Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Homelessness in Plainfield

Today communities across the nation are conducting "point in time counts" to estimate the extent and causes of homelessness. These counts are street level surveys done every two years by teams of human service and law enforcement workers and volunteers.

I participated in the Plainfield count which was coordinated by the Union County Department of Human Services. We found a lot of homeless people in Plainfield. Between 4 and 7:30 am our teams visited vacant buildings where we were able to make contact with 40 people. Our police escorts woke them up so we could fill out questionaires, provide food and clothing and make referrals for help as needed.

There was a group of people living in a vacant multi-family house near the downtown train station. Reasons given for their homelessness included unemployment, criminal justice system involvement, substance abuse and the high cost of housing. They were encouraged to go to the Plainfield YMCA shelter and they declined. The reason given was bed bugs. An unheated building does not have bed bug problems but the shelter does. Later I was told by an Bridgeway outreach worker that the Y works hard to deal with bed bugs and generally succeeds but this is a difficult problem to eradicate.

Nearby, a vacant office building was temporary shelter for a group of young men who are doing day labor and, apparently, saving money on rent. Only one of ten spoke English and through him we convinced them to go to the county social services office at Park Madison to get shelter vouchers.

Homelessness has many causes. Mental illness and substance abuse are common causes and are often associated with chronic homelessness. People with these problems are more likely to be noticed by the public. During an economic downturn, poverty and unemployment cause a surge in homelessness and we saw that today. Places like Plainfield see increased vacancies and foreclosures and some homeless people will find these locations as their least bad housing option.

Many people who experience homelessness are invisible to most of us. I may blog more on this. For now, I hope my observations helps the reader's understanding of homelessness in our community.


Anonymous said...

One has to wonder if the group you describe are illegal aliens. So instead of offering them the warmth of a dentention center, prior to deportation, you and the police supply them with vouchers. More money spent in a town, county and state that has nothing to spare.

Rob said...

Excellent information...I wonder how many of your critics pointing you out as one of the "people up on the hill" would be so willing to get so involved.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the taking the time to help with and inform us about a serious, ongoing problem, one that affects us all in the quality of the street life in Plainfield.

Was Jerry Green with you or is this work considered too Republican? Too unauthorized Latino oriented? Or just not enough voters?

Anonymous said...

Hi Cory, I was a volunteer for the Middlesex County homeless count, but was unable to make it due to the snow storm. I'm sure the numbers are not completely reflective of what is the actuality due to the weather. The thinking is that the Feds do this in the winter to keep the numbers down. Do you prescribe to that notion?
Thanks for the good work you and your agency do for all of us.

Julie Jerome

Cory Storch said...

Dear January 26 anonymous

You make a good point about what we can afford. That brings us into the immigration reform discussion which deserves a lot more attention than my blog can provide. Keep in mind that the point in time count is meant to get data to make spending decisions about homelessness funding. It would not work if it was a law enforcement operation.