The most recent Point-in-Time count of New Jersey’s homeless population found there are more than 9,300 people living in shelters, living with relatives and friends or on the streets.

That's up 6% from last year. The real total is believed to be much higher because many people may not be counted in this type of one-evening survey.

Now comes word the state Department of Human Services is pressing ahead with an ambitious plan to offer assistance to the homeless population while also trying to prevent homelessness.

According to Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira, part of this effort includes “ensuring services for those in immediate need are getting that support in a timely way.”

She noted the Department has issued clarifying guidance to all New Jersey counties that if a family is likely to be deemed eligible for financial assistance but their application is still in process, they should be able to get that assistance immediately.

She explained that policy provides for 30 days of eligibility while an application is being reviewed.

DHS is also repealing a regulation implemented during the Christie administration that allowed for individuals to be denied emergency assistance if they were somehow to blame for their homelessness.

“The lack of clarity around this regulation resulted in really broad interpretation and sort of inconsistency and implementation," she said.

Another regulation being eliminated required young adults seeking help to provide their parent’s tax returns in order to demonstrate they are not claimed as a dependent.

“This can make it really difficult for young adults in need of services to obtain critical help if they recently had a family conflict and are not able to get those documents," she said.

Homeless families can now get up to six months of child care subsidy services while they establish eligibility.

“Our programs are really there to help people that are in those immediate situations get the help that they need, sort of help them through case management and housing navigation," Neira said.

“These changes are really going to help New Jersey residents that are in need of services get the help they need to hopefully prevent homelessness, we are there to provide that immediate assistance when a family needs it the most.”

Emergency assistance provides benefits like food, clothing, shelter and household furnishings. It also includes temporary rental assistance, back rent, mortgage payments and utility bills. It is generally limited to 12 months of support.

Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed creating a new Office of Homelessness Initiatives within the Department of Community Affairs. In the meantime DHS and DCA will continue to coordinate efforts to serve residents in need of housing assistance.

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