Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Counting the Homeless, One Person at a Time

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Counting the Homeless, One Person at a Time

Article excerpt

Often, they are ragged and unshaven. They may even smell. They live under overpasses, inside train stations. They find shelter in old blankets and cardboard boxes. They are the faces of an America we don't always see or wish to see.

Yet they are there, the homeless, and once a year, thanks to scores of volunteers armed with clipboards and writing utensils we get a glimpse into their lives. That was the case Jan. 24, when volunteers for the annual Point-in-Time count of the homeless fanned out into neighborhoods of North Jersey, from Paterson to Hackensack, finding people who had lost their way.

While there is a good variety of nonprofits, local government agencies, faith-based groups and ordinary citizens who reach out and try to help the homeless, taking account of the scope of the problem is difficult. Even the Point-in-Time count is a rough estimate, incomplete, but it is a necessary tool to help document the problem and give witness to a scourge that continues to plague one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.

Paul Nickels, a volunteer who was once homeless himself, poignantly described the situation, and explained exactly why the Point-in-Time survey is so important and timely. Nickels brought perspective to the case after he and a reporter from The Record came across a homeless man in Hackensack who seemed reluctant to take up the offer to come to the Bergen County shelter on River Street in Hackensack for food, a haircut or a shower.

"He's bounced around and has probably given up," said Nickels of the 51-year-old man, who said he'd also stayed at shelters in Florida and South Carolina before coming to New Jersey. "People resist for all kinds of reasons, but if we keep coming in contact eventually maybe they'll come in."

That word, "maybe," is a word that those who fight the good fight for the poor and nearly hopeless encounter day after day, year after. Maybe a person will come back to a shelter, maybe they will find a job, maybe they will get help for their drug or alcohol addiction. …

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