More than 8,000 men, women, and children in New Jersey had no real place to call home on the night of Jan. 26, 2021.

The annual count of homeless individuals still occurred in the face of a global pandemic — the method of counting shifted, however, so organizations would prefer not to compare 2021's numbers, released Tuesday, to figures from previous years.

"I think the pandemic this year has really highlighted the importance of housing," said Taiisa Kelly, CEO of Monarch Housing Associates, located in Cranford. "Regardless of how the numbers are going up and down, there is this population that's experiencing homelessness."

Monarch coordinates the count and completes an analysis of the yearly Point-in-Time surveys, which this year counted 8,097 individuals, in 6,210 households.

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Most of the individuals were found to be in sheltered locations, such as an emergency shelter, transitional housing, a safe haven program, or hotel/motel placement, and 835 were unsheltered.

Thirty-six individuals in the count were unaccompanied youth under the age of 18.

According to Monarch, persons identifying as Black or African American make up 50% of the New Jersey population experiencing homelessness, but they represent 13% of the state's population.

"Solutions to end homelessness must be developed in partnership with individuals experiencing homelessness," Kelly said. "We cannot begin to address the racial inequities in our systems and begin to identify effective solutions without creating space for collaboration with the communities we seek to serve."

During the coronavirus pandemic, state and local governments have seen an increase in federal funding to assist those currently experiencing homelessness and those who are at risk.

The pandemic affected the way agencies could safely conduct outreach for NJCounts 2021. Communities typically rely on trained volunteers to conduct surveys over one night, but surveys in 2021 were handled by homeless service providers over a 14-day period.

More than half of the information related to sheltered homeless individuals came from the Homeless Management Information System.

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