services.
  5. Programs: Supporting and partnering with programs providing mental health support, substance abuse treatment, job training, and education to meet the needs of homeless residents.
  6. Places: Partnering with agencies to address the needs of unhoused neighbors in homeless encampments, with a goal of providing access to shelters and permanent housing.

The initiative aims to involve every municipality within the county, with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness and achieving functional zero by 2030. Functional zero is attained when the number of homeless individuals, sheltered or unsheltered, does not exceed the monthly housing placement rate.

The plan draws inspiration from Bergen County, which became the first community in the nation to end chronic homelessness, achieving functional zero for over three years. Julia Orlando, a key figure in the Bergen County initiative, is consulting for the board of commissioners to replicate this success.

“Collaboration and coordination are paramount to aligning resources and efforts to achieve functional zero,” stated Anita Wemple, president, and CEO of the Community Planning & Advocacy Council. “Partnering with the commissioners and delivering impactful services is crucial to reaching our goal.”

Stephen Considine, CEO of Senior Citizens United Community Services (SCUCS), emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to housing, citing programs such as the Camden County Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program and the Housing Navigator program as instrumental in promoting self-sufficiency and reducing homelessness.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness underscores the economic benefits of housing initiatives, with the cost to the community for a chronically homeless person estimated at $36,000 annually. Conversely, placement in supportive or permanent housing yields significant cost savings and community benefits.

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