By: Follow South Jersey Staff
CAMDEN, N.J. — Currently, there are nearly 8,100 people experiencing homelessness in the state, according to the New Jersey 2021 Point In Time Count, an annual count that “provides a statewide snapshot of households experiencing homelessness in our communities; where they find shelter, what their needs are, and what factors contribute to making them homeless.”
In the six South Jersey counties, there are nearly 1,300 homeless, the report states, with Camden County topping the list with 650.
Since 2016, the Camden County Board of Commissioners has been tackling persistent homelessness through the “Hearts and Hands for the Homeless” program. Recognizing the incredible generosity of the community, “Hearts and Hands for the Homeless” is aimed at funneling charitable giving to effective organizations and volunteer opportunities while discouraging panhandling and other forms of solicitation.
Years of destigmatization has helped to generate compassion for those suffering from homelessness and has stimulated a renewed interest in helping the homeless population. The Board of Commissioners is encouraging that giving be done in ways that address the issue on a broader scale than for just one person.
“Sometimes public feedings and giving to panhandlers often serves as a vehicle that enables the homeless to remain in crisis rather than seek the help that they really need,” said Commissioner Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services. “While we want to recognize the incredible generosity and compassion that motivates giving, we also want to encourage our homeless population to connect with professional agencies to get more, long-term help so as to permanently end homelessness.”
Advocates for homelessness prevention have found that when panhandlers can count on spontaneous giving by members of the public, they become less likely to seek professional services and more likely to remain homeless. For this reason, individual acts of generosity on the street often fuel a negative cycle of homelessness and hunger.
“Hearts and Hands for the Homeless” is designed to redirect charitable interests aimed at helping the homeless toward opportunities to volunteer or give strategically, and to shift perceptions regarding which forms of outreach are most impactful. By reorienting individuals away from direct intervention and instead to supporting shelters, food kitchens, and other professional services, we can do more to effectively address homelessness than by relying on individual acts of kindness.
“Lots of people want to help those struggling with homelessness,” Rodriguez said. “And the best way to do so is by addressing the problem on a wider scope. Donate your time and money to charitable organizations that are trying to provide long-term solutions to our homeless population.”
Volunteer and donation opportunities for local agencies who are serving the homeless in Camden County can be found at www.ccheartshandshomeless.com. A current list of organizations looking for community support includes the Sanctuary Foundation for Veterans in Lawnside; Center for Family Services-Promise Neighborhood Family Success Center in Camden; and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care in Cherry Hill.
Individuals who are in need of services can also be encouraged to visit the site or call the state homelessness hotline at 211.
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