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Counting the homeless in America's poorest city
By Blake Ellis (CNNMoney - 13 February 2014)
As the temperature plunged into the low teens on a January morning in Camden, N.J., seven aid workers set out on a daunting mission: to count the homeless in the nation's poorest city.

Making rounds to shelters, warming centers, soup kitchens and "tent cities," the workers and volunteers helping out with this year's count were trying to find as many homeless people as they could within 24 hours.

The federal government requires communities to conduct a homeless count at least every other year to qualify for funding for homeless services like emergency shelter, food and job training.

In Camden, the need is huge. No city in the country is poorer: The poverty rate is roughly 40% and the median household income is a mere $26,000 -- compared to $51,000 nationally. It's also the most dangerous city in the country; drugs are everywhere and unemployment stands at 13%.

Social services agencies across the country already had their federal funding cut by at least 5% last year. That led many organizations in Camden to run out of money by October, says Shantel Garner, a project specialist at Community Planning & Advocacy Council, the nonprofit in charge of organizing Camden's homeless count.

Advocacy groups like Garner's conduct these Point-in-Time counts, and the results help the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine local and national trends in homelessness and assess need in individual areas.

Last year's homeless count found only 589 homeless people in the 513,000-person county of Camden, and homeless advocates say this number is significantly understated.

CNNMoney joined Garner when she started counting people around 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. Her first stop was Joseph's House, a 75-bed shelter that opened a week earlier.

~ Read more here.
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