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Assembly Democratic Bill Package Targeting Homelessness in New Jersey Clears Assembly

Vainieri Huttle, Benson, Muoio, Mukherji, Chiaravalloti, Singleton, Jones Package is designed to reduce homelessness & help residents get back on their feet

The full Assembly on Thursday approved an expansive six-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Raj Mukherji, Troy Singleton, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Patricia Egan Jones designed to reduce homelessness and help New Jersey residents get back on their feet.

“The descent into homelessness can happen rapidly for a number of reasons, but one thing we’ve learned is that the climb out can be arduous to near-impossible without a helping hand,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “We’ve spent nearly the last six months examining the issue to find ways that we can maximize state resources so that they have a real and transformative impact on the lives of homeless residents in our state. Cumulatively, these bills tackle the most pervasive factors that lead to or perpetuate homelessness.”

“There have been many times when victims of domestic violence have been denied emergency assistance because they voluntarily left a job where their abuser could find them or failed to plan for substitute housing – situations that are typically out of their control, especially for many who have limited means,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Our number one priority should be ensuring their safety and getting them back on their feet and that’s what this bill will do.”

“This legislation is intended to ensure that victims of domestic violence receive support from the emergency assistance program, even if they must depart their home abruptly and without adequate time to ensure compliance with other program requirements,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “More often than not, that is the case and we need to make sure we’re accounting for that.”

“When a domestic violence victim makes the decision to flee their home and their abuser the circumstances are usually dire,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “They often don’t have the luxury of time or the financial means to plan for other accommodations. Knowing they have access to emergency assistance may help some victims escape a dangerous or even deadly situation.”

“For families that live paycheck-to-paycheck, all it takes is something like a medical emergency to force them to get backed up on rent,” said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “When this spiral happens it could very easily lead to homelessness unless we provide a crucial safety net through temporary rental assistance.”

“Homelessness remains a continuing and visible social problem that exacts indirect costs in productivity and dignity for the men, women, and children affected by it,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Rapid rehousing enables individuals and families to move immediately out of homelessness and helps them stabilize in permanent housing.”

“For residents struggling to get by, one unforeseen emergency can totally disrupt their way of life and threaten to render them homeless,” said Egan Jones (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Temporary rental assistance can go a long way in helping to maintain the family unit and keep people off the streets until they can get back on their feet.”

In December, Vainieri Huttle and members of her Assembly Human Services Committee visited the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, which provides a 24/7, year-round continuum of housing services designed to abate homelessness. Following the visit, the committee held a special hearing to receive testimony on current state programs designed to target homelessness, as well as effective, new strategies that could be implemented to further prevent and reduce homelessness in New Jersey.

The majority of the bills in the package were born out of these efforts and would:
– A-4406 (Benson, Vainieri Huttle, Muoio, Mukherji, Chiaravalloti): Provide emergency assistance, typically in the form of rental assistance, to individuals or families who are homeless or in a temporary living arrangement due to imminent or demonstrated domestic violence that imperils their health and safety, or unable to afford rent in their current home due to the removal of a domestic violence offender.
– A-4765 (Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji, Singleton): Require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to continuously maintain an open enrollment period to submit pre-applications for rental assistance under the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program in order to ensure that applicants do not lose the opportunity to be placed on the waiting list simply for missing a short window of time that the department offers.
– A-4766 (Vainieri Huttle, Egan Jones, Mukherji): Provide temporary rental assistance for individuals who are eligible for emergency assistance and need financial assistance to stay in their own home, due to temporary conditions.
– A-4767 (Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji): Require emergency shelters for the homeless to provide shelter to a person for a minimum of 72 hours, regardless of whether the person is enrolled in a local, state, federal, or private assistance program, or receiving any other services or benefits. The bill is designed to combat reports that some individuals have been turned away from shelters because they are not enrolled in assistance programs.
– A-4768 (Vainieri Huttle): Expand the list of vulnerable populations that cannot be refused access to an emergency shelter to include individuals who: (1) are drug or alcohol dependent; (2) not in compliance with a prescription medication regimen; or (3) have consumed alcoholic beverages off the premises of the shelter; unless there is reason to believe the person poses a danger to self, others, or property.
– AJR-149 (Vainieri Huttle, Benson, Singleton): Express the state’s strong support for the strategies and core components of rapid rehousing programs as a way of combatting homelessness.

“This bill package targets a broad range of issues that were brought to our attention,” added Vainieri Huttle. “By providing funding for eligible individuals to stay in their current residence, the state can prevent unnecessary homelessness, maintain the family unit, and be fiscally responsible. By easing restrictions on emergency shelters, we can get people off the streets and connected to vital assistance programs. By creating a pathway for individuals to amend their criminal record for minor offenses due, in part, to their homelessness, we can help them obtain employment, leading to housing security. Cumulatively, it’s my hope that these efforts will help create a pathway to stability and self-sufficiency.”

“Rapid rehousing programs move individuals and families experiencing homelessness into permanent housing as quickly as possible while providing supportive services together with rental assistance,” added Benson. “They are widely considered a particularly effective way to combat homelessness and we should be embracing them as a state.”