A new survey of New Jersey's homeless population shows a 12 percent decrease from a year ago. But advocates for the homeless say we still have a way to go in helping this population.

Kim Reinick, ThinkStock

The homeless count was done in late January. They counted the number of homeless in the state on the night of Jan. 26, according to NJCounts 2016 spokesman Jay Everett, of Monarch Housing Associates.

Those considered "chronically homeless," or people who were homeless at least four times in the past year, dropped 41 percent.

But Everett adds that that was also shaped by the fact that the federal government changed the definition.

The number of people considered "unsheltered," or not living anywhere fit for human habitation, increased 48 percent. And that number also includes 47 percent more households. Everett calls that a "key troubling piece of this report that otherwise has numbers going in the opposite (positive) direction."

He says there was a general decrease in homelessness in most New Jersey counties in this year's survey. But Everett says the largest increase was in Essex County, with a large increase in the unsheltered population.

He says overall, the whole state, in almost every county, saw a pretty consistent drop in the number of chronically homeless persons. Everett says they attribute that in part to the fact that the definition changed.

"It used to be that you just had to have someone who is disabled in the household, who is an adult, who had four episodes of homelessness in the last 12 years. And now the definition, that person would have to have four episodes of homelessness that total 12 months of homelessness in all."

He says that kind of shrank the definition, and maybe shrank the numbers overall across the different counties.

Everett says there's a lot of support for increasing shelter vouchers and homeless assistance funding. "Basically getting people as quickly as possible out of homelessness."

"New Jersey, as we know, is a very expensive place to live and to raise a family. So making sure that the options are out there for folks who may need the support to make their place of residence affordable is a key piece to help end homelessness."

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