Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday signed an executive order creating the Interagency Council on Homelessness as part of what he describes as an effort to end homelessness with 10 years.
The governor wants the council to develop a method to better identify and address the needs of the homeless as part of a long term plan to prevent homelessness and strengthen existing efforts.
Under the order, the 25-member council will exist until Dec. 31, 2014. It will include 11 state officials who currently answer to Christie, a county official, a municipal official, a public housing official, four legislators, a person who has known homelessness, and representatives of four non-profit groups.
Christie signed the order at HomeFront in Ewing, an organization that works to combat homelessness by increasing the availability of adequate, affordable housing for New Jersey families in need of assistance. The governor was joined by state Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jennifer Velez and Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs (DCA) Charles Richman. The council will be co-chaired by the commissioners of DHS and DCA.
“Homelessness in our society often touches each of our communities in a personal way and too often fails to get the attention it deserves. It is our neighbors, friends and sometimes family members who, having fallen on difficult times, struggle to have their basic housing needs met,” Christie said. “Right now, New Jersey has a strong set of services available to assist our homeless residents get back on their feet, but they are not applied in a strategic and coordinated way. We can do better to serve families who need help now, and deliver services in a more organized way to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.”
According to a January report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, New Jersey’s homeless rate of chronic homelessness has decreased by 20 percent, indicating progress in identifying and working with individuals with substance use disorders, disabilities, mental illness or medical issues. However, overall homelessness has increased over that same period 7 percent.
“Without a place to call home, it's incredibly difficult to secure and retain a job or nurture a family," Velez said. "Safe, permanent housing truly is a key factor in helping people attain self sufficiency."
Christie’s proposed 2012-13 state budget calls for providing $2.3 million to expand the Veteran’s Haven – the veterans transitional housing program -- to the northern part of the state. The, budget also provides $21 million for housing assistance programs such as the State Rental Assistance Program, $4.4 million for the Homelessness Prevention Program, and $2.3 million for shelter assistance.
The Department of Human Services serves many homeless residents through its General Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs. Both provide supports that include temporary shelter placement, rental assistance, medical coverage, food assistance and job training. The proposed budget provides $78.6 million for the WorkFirst New Jersey program, which helps people get off welfare, secure employment and become self-sufficient through job training, education and work activities.
“Today, we are taking action to more effectively address the needs of homeless New Jerseyans across every aspect of state government, with the goal of identifying and preventing the many different causes of homelessness,” Christie said. “Ultimately, I believe that as leaders we must set high, achievable goals for the serious challenges we face, which is why the Council also will be charged with developing a 10-year plan to combat homeless over the long-term.”
The Interagency Council on Homelessness will be established within the Department of Human Services, be comprised of 15 public members, and operate until Dec. 31, 2014. Its duties and responsibilities include:
• A review of the findings contained in the Interim Report of the Council on Preventing and Reducing Homelessness;
• Identify and evaluate the statutory and regulatory impediments to the effective delivery of services to homeless individuals and families;
• Providing recommendations to improve relevant laws, programs and policies to better utilize state resources directed to homelessness and homelessness prevention;
• Prepare a 10-year plan to end homelessness in New Jersey; and,
• Report annually to the governor on the council’s work.
The council’s membership will be comprised of the commissioners of the following state departments: Children and Families; Community Affairs; Corrections; Education; Health and Senior Services; Human Services; Labor and Workforce Development as well as the director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency; chairman of the State Parole Board, the adjutant general and a representative from the governor’s office.
11 public members will be appointed by the governor and will include a representative of county government; a representative of municipal government; one person who is or recently was homeless; a representative of the private sector; four representatives of non-profit agencies providing housing, social, behavioral health, or health-care services to homeless individuals or families; a representative from a non-profit providing statewide coverage, technical assistance, and affiliation with a national non-profit; a representative of public housing authorities; and, one representative from the faith based community.
In addition, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the Assembly, the Senate minority leader, and the Assembly minority leader each may appoint a legislator, or a designee, to serve on the council.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM