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Help for the homeless

In a city with close to 4,000 homeless residents, it is hard for Camden officials to argue that they are doing enough to get people off the street.

Recall Camden is the home of the infamous Tent City, where dozens of homeless residents set up a Third World camp that was led by a self-appointed "mayor." The camp was recently closed, but only after a minister from a church stepped in with a temporary solution.

Despite the closing of Tent City, Camden remains a city with a homeless problem — among many other issues that have long prevented the city from reaching its full potential.

That's why the Camden County Freeholder Board is being shortsighted in refusing to take advantage of a new law that allows counties to generate revenue to help the homeless.

The law, signed last fall by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, allows counties to establish Homeless Trust Funds supported by a $3 fee on documents filed with county clerks.

Ironically, the Freeholder Board supported the law at the time but in short order has reversed its position, calling the fund a "tax" that it refuses to pass on to residents.

In a statement, the county said it already distributes thousands of dollars for programs to help the homeless. "We believe that this is more than enough."

Tell that to the 3,700 homeless adults, including women and children, in Camden — the county's seat. Granted, the county already spends about $4.8 million annually on programs for the homeless.

But seven of New Jersey's 21 counties have established the trust funds. Camden should join in. The law requires a task force to monitor spending and draft a 10-year plan to combat homelessness. That makes sense.

Homeless advocates have pushed for the trust fund legislation for years. They believe the funds could be used to help the homeless secure permanent housing and become self-sufficient.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd cosponsored the trust fund legislation as a state senator. She championed the trust fund as a "life preserver" to help the homeless "in their time of greatest need."

But as mayor she has offered only tepid support. What gives?

Redd should use her bully pulpit as mayor to lobby the freeholders to implement the fee.

In a county with such a large homeless population, the fee is a painless way to fund a solution to a serious and growing problem. The county's claim that it does more than enough is an insult to the less fortunate individuals who lack a roof over their heads.