Freeholders Roll out New Program to End Homelessness

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(Camden, NJ) – The Freeholder Board developed a six-point plan to address homelessness with progressive programs and innovative partnerships in a coordinated way that has never been done before in Camden County. These new programs are a holistic approach that encompass all facets of the many challenges related to this endemic issue. The fight to end homelessness will be accomplished by breaking down silos and providing more effective resources for individuals. This new initiative will address a spectrum of needs, from 24-hour access to social workers to seasonal employment for individuals looking for work.

“We have a moral imperative to aid the most vulnerable members of our community and help them stabilize themselves by getting them off the street and into permanent housing,” Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Health Department said. “These programs, whether it is prison re-entry or access to our Office of Mental Health and Addiction, when operating together, with organizations coordinating with each other, will ensure a higher success rate and save taxpayers money.”

Bringing all service organizations to the table and leveraging their combined strengths the Freeholder Board believes that it can make an unprecedented impact against homelessness. This six-point plan is not only for the unsheltered, but also for the individuals getting by day to day, but could be unsheltered at a moment’s notice with the loss of a paycheck or sale of a property.

“Bringing these services under one consolidated roof is not only for the unsheltered, but we have hundreds of people who are couch surfing or staying in motels that could lose the roof over their head at any given moment,” Rodriguez continued. “These resources that we are bringing to bear will enable us to not only provide shelter, but to give individuals the ability to gain dignity through employment, wrap-around services and most importantly stability.”

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Camden County experiences around 500 to 600 homeless individuals on any given day. The objective for this project is to make a multi-pronged effort to address this population with a variety of resources from employment to services from the Office of Mental Health and Addiction, while working to expand our housing first program. In addition, working alongside our partners, Volunteers of America, and a variety of other organizations, we will be able to provide more professional assistance to this population. Furthermore, we have leveraged multiple agencies, nonprofits and advocates to work in tandem to achieve our goals of ending homelessness.

Pat McKernan, COO of Volunteers of America, who is spearheading the re-entry and navigator program said increasing services for vulnerable populations whether it be from jail or in the homeless population will be beneficial to the community.

“Volunteers of America is thrilled to be expanding services in Camden County serving the homeless and people returning from the criminal justice system,” McKernan said. ‘We are looking forward to working with the Freeholder Board and other partners in this important effort.”

Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli talked about the importance of the county’s newly formed Office of Mental Health and Addiction as being timely and proactive in this mission to end homelessness.

“Our objective is to ensure our community knows that we can get them to a place where they can obtain the mental health and substance abuse services they need,” Cappelli said. “We can provide one place to call. A unified information and referral system and a combined professional association.”

He went on to talk about the impact of the public health crisis as a catalyst for homelessness in our community.

“We know that opioids and heroin have played a significant role for many who are homeless, furthermore many of those same individuals have concurring challenges with behavior health as well,” Cappelli said. “Both challenges, left untreated, can create destructive and dire consequences that result in homelessness. Now, we can leverage not just government resources, but the full weight of our combined partnerships behind the services needed to create stability for individuals and create better outcomes.”

Diana Cooper, President/CEO of the Community Planning and Advocacy Council said her organization is honored to serve in the continuum of care for people that are experiencing homelessness.

“We cannot just talk about it, we have to be about it,” said Cooper. “Camden County adopted the Covenant for Children, Youth and Families with the Bill of Rights for all families. The first two rights strongly support the Housing First model, which includes the right to a permanent home.”