Camden County begins 24-hour count of its homeless

At a tent city off Route 30 where he is known as "the mayor," Lorenzo Banks takes the survey with Shaniqua Nobles. Last year, experts say, about 14,000 homeless people were living in New Jersey.
At a tent city off Route 30 where he is known as "the mayor," Lorenzo Banks takes the survey with Shaniqua Nobles. Last year, experts say, about 14,000 homeless people were living in New Jersey. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 26, 2012

Dozens of volunteers carrying yellow federal forms fanned out Wednesday across Camden County - as many did all over New Jersey - to take a census of homeless people and refer them to such services as housing, medical care, and counseling.

The state's annual, federally mandated Point-in-Time count of the homeless began at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and was to end at midnight Thursday - when Pennsylvania was set to begin its count.

Maryanne Joyner, 48, was one of about two dozen individuals whom volunteers found at a "tent city" off Route 30 in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

"I don't mind it," Joyner said of the survey. "If it's going help me then, yeah, I'll do it."

Joyner is no newcomer to a tent city; she lived in one after being evicted from an apartment two years ago, went on to earn a high school diploma during her time there, and returned to an apartment. Then, a few weeks ago, the welfare recipient again lost her housing.

Every other year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires states to do a full head count of the homeless in order to receive federal funding for services that benefit the homeless. Last year, about 14,000 homeless people were living in New Jersey. This year, HUD required only a count of people living in shelters.

In Camden County, however, volunteers decided to conduct a comprehensive count, looking for homeless individuals not only in shelters but also in encampments.

"We are making an effort to do full counts," said Joanne Locke, project coordinator for the Community Planning and Advocacy Council, a Pennsauken-based nonprofit in charge of the survey intakes for Camden County.

The data will be tallied by the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Preliminary totals are not expected until March or April, Locke said.

The homeless count for 2011 was 733, down from 775 the year before. Cathedral Kitchen director Karen Talarico said the actual number of homeless was from 20 percent to 25 percent higher.

The Point-in-Time "information is used to map out homeless-prevention efforts and to track homeless trends" such as age, migration, and race, said Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to Camden County's Health and Human Services Department. "Because of Camden County's location, we see many homeless from out of the area, including Philadelphia and further north in New Jersey. We try to help everyone we can."

Referrals to social services were the incentive for Joyner and others to help the volunteers fill out the surveys.

At New Visions Homeless Day Shelter in downtown Camden, there was an extra inducement: a Thanksgiving-style lunch (turkey, green beans, and yams) served by members of St. John Baptist Church in East Camden.

The lunch, however, did not draw a big crowd.

"Last year, we counted about 120. This year we had about 110. . . . The weather plays a significant role," said New Visions executive director Kevin Moran.

With 50-degree temperatures Wednesday, residents at the Route 30 tent city were hanging out in lawn chairs.

Hal Miller, a Volunteers of America coordinator, was among a team of four doing street outreach. He said it was hard to tell how thorough the count would be this year because of the day's balmy weather. Last year, frigid weather sent most homeless people to shelters, making the count easier.

A trend this year, Miller said, was that more of the homeless expressed a need for housing and for identification - to be able to apply for assistance.

"I don't understand the system," said Joyner, who sought help finding permanent housing. "They give you a hard time and make it very difficult."

Joyner, whose tent is penthouse-size compared with the smaller tents, said she needed a legitimate roof over her head to welcome her two youngest sons, ages 10 and 13, who live with their father in Deptford: "I can't bring them here."

The count in Philadelphia, coordinated by Project HOME, a nonprofit social services agency, was scheduled to end about 3 a.m. Philadelphia does a count four times a year. HUD Regional Director Jane C.W. Vincent and Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Undersecretary Michael Cardarelli were set to go out with volunteers.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917,,

or @InqCVargas on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Lin contributed to this article.

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