Communities of color are disproportionately affected by homelessness, so the state of New Jersey, in partnership with communities and organizations, has launched an initiative to take on the racial inequity.

Within the project is a planning process that invites people who've experienced homelessness to participate in the decision-making of the homelessness service system.

"Around 2018, we started looking at the impact of homelessness along racial lines, and we've been noticing a consistent trend since that time," said Taiisa Kelly, CEO of Monarch Housing Associates. "Last year we actually held a summit with all of our community planning bodies to talk about this issue."

Monarch, a partner in this initiative with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' Office of Homelessness Prevention, conducts a homeless count throughout the state on one night every January. Their 2020 count identified 9,663 men, women and children without a true place to call home, a 6% increase from the year prior.

While people identifying as Black or African American make up just 13% of the state's population, the group said, they represent about 50% of the population experiencing homelessness. In comparison, those who identify as white but non-Hispanic make up about 54% of New Jersey's population and 25% of the homeless count.

"Part of addressing the issues that we see today has to be rooted in addressing the historical impacts of racism and systemic racism," Kelly added.

The DCA is providing nearly $30,000 in Community Service Block Grant funding to launch this initiative.

"Exploring how racial disparities in our system play a role in perpetuating homelessness will help us to better target programs and services in the future," said DCA Commissioner and Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com