Advocacy alert: Two bills to reduce homelessness await governor’s approval

Two bills awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy approval promise to help the homeless in New Jersey.

The first bill (S-3586) would expand emergency assistance (housing aid) for people who face an imminent threat of homelessness. Under current law, emergency assistance is only available for 12 to 18 months once in a person’s lifetime. This bill would allow those who need it to re-apply for emergency assistance if seven years have passed since their last application. The assistance would include food and clothing, temporary rental assistance or mortgage payments to keep people housed, and utility payments, if needed.

The second bill (S-3585) would earmark $3 million to create a new Office of Homelessness Prevention in the state Department of Community Affairs. The new office would be tasked with developing comprehensive policies to prevent and combat homelessness and expand access to housing options.

Voters have a voice

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton has advocated for the passage of both bills. The state Senate and Assembly have passed both. They now are on the governor’s desk. Click here to support the bill by urging the governor to sign the bills into law.

Marlene Laó-Collins, Catholic Charities executive director (pictured, right), said many vulnerable citizens can repeat cycles of homelessness over the years due to complicating factors beyond income, including trauma or abuse, addiction, mental health challenges, or other disabilities.

“Catholic Charities daily encounters homeless individuals, children, and families,” Laó-Collins said. “Our experience with this population has shown that homelessness creates instability and uncertainty, making it difficult for them to move forward with their lives. They are in a constant mode of survival, trying to figure out where they can stay the night, wash up during the day, and store personal belongings.

“Long periods of homelessness increase their level of trauma, creating barriers towards obtaining stable employment, advancing educationally, and achieving recovery for those struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse,” she added. “We firmly believe that everyone has a basic fundamental human right to safe, clean, and affordable housing. New Jersey, as the third wealthiest state in the country, should strive to meet this need for its most vulnerable citizens.”

A hidden crisis in a rich state

Jennifer Sullivan, an attorney who leads Catholic Charities’ advocacy efforts (pictured, left), agreed: “We are pleased that the Governor is expected to sign these bills into law. Both pieces of legislation will help those at risk of homelessness and encourage a comprehensive solution to this problem in New Jersey.”

More than 9,300 people in New Jersey are homeless, according to the statewide Point-in-Time count done in January 2018. Nearly a quarter had chronic patterns of homelessness.

For more information: Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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