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Haircuts To Hot Meals: Hackensack Center Counts, Helps Homeless

Julia Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, in one sleeping area of the center's homeless shelter. Each bed is equipped with mattress materials that prevent bed bugs.
Julia Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, in one sleeping area of the center's homeless shelter. Each bed is equipped with mattress materials that prevent bed bugs. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
A filled-up bag of essentials from Project Homeless Connect sitting on a bed in the homeless shelter in Hackensack.
A filled-up bag of essentials from Project Homeless Connect sitting on a bed in the homeless shelter in Hackensack. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Parishioners from the Church of St. Mary in Closter serve up dinner during Project Homeless Connect in Hackensack.
Parishioners from the Church of St. Mary in Closter serve up dinner during Project Homeless Connect in Hackensack. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
The dessert crew from the Church of St. Mary in Closter at the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center in Hackensack.
The dessert crew from the Church of St. Mary in Closter at the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center in Hackensack. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Like the other 20 counties in New Jersey, Bergen County sent out teams from Hackensack Wednesday morning to find – and help – homeless people they discovered living outdoors.

“This is the day that every year, in January, we send out street teams,” said Julia Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center .

“Our teams went out at 5 a.m.,” she added. “They searched under bridges, in parks, and any places where people are known to habitate when they’re living outside.”

A small number were found, she added, though the final number hasn’t yet been calculated.

That final number will be added to the results of surveys that count the number of people in transitional housing, including shelters.

This annual so-called Point-In-Time Survey is not exhaustive. But it does reveal whether homelessness is up or down statewide.

“I do believe there is more family homelessness that we don’t see,” Orlando said.

“The survey doesn’t account for people who are doubling or tripling up,” she added. “It’s harder for families to come forward for fear (their children will be taken away.)”

As is the custom, the point-in-time survey coincided with Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event that drew 142 people to the 28,000-square-foot Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center on South River Street.

The eight-year-old facility includes a 90-bed, 90-day shelter.

All who came to Project Homeless Connect gained access to Medicaid; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); employment opportunities; legal services; HIV counseling; flu shots; dental, blood and glucose screenings, and more.

Parisian Beauty Academy of Hackensack provided free haircuts and manicures.

Each guest received a green gift bag filled with donated gift cards, warm clothes, hygiene products, socks, and more. Everyone also received three meals.

A total of 83 people enjoyed breakfast and another 98, lunch.

Last year, the point-in-time survey showed Bergen had several hundred sheltered homeless people – and 20 more, including 10 veterans, on the street, according to Orlando.

In recent years, small clusters of unsheltered homeless people have been located in Teaneck and Hackenack, she said.

The low outdoor number in Bergen County is not surprising, for two reasons.

First, last year Bergen became the first county in New Jersey to end veteran homelessness.

There are veterans in the shelter, Orlando explained. But the number coming in is less than the number going out.

That’s thanks to a response system that can assess, triage and return veterans back to housing within 90 days.

Second, Bergen has the only county-owned homeless shelter in the state.

Its “housing first” philosophy – and its many offerings for its guests, including mental health, legal, nursing, and vocational services – get people on their feet fast.

An additional 15 beds are available from Dec. 15 through March 15, according to Orlando.

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco visited the center for Project Homeless Connect.

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