To provide a safe place for homeless people to stay after receiving medical treatment while simultaneously reducing hospital expenditures, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to allow hospitals to provide housing and wrap-around services to housing insecure individuals was signed into law Wednesday.
Latest estimates have New Jersey’s homeless population at more than 8,860 people. Residents who may currently have a home but frequently experience periods of homelessness or live somewhere that is overcrowded or substandard, are also considered ‘housing insecure’ and at risk for adverse health outcomes as a result of their living situation.
Under the law (formerly bill A-3326/S-1676), hospitals that wish to address issues related to housing insecurity will be permitted to construct, rehabilitate or remediate housing and provide wrap-around services to homeless and/or housing insecure individuals. Hospitals will also be permitted to enter into a partnership/contractual arrangement for the provision of housing and services as well.
Those services could include referrals to outpatient care, assistance in identifying and accessing social services, assistance in obtaining health insurance, and appropriate follow-up care/treatment management.
“Providing a stable living environment to housing insecure people is a great way we can ensure compliance with medical treatment plans,” said Assemblyman Conaway (D-Burlington). “Homes represent secure spaces for the ongoing management of chronic conditions and the application of critical services in the areas of health education, nutrition, life skills and job training.”
Chronically homeless people are five times more likely to be admitted to a hospital and stay longer, at a cost of $2,000 to $4,000 a night, than someone with a home. Their unstable living situation makes it difficult to take preventative steps and maintain necessary treatments, which lead to more significant medical problems that result in hospital stays covered by the hospitals and/or taxpayers.
“Giving homeless people access to housing and comprehensive social support in order to improve their overall health really works,” said Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Helping people in our communities avoid the harsh and dangerous conditions they would otherwise face without a home is the compassionate and logical thing to do to set them up for a safer, healthier life.”
“Many of the medical complications that arise or worsen as a result of homelessness could be prevented if the underlying issue of housing insecurity was addressed,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Providing stable housing and other critical support will change so many lives while also benefitting our healthcare system. This initiative will be helpful to everyone.”
In an effort to prevent the need for frequent hospital visits, programs throughout the country have begun providing housing and services to homeless people in their communities. One such program in New Jersey – the “Familiar Faces” pilot program in Hudson County – found that hospital and shelter costs decreased by $398,000 annually when the county helped 25 homeless clients find supportive housing for a year.
The act takes effect immediately.