TRENTON � Two measures sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey (D � Essex, Morris) that would require emergency shelters for the homeless to admit persons with mental illness unless they pose a danger, and prohibit emergency shelters for the homeless from refusing to provide services for a minimum time frame unless the shelters are at maximum capacity passed the full Senate today.
Homelessness remains a devastating problem in the state. Last month at Newark�s Penn Station, Senator Codey announced a series of initiatives and legislation he would be spearheading to help combat homelessness in New Jersey. In March, Senator Codey dressed as a homeless man to exploit shocking problems with the system in the state. Among many of the issues he encountered, the most pressing was the inability of those with mental illness to find a shelter that would take them in; thousands of those with mental illness go to bed every night in New Jersey without a roof over their head.
�Someone with a mental illness has every right to seek shelter and should not be discriminated against,� said Codey. “Those with mental illness already face a mountain of challenges. We do not need to compound those challenges by turning these folks away when they need a place to stay at night. To tell these people there is no room at the �Inn� is cruel, inhumane, and just makes the problem of homelessness that much worse.�
The first bill, S1888, would require emergency shelters for the homeless to admit any person who has a mental illness and seeks shelter, or food and shelter, unless the person poses a danger to self, others, or property.
�Obviously if the person poses a threat, they cannot and should not be admitted and proper measures should be taken. But, when it is clear they do not pose a threat to themselves or anyone else, they have as much a right to access shelter as anyone else. In many cases, the homeless have no where to go other than shelters. So what sense does it make that shelters are turning people away without good reason,� said Codey.
The second bill, S1889, would prohibit emergency shelters for the homeless from refusing to provide shelter, or food and shelter, for a minimum of 72 hours to an individual or family seeking these services unless the shelter is at its maximum occupancy level. In addition, the bill would provide an exception in the event of emergency conditions, such as snow emergencies or excessive cold or heat. In these events, emergency shelters would be prohibited from refusing to provide services for a minimum of 24 hours from the commencement of the emergency condition or for the duration of the emergency condition, whichever is longer, unless the shelters are at their licensed capacity plus any authorized excess capacity.
In addition to the legislation, Senator Codey will push for several initiatives that will help provide better shelters as well as more permanent housing. These initiatives include: support funding for groups like Bridges Coalition of Services, which provides services like food, clothing and toiletries directly to the homeless; a letter to the federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary regarding their emergency shelter information website, which is riddled with errors and incorrect information; a budget resolution to resume funding of the social worker loan forgiveness program at its original level – New Jersey needs to attract more social service practitioners to work with the homeless and other disadvantaged populations; and calling on Congress to allow foreclosed owners to stay in their homes as renters.
Both bills now head to the Assembly for further consideration.