Each year an independent group called Monarch Housing Associates, conducts the Point in Time homelessness count in New Jersey. In 2014 the number of homeless had increased by 15.8 percent over 2013. In Mercer county the number of homeless counted on the night of January 28, 2014, was 642.
In Trenton the homeless take refuge under highways, near the train station and on the streets. During the day these men –and there are more men than women visible– can be found in shabby clothes, standing on street corners in the downtown area near the capitol buildings that team with lawyers and politicians in crisp suits. The homeless hold out cups and hands, begging for money to get food.
“It’s hard to even get food because no one wants to help or is afraid to give money because they think they’re being used buy drugs.” says a short, thick African-American man in his mid 30s who would only give his first name, Tyrone.
Rob Gibbons a 28 year old, who allowed use of his real name, said he was once a student at Rutgers in New Brunswick.
“I had it made at one point of my life, but being caught up in the everyday party life and surrounded by women and booze led me to loose focus on school and family.” Gibbons said.
He went on to explain how his parents stopped talking to him, and then his friends became overwhelmed because he had no where to live and bounced from couch to couch.
When asked what it was like to be homeless, Gibbons told The VOICE: “It’s harder than anything I’ve ever done and I sometimes just cry myself to sleep during the night, but not because of the situation, because I’m so hungry.”
Winter in New Jersey was particularly cold and snowy this year, and that had an effect on the homeless population.
A white homeless woman in her mid 20s with long brown hair, who wearing leggings and high boots asked to be identified only as Sarah. She said: “Winter time was a hard time because as I would have to try and find clothes to keep me warm. I still had to find shelter to lay my head down at night. Some nights I had to sleep on the streets, some nights I would sleep on a bench in a park and if I was lucky enough I would find an abandoned house.”
Going back to Tyrone, he said, “Trying to find food and shelter you have to make sure you get to the shelters in time to get a spot before it gets full. Once its full and I try to make it to another shelter, it will be too late.”
The largest Emergency Shelter in the area is at the Trenton Rescue Mission.
Their website says that they “can house 54 men and 23 women nightly… During the winter emergency period (approximately November 15th to April 15th), the bed capacity more than doubles to 135 men and 29 women nightly for a total of 164 individuals.” This represents roughly one sixth of the homeless who need beds in the area.
The Point in Time research for 2014 indicated that 29.5 percent of the homeless counted were under under 18 years old. VOICE reporters saw but did not interview homeless children, primarily for ethical reasons.
Other particularly vulnerable groups include veterans, the disabled, and lesbian, gay and transgender youth who are more likely to be thrown out of their homes by parents.
But by far the most prevalent problems for homeless individuals, according to the Point in Time report are mental health issues and addiction. A full 53.6 percent of those counted faced these obstacles.
Rob Gibbons told The VOICE that he still uses drugs and drinks because that is “the only time I can feel.”
When asked what he would do if his luck ever changed, Gibbons replied, “I would get clean and still live on the streets, because this is all I know now.”
Some homeless individuals speak of their desire to get out of the situation, while others express a sense of hopelessness.
One young white man in his early twenties, who is tall and lean, and wore sneakers with holes in them, dirty jeans and a black tank with hood, wished to remain anonymous, but told The VOICE, “Dealing with being less fortunate isn’t the problem. Knowing that I can’t do anything about it bothers me. I became homeless because I decided to drop out of school and my mother kicked me out. I didn’t have nowhere else to go and I refuse to go back school because its not for me. None of my family will help me because they feel like I should finish school before I receive any help.”
A new Point in Time homelessness count report for 2015 should be released by Monarch Housing Associates in a few weeks. It remains to be seen if the numbers will continue to rise.