EDITORIAL: Schools can help end homelessness
Support systems, access to quality resources are necessary for youth
On the night of Jan. 23, 2018, networks of organizations and members of various communities took to the streets of New Jersey with Monarch Housing Associates to conduct the 2018 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count of homeless men, women and children across the state’s 21 counties. The 2018 report counted 9,303 homeless people on that night, which was a 9 percent increase from the 2017 report. This increase was smaller than the reported increase from 2016 to 2017, which was 20 percent, but still undeniably disheartening.
Among those recorded in this year’s report, 1,288 persons were identified as chronically homeless. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a person experiencing chronic homelessness as, “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”
But a more in depth look at the demographics of who makes up New Jersey’s homeless population reveals an arguably deeper issue.
One deeper issue is revealed by the fact that there are glaring racial disparities within the homeless population. Despite only making up approximately 12.7 percent of the state’s total population, Black people are 48.1 percent of the homeless population — which relates to the fact that the same group makes up 24 percent of New Jerseyans living in poverty.
The other deeper issue is the fact that among homeless adults over the age of 18, 60.6 percent have some sort of disability, the most obviously prevalent of which being mental health issues.
Given the sheer proportion of the homeless population that suffers from these disabilities, it may not be far-fetched at all to assume some sort of causal link with regard to mental health issues or mental disabilities and homelessness in the Garden State. So if that is the case, where are we failing these individuals?
One reasonable response to that would probably be that we are failing from the beginning within our school systems. The way property taxes help fund schools in this state means that wealthier towns get more funding and higher quality education systems, which in turn allows schools to provide more for their kids. This would include access to quality special education programs that focus on shaping individuals for their future, as well as effective mental health resources.
Of course, the aforementioned would not be a silver bullet in ultimately reducing the homeless population. In low-income communities there are a plethora of factors that can lead to a students’ failure academically, and the challenges are increased when a learning disability or mental disability is thrown into the mix. But where a kid’s support system fails outside of school, the school itself must step in to ensure that the child in question has the resources they need for future success.
The point is that ensuring that all youth get access to quality resources, programs and support within their school system, especially for those students who may be affected by mental disabilities or disorders, may in turn lead to an overall decrease in homelessness. But how might this be done?
The biggest thing is that people need to care. Non-profit organizations like Teach For America send young, activist-minded people who understand these issues into needy school districts where they can work to make the differences necessary for equity. But those non-profits can only go so far. In the end, it takes a society as a whole to correct these issues. So for the sake of humanity, spread the word and convince people to care.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.