TRENTON – State Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, issued the following statement today regarding his panel’s joint hearing with the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on the state of transitional housing and homeless shelters in New Jersey:
“In New Jersey’s urban centers, homelessness and rampant poverty have overcome the meager support system that’s in place to protect our economically disadvantaged. While our State benefits from a network of committed advocates and grassroots support, we need to invest more in ensuring that even the poorest among us has a warm place to sleep, and safe shelter over their heads.
“Sadly, right now, safe shelter seems more the exception than the rule.
“New Jersey’s homeless population is served by dedicated individuals on the State, county and local levels who, I believe, are truly interested in helping. However, more often than not, the good intentions of these people are hampered by unnecessary and confusing bureaucracy.
“At the same time, no one seems to know who’s in charge of inspecting homeless shelters and transitional housing to guarantee that these places remain up to code. And the confusion over jurisdiction is so great that, though advocates assured me that they do their level best to avoid doing so, we can’t be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that children aren’t being placed near convicted sex offenders and pedophiles.
“Additionally, New Jersey’s efforts to protect the homeless often do not go far enough to meet the unique needs of the mentally ill or healthcare special needs populations. Despite the hard work of those struggling to fill the needs of the homeless, all too often, those suffering the ravages of mental illness, physical disability, or a number of other medical concerns do so at homeless shelters, without the specialized care that they need.
“While the many programs serving the homeless and poor are often required to perform Herculean tasks with limited resources, we need to do a better job, across the board, of protecting those we’re seeking to serve. The barriers between organizations and levels of government need to be broken down so that we aren’t jeopardizing the safety of people because of confusing bureaucracy.
“I will work with my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure that the programs serving the homeless and poor in New Jersey live up to their promise.”