The Homeless and COVID-19
OceanMHS OnPOINT Clinician
As the country reels in following the initial phases of COVID-19 vaccination recipients, OceanMHS considers the less fortunate in our community who would benefit from vaccinations. Homelessness is a societal issue that is prevalent in NJ. The Point-in-Time Count, hosted by Monarch Housing, is a yearly census of the unsheltered and sheltered homeless in the state. The data is available to the public and breaks down collected data by county. The last published PIT Count showed that on the night of 1/28/2020, there were 7,877 sheltered homeless (in temporary emergency housing) and 1786 unsheltered homeless in New Jersey (Kelly, 2020). There was a marked 19.2% increase in the chronically homeless category compared to results collected in 2019 (2020). Data varies based on the ability to find the homeless to collect surveys, but this information is vital in securing further funding to put services in place for the homeless.
Homeless individuals in Ocean County do not have a year-round shelter. Thankfully, the establishment of legislature allowing for Code Blue Shelters to become active in Winter-weather months offers some sanctuary when temperatures dip below freezing. This is a particularly active time for the PATH (Projects in Assistance with Transition from Homelessness) program to collaborate with Code Blue warming shelters in an effort to link individuals to services. PATH case managers outreach homeless individuals in the community and through individual and community referrals. The focus of PATH is to link chronically mentally-ill and homeless individuals to housing and mental health treatment. On POINT (Proactive Outreach in Needs and Treatment) is a collaboration between participating police departments and OceanMHS to embed social workers into the police departments. The On POINT team offers education to the police about resources available to the homeless as well as engages with homeless individuals who have had police contact to link them to services. The On POINT and PATH programs both participated in the 2021 Point-in-Time Count and were able to link homeless individuals to social service programs, refer to Code Blue Shelters, and link to substance abuse and mental health resources.
The homeless are in a unique situation when dealing with COVID-19. Some individuals stay in groups that become small communities while others stay to themselves. The Code Blue warming shelters did a fantastic job with following CDC-recommended precautions to create a safe environment for guests; however, close quarters even with social distancing can create concern for the homeless. While shelters harbor risk for the spread of COVID-19, individuals residing by themselves in tents in the woods have other concerns to take into consideration. Enduring COVID-19 without a secure and safe shelter, running water, restroom facilities, and the threat of having to vacate at all times is highly dangerous. Individuals who are chronically homeless are also more likely to suffer with chronic untreated health conditions, making them even more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. When visiting the Greater Tuckerton Food Pantry during the Point-in-Time count, On POINT encountered a chronically-homeless veteran with significant medical issues. On POINT was able to link the veteran to Soldier On for services, and found that the individual was eligible for an array of services that he was completely unaware of. The veteran cried when he was speaking to the On POINT social worker, stating that the state has never done anything for him. This is just a small example of some of the situations our outreach workers face that highlight barriers individuals face to receive proper help and services. Help is out there—it is just a matter of reaching out and not giving up on those who face significant socioeconomic issues.
OceanMHS will continue to adapt and grow to address the needs of the community. To be a part of our mission, please visit the OceanCares Foundation to donate and learn about fundraising events.
If you or someone you love is in need of services please call the OceanMHS Access Center (732) 575-1111 or (877) 621-0445 or email Access@OceanMHS.org