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Rice On Christie Homeless Plan: ‘Good Start, More To Do’

Senator Ronald Rice on the Auto Insurance Bill Signing

Urges Governor to Take a Look at Other Elements of His Legislation Not Already Included in New Executive Order

TRENTON – Senator Ronald L. Rice, the Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said today that while Governor Chris Christie’s new initiative to address homelessness in New Jersey is a good start, more needs to be done to ensure that New Jersey does not turn a blind eye to the plight of homeless New Jerseyans.

“As a State Senator, a former councilman in Newark, and the former Deputy Mayor of Newark, not once in my public service career has someone come into my office looking for welfare or a hand-out,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “They come in looking for jobs, and there’s value placed on earning a living and supporting yourself financially. I think it’s important to recognize that the best thing we can do to help the homeless population in New Jersey is to look at the issue from a jobs perspective, and I’m thankful that the Governor has taken that approach through the Executive Order. But there’s still more we can do.

“The Governor’s Executive Order is a good start, and should be a springboard to other initiatives designed to provide essential services to New Jersey’s homeless population and create opportunities for them to lift themselves out of homelessness,” added Senator Rice. “The Executive Order borrows from some of the ideas that I’ve advocated for since 2008 to combat the issue of homelessness and protect vulnerable New Jerseyans. I’m thankful that the Governor is showing interest in this policy area, and I look forward to working him to provide the best safety net possible for homeless people in New Jersey.”

Since 2008, Senator Rice has sponsored legislation to create the “Interagency Council on Preventing and Reducing Homelessness” (S-1402 this session). He said that the goal of an inter-agency organization has to be to develop partnerships between service providers, eliminate duplication of efforts, and focus resources on the programs that make the biggest difference in the lives of homeless New Jerseyans. He said that, while the particulars between his bill and the Governor’s Executive Order may be different, the concept is similar, and that he would be willing to work with the Governor to ensure that the idea be codified into law.

“A law is a little more ironclad than an executive order, and creates a little more permanency for a worthwhile proposal,” said Senator Rice, who noted that the Corzine Administration also adopted an executive order creating a similar interagency organization. “I hope that the Governor uses some of the details in my bill to guide his decisions on who to nominate to the Council, because my bill spelled out that the members should have experience in providing services to homeless New Jerseyans and should represent urban communities which have a higher concentration of homeless people. But I’d like to sit down with the Governor, compare the two proposals, and develop a consensus bill that can pass legislative muster and meet the Governor’s intentions as stated through the Executive Order.”

Senator Rice said that, for the Interagency Council to be effective, it has to address certain key concerns of homeless New Jerseyans, including the availability of jobs and job training, access to permanent housing and quality health care, and access to nutritious food at shelters and soup kitchens.

“Homeless people deserve to be treated with a little dignity, and they deserve to be provided with an avenue out of homelessness,” said Senator Rice. “If the Interagency Council that the Governor is proposing follows those two principles, it will succeed in making life better for the homeless population in the State.”

Senator Rice has also sponsored an additional measure, S-126, which would create a real-time database of available beds in homeless shelters, to allow homeless New Jerseyans to be placed into a shelter with available space as quickly as possible. The bill has been introduced every legislative session since 2006. Senator Rice said that the proposal could work to compliment the Governor’s other initiatives outlined in the Executive Order.

“At the end of the day, this is about moving forward in a bipartisan manner to best-protect the most vulnerable New Jerseyans who have nowhere else to turn,” said Senator Rice. “As the State struggles with the after-effects of national and international economic crisis, many of our constituents have fallen on hard times, and need a helping hand to get back on their feet. I hope to work with Governor Christie to make sure that we are doing all we can to reduce homelessness and provide for homeless individuals across the Garden State.”

S-1402 is pending consideration in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. S-126 was unanimously approved by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee in February, and is pending consideration in the Budget and Appropriations Committee.