In a reversal, the Camden County freeholders voted Thursday night to create a homelessness trust fund, supported by a $3 filing fee on county documents, in an effort to provide permanent housing for the homeless.
In May, the freeholders had rejected calls to implement the fee, calling it an inappropriate "tax" and saying they provided "more than enough" money and services for the homeless.
But with the economy showing signs of improvement, the board was more amenable to the surcharge, according to Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, who sponsored the resolution. "Three dollars will go a long way to make a difference," she said.
Only one freeholder in attendance, Riletta Cream, voted against the measure. Afterward, she said she didn't think it was the county's job to deal with homelessness because "there are other entities equipped to deal with it."
Camden County becomes the 12th county in New Jersey to implement the fee, according to Alison Recca-Ryan, president the New Jersey Advocacy Network to End Homelessness. It will be assessed on documents filed with the county clerk, from veterans' discharge forms to mortgage paperwork.
"I'm ecstatic," Recca-Ryan said. "It's long overdue. It's difficult in many places to get the trust fund in place not because those in charge don't think it's a good thing, but because money is so tight people are going to perceive it as a new tax."
The county will now set up a task force to help decide how the money is spent. Among the most attractive options to advocates for the homeless is the creation of "permanent supportive housing" - facilities that house the homeless and provide services. The money could also be used for case managers and rental assistance.
One county, Middlesex, is raising between $25,000 and $30,000 monthly for its homelessness trust fund, according to Recca-Ryan.
The state law allowing counties to create the homelessness trust fund was cosponsored by former State Sen. Dana L. Redd, now Camden's mayor, and signed at a Camden soup kitchen last year by former Gov. Jon S. Corzine. The freeholders' vote Thursday was also held in Camden.
Camden has what has proved to be an intractable homeless problem. Countywide, the homeless population is estimated to be 2,000 people, according to the Advocacy Network to End Homelessness.
But most of those people are concentrated in the county seat, Camden. Rodriguez said 60 percent of Camden's homeless come from elsewhere in the county.
"Since Camden City seems to be the home of the homeless, I think it was very important, and I thank you very much," Lloyd Henderson, Camden County East NAACP president, told the board.
Earlier this year a South Jersey pastor tried to make a dent in the problem by taking dozens of people who were living in tents off a Route 676 exit ramp and bringing them to hotels for several weeks. The homeless were offered services, and some landed housing. Others are back on the streets.
After that so-called Tent City was cleared out, the state fenced the property. Some homeless people then set up camp in the underpasses on Admiral Wilson Boulevard near the Ben Franklin Bridge, but the state then spent $50,000 to fence off all but one of those areas.
Since then, in the last several weeks, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of tents at a new tent city in a patch of woods off Admiral Wilson Boulevard.