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Rice-Vitale Bill Package To Ensure Better Coordination Of Services For Homeless New Jerseyans Advances

Senators Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex (left) and Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex (right) discuss a bill being voted on on the Senate floor.

Bills Would Create Monitoring and Inspection Mechanism for Emergency Placement, Ensure Better Coordination of Services and Funding

TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senators Ronald L. Rice and Joseph F. Vitale which would promote a more centralized, coordinated approach to serving homeless New Jerseyans was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.

“In my community and throughout the State, New Jerseyans are facing alarming rates of severe poverty and homelessness,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex, and a member of the health committee. “While we have various agencies on the State, county and local levels, as well as nonprofit organizations, which provide services for the homeless population, we’re not getting the most we can for our investment in these services, and in some cases people are living in dangerous and inhospitable conditions. It’s time we spend money smarter to benefit the greatest number of people possible.”

“Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to protect people in need in the Garden State,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and vice chair of the health panel. “These bills would promote a coordinated, comprehensive and strategic approach to helping those in need, who may be struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate. It’s about creating a seamless safety net for our State’s homeless to make sure that no one falls through the cracks.”

The first bill in the package, S-90, sponsored by Senators Rice and Vitale, would create a mechanism for increased monitoring and oversight of the motels and hotels used for emergency assistance placements. Under the bill, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would create and maintain a centralized database of the hotels and motels used for emergency placement, and would require county welfare agency staff to visit these emergency placement recipients at least once every three months to assess their needs, and provide information on hazardous living conditions back to DCA. The bill would also require DCA to inspect these facilities once every year – as opposed to once every five years as prescribed under current law for other hotels and multiple dwellings – to report unsafe or unsanitary conditions back to State in order to take appropriate action to protect emergency assistance recipients.

Finally, the bill would require a mobile health van to provide mobile outreach and access to health care services for people receiving emergency assistance services, and that county welfare agencies provide a schedule for outreach dates to the emergency assistance community. The bill was approved by a vote of 6-1 with one abstention, and now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for review, before going on to the full Senate for consideration.

“This bill would make sure that emergency shelters meet a certain basic living standard for New Jerseyans either already facing homelessness, or at the brink of losing their homes,” said Senator Rice. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen instances in which emergency assistance recipients have been forced into living situations that are only marginally better than what they would face if they were living on the street. Whenever public dollars are being spent to protect homeless New Jerseyans, we need to follow through to make sure that the services and protections being provided meet people’s needs.”

“This is about ensuring a proper follow-up to make sure that emergency assistance shelters are serving the population in need,” said Senator Vitale. “It’s not enough that we provide a bed, four walls and a roof for people living at risk or already in homelessness. We need to provide a coordinated approach to care, including access to medical services, safe and sanitary living conditions, and an avenue out of homelessness and into a living wage.”

The second bill in the package, S-1535, sponsored by Senator Rice, would establish the New Jersey Task Force on Coordinating and Funding Programs for the Homeless, a 17-member group to develop recommendations concerning the most effective means of coordinating and funding programs designed to meet the various needs of homeless New Jerseyans. Under the bill, the task force would also be required to examine the impact on the homeless of the copayment requirement for homeless persons receiving Work First New Jersey program benefits and reimbursement from homeless shelter providers. The bill was unanimously approved, and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“We cannot provide scattershot support for homeless New Jerseyans and expect to reach people in need,” said Senator Rice. “Different agencies focus on different specific needs of the State’s homeless population. It’s time to take a coordinated approach, so we can live up to our obligation of providing a helping hand for those who have the least in the Garden State.”

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