Each year, during a 24-hour period in the last 10 days of January, homeless advocates throughout the US count the homeless population in their state. This initiative, the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, provides valuable data for agencies and non-profits who offer services to people who are homeless. The PIT Count not only produces an annual count of homeless individuals in our country but also provides data reflecting the causes of homelessness, its composition, and its corresponding health-related issues (such as physical & mental disabilities and substance abuse).
On Wednesday, January 23, 2019, New Jersey will conduct its annual PIT Count throughout the state’s 12 counties. During that one night, volunteers from agencies serving the homeless will tally the number of individuals in shelters and those in un-sheltered locations. According to the 2018 PIT Count, 9,303 homeless individuals were counted statewide, an increase of 9% from the prior year. Essex County had the highest homeless count in the state (24%) followed by the second highest of 9% in Hudson County. These are two of the four counties served by Table to Table.
How do the results from this annual report help us to better address the needs of the homeless population in our 4 counties? In general, people who are homeless face many nutritional challenges and information from the PIT Count helps us to more fully understand these issues. A significant portion of the fresh food we provide is delivered to the city of Newark in Essex County where, as mentioned, the homeless population is disproportionately large. To meet the needs of these individuals, we have modified the type of food we deliver. Taking into consideration their lack of kitchen and storage facilities, we provide nutritious, fresh options that are ready-to-eat and packed with vitamins and minerals to offset their unavoidably erratic eating habits. We have begun to see progress in the ways that many who are homeless now choose and use fresh produce.
The ability to communicate with people who are homeless is frequently limited due to the prevalence of mental disabilities and varying literacy levels, preventing us from providing the educational component present in our other markets. Rather than offering recipes and food preparation instruction at the Bessie Green Market, a project funded by Healthcare Foundation of NJ that targets homeless people in Newark, nutritional guidance is geared toward making healthier and more nutritious choices from the food available to them. Despite some limitations, the enthusiasm we witness for the weekly fresh food we provide is evident. After biting into a fresh carrot from the market a recipient was heard to comment, “Now I remember what a carrot tastes like!” Although we know Table to Table can’t completely eradicate hunger and homelessness in the counties we serve, we feel we’re making a dent in the problem, and through the delivery of fresh nutritious food, we are filling a niche that is often lacking for those who need it most.