With the goal to make critical homeless prevention services more accessible, legislation to make information on such programs available online was unanimously passed by the Senate on Friday, after previously passing the Assembly by a vote of 79-0-0.
The measure is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Gabriela Mosquera, Cleopatra Tucker, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Annette Quijano, Benjie Wimberly, Eliana Pintor Marin and Mila Jasey.
“Many people in a vulnerable state don’t know where to begin to look for help,” said Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This bill can help bridge this information gap by requiring that information on homeless prevention programs and services not only be made available online, but in physical locations to increase visibility and connect people with services they need, but may not know exist.”
“Finding help is not always easy, especially when you have more pressing concerns, like where you will be spending the night,” said Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester). “We should make it as simple as possible for those who are homeless to get the help they need to get back on their feet.”
The bill (A-1229) would require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to put information on its website about all homeless prevention programs and services available to individuals who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness but are not eligible for social or public assistance services.
Such information would include a list by county of:
· Grant programs and homeless intervention programs that provide assistant services to homeless veterans, homeless persons, and persons at imminent risk of homelessness;
· Homeless services provided by the Departments of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), Children and Families (DCF), Human Services (DHS), and Health (DOH), and;
· Other municipal, county, state, or federal housing and homeless prevention programs that provide supportive services.
“Ignorance is not always bliss, especially when your well-being and safety is on the line,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “This can help individuals who are homeless or at the brink of homelessness find the help they need to escape it or avoid it. Making this information more accessible will only help.”
“It can be hard to navigate the array of social services available to the general public,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “This helps simplify the process by posting all available programs and services specifically meant to help individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness online.”
“Sadly, a common impediment to getting help is not knowing where to look,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Making this information more widely available can help ensure that people facing homelessness can take advantage of the services and programs that are already set up to help them.”
“There are many wonderful organizations out there ready and willing to help people who are struggling with homelessness, but they are only effective if people know about them,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Having this information readily available online can make getting help easier.”
“Individuals in need of help are often met with bureaucratic roadblocks that discourage them from looking further,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “By posting this information online and in public places where they are likely to see it, we can help ensure they get the help they need.”
“Sometimes people will complain about the lack of services, but often the problem is not that they don’t exist, but that they are not reaching the people they need to reach,” Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “Publicizing this information more widely will help this disconnect.”
“It would be tragic for a person to become homeless because they couldn’t locate the resources meant to help them,” said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “Making this information widely available can help ensure that individuals in need of assistance get it before it is too late.”
The DCA would also require the following entities to conspicuously post and provide information on homeless programs at no cost:
· County and municipal welfare agencies
· Division of Child Protection and Permanency local offices
· Veterans service offices
· Emergency shelters for the homeless
· Health care facilities
· State psychiatric hospital
· Crisis intervention units
· Screening services
· Community-based outreach programs
· Nonprofit organizations providing housing and homeless prevention services
The measure now heads to the Governor.