TRENTON – The Senate on Monday voted to accept recommended revisions by Governor Christie to 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.
Last year, 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. Senator Codey later announced a series of initiatives to help combat homelessness in New Jersey, including these bills.
“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 and just makes the problem of homelessness that much worse.”
The first bill, S-1888, 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, S-1889, 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.
The conditional vetoes added language to both bills saying people could be excluded if there is a legal or regulatory basis for refusal and expanded the definition of “emergency conditions” in the second bill to expressly include storms or other related conditions.
Both measures need to be voted on by the Senate.