How is New Jersey’s poorest county tackling homelessness?

This story is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.

Find it on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Reaching those experiencing homelessness is challenging in mostly rural Cumberland County, New Jersey, a one-hour car ride from Philadelphia. It is often cited as the poorest county in the state, based on census figures. While the poverty rate in New Jersey is just under 10%, Cumberland’s is at 15.5%.

“In addition to that rural aspect, we have three fairly substantial urban areas,” said county business administrator Harold Johnson, referring to Bridgeton, Millville, and Vineland. “It creates a unique problem.”

The county’s lone 24-hour shelter, Cumberland Family Shelter, is located in Vineland. But getting there is a challenge without a car ride or catching one of the few buses that travel there.

“Cumberland doesn’t have a great public transportation system,” Johnson admitted.

Homes in Bridgeton, N.J. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

‘They just need to put in shelters’

The lack of easy transport proved a barrier for LaChenee Nelson, who experienced homelessness for a year. During that period, Nelson slept where she could. Especially so she could be close to her job.

“I was staying with a friend. And then before that I was sleeping outside. I was sleeping at hospitals,” she said. “I was just going from house to house to house.”

Prior to becoming homeless for a second time, she shared an apartment with her grandmother in Vineland.

“Being as though I didn’t have a stable job, I couldn’t afford to pay my half the rent.”

LaChenee Nelson, 24, with her son Legend, 2, in their apartment in Millville, N.J. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Nelson, 24, is a mother of two young sons. Child care issues caused her to leave her job at a fast food restaurant. But her lowest point came when her third child, a one-month old boy, died around the same time she lost the apartment.

“That took me in a dark place that I don’t wish for nobody,” she recalled. “I had no chance to heal properly. Like, I’ve been taking my anger out on the wrong people.”

  • December 29, 2023
  • Articles,
  • This post was written by