The Basics of Homelessness
How Many People Experience Homelessness?
On a single night in January, 2020 in Essex County, New Jersey
- 2,214 persons experienced homelessness in Essex County
- 1,260 homeless persons stayed in emergency shelters, 538 stayed in transitional housing, and 416 were living unsheltered.
- Of the 1,619 homeless households, 289 (18%) were families with at least one child under the age of 18 and one adult.
Who Are The Families that Become Homeless?
- Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman who, on average, is in her late 20’s with approximately two children, one or both under 6 years of age.
- Recent trends show that homeless families now often include male-headed families as well as two-parent families, a result of the faltering economy.
- Among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80 percent previously experienced domestic violence.
- At FPE, over 50 percent of the individuals we’ve served in the past three years were children.
Why do Families Become Homeless?
Poverty and the lack of affordable housing are the primary causes of homelessness. Typically, families becomes homeless as a result of an unforeseen financial crisis. A death, family illness, job loss, or fire can be all it takes to destabilize a family’s finances. Families are faced with the impossible choice of paying the rent or feeding their children.
In Essex County, the four factors most often causing homelessness are
- Income falls behind the cost of living.
- Available jobs are low-paying.
- Cost of housing is rising: the government defines “affordable housing” when a household pays no more than 30 percent of annual income on housing costs.
- Many families have little or no savings to cover unforeseen expenditures.
The Impact of Homelessness on Children
When a child experiences homelessness, the effects are significant and long-lasting. Children can experience
- high rates of acute and chronic health problems,
- exposure to domestic violence,
- emotional and behavioral problems, and
- decreased academic achievement.
What a Family Needs to Live in Essex County
A family of four in Essex County needs a net income of $66,701 in 2020 to afford the basics–food, childcare, health care, housing, transportation, and other necessities.
- This is more than twice the federal government’s poverty threshold of $25,926.
- Almost 15 percent of Essex County residents live below the federal poverty line, while 51 percent of households earn less than a living wage, encompassing those in poverty as well as the “working poor.”
Homelessness Impacts All of Us
The cost to society of homelessness is high, especially when it affects families. Costs associated with supporting parents and children include the high cost of the homeless system itself – both emergency shelter and transitional housing. Other costs include the child welfare and healthcare systems as well as transporting children to school and other strains on the education system caused by high mobility.
Sources for this page
- Essex County 2020 Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness (PIT)
- 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR)
- Essex County 2019 Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness
- U. S. Census Bureau. Poverty Thresholds for 2019 by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years
- U.S. Census Bureau. Quick Facts, Essex County, NJ , 2019
- Household Survival Budget Essex, NJ 2016, https://www.unitedforalice.org/new-jersey
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