ATLANTIC CITY - An annual homeless survey is underway in Atlantic County to connect those in need with the services that can help get them off the street.
Here at the Salvation Army in Atlantic City, social workers and volunteers joined others across the state for Wednesday's Project Homeless Connect, point in time count of homeless residents.
Volunteers say homelessness here in Atlantic County is a growing problem. "Daily it's increasing, you never know the situation, and circumstances people are facing. Some of the stuff makes you cry, it touches my heart, but it's a lot of people that are finding difficulties and everyday challenges," explained Carmen Mollineaux, Charity Coordinator for the Community FoodBank of NJ Southern Branch, volunteering for Project Homeless Connect.
"I think people who never thought they would be in this situation are finding themselves in this situation as a result of job loss or some type of loss of income or increase of housing cost, things like that," said Ann Thoresen, Path Plus Supervisor of Jewish Family Service, volunteering for Project Homeless Connect.
Last year's count identified 536 homeless men, women and children in Atlantic County. But Thoresen says the actual number of homeless over the course of a year may actually be two to four times larger than the number counted in one point in time. "There's no way we could possibly document the number of individuals experiencing homelessness. We don't have the man power and we don't know the individuals who may be sleeping on somebody's couch today, but tomorrow or the next day, may have to leave."
But the collected information will ultimately help officials develop plans to provide the homeless with shelter and permanent housing.
In the meantime, volunteers are using the survey as an opportunity to provide the homeless with food, clothing, and personal care items, and connect them with needed health and social services. Thoresen said, "Anytime we have the opportunity to connect with somebody one on one, find out a little bit about them, see what their issues may be, see what can be out there to help them, if anything, it's a good day."
Mollineaux explained, "I try to encourage people that this too shall pass, to keep faith, to keep hope alive and to look forward to doing better and things turning out better."
According to past Project Homeless Connect survey results, the main contributors to homelessness in the county are substance abuse, unemployment, mental and emotional problems, relationship difficulties, housing costs and medical or developmental disabilities.