By Kenny Walter
RED BANK — Despite down numbers on the annual point-in-time survey of the homeless, it is unlikely the problem is actually decreasing.
The Rev. Darlene Wilson from the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank said the unofficial tally was 53 surveys were taken during the first three hours of its Project Community Cares event that was held on Jan. 27 at the church. The surveys were done to get an accurate tally of homelessness in Monmouth. The total of 53 is a decrease from years past.
“The numbers are down today, and I would love to believe that is because we do not have homelessness as much as we did, but we know that is not so,” Wilson said on Jan. 27. “I thank God, at Pilgrim Baptist we are able to help Monmouth County again.”
Jeffrey Schwartz, acting director of the Monmouth County Department of Human Services, said the survey is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and opens up the county for grant money to help the homeless.
“The county’s role is we are the source where it begins,” he said. “The purpose is so we can use that information and statistical data when we apply for federal money on a competitive application to supply permanent support of housing for folks who are homeless.
“We ask the community to get involved because they know more of what’s going on in the local areas than we do. This point-in-time survey is what we use to tell us our numbers.”
Along with Red Bank, events were also held in Asbury Park, Freehold and Keansburg, as well as every county in the state.
Schwartz said along with counting the actual homeless, the survey identifies those at risk of becoming homeless.
“Lots of folks who come here are not necessarily homeless yet, but they are at risk,” he said. “The economy hurts; there was Sandy where people were displaced.”
Along with the point-in-time survey, those who attended the Project Community Cares event were able to receive a hot meal, select some winter clothing and speak with several organizations including Lunch Break, the Red Bank YMCA and other organizations aimed at finding housing for the homeless.
“The main event today is the point-in-time survey,” Wilson said. “Everything else is to help those that do sign up to find a way.
“We find that a lot of people in Monmouth County are not aware of all the organizations that we have to help them. In the meantime, the bells and whistles are keeping someone warm.”
According to Wilson, the church collected more than 700 coats in the weeks leading up to the event, as well as boxes filled with blankets, shoes and winter clothing like gloves, hats and scarves.
She said one of the main parts of the day is for potential clients to speak with some of the organizations there to help with housing, employment and food.
“There are so many organizations that want to help, they just don’t know where to start,” Wilson said. “This is a great opportunity for people, especially in the wintertime.
“It is truly a community event.”
Eleanor Taylor, a volunteer with Lunch Break, said the aim is to make people feel comfortable with reaching out for help.
“We try to make our clients feel very good about themselves and I love that part,” she said. “It is a great organization to belong to.”
Wilson also said the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen donated a continental breakfast for the day, and Lunch Break also offered food.
Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley said the program has expanded in recent years.
“It’s important for us to find out the needs literally on the street of people who are struggling,” he said. “Our economy is not the best and we try to get some evaluation so we can get more money from the state and the federal government.
“It’s become far more encompassing; you have so many more social organizations that come in.”
In 2015, 10,211 individuals were identified as homeless across the state, including 456 in Monmouth County.