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November 20, 2020 - Murphy Administration Recognizes National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, November 20, 2020

The Administration is Committed to Preventing and Decreasing Overall Homelessness 

TRENTON, NJ – During National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs November 15 through 22, the Murphy Administration, including the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Department of Human Services (DHS), and Department of Children and Families (DCF), is calling attention to services and programs that serve New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents, including those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is our commitment to build stronger communities and ensure that no one, especially the most vulnerable among us, spends a night without a place to call home,” said Governor Phil Murphy.  “In New Jersey, we are on a path to creating a statewide strategy to combat homelessness through comprehensive programs that offer transitional and affordable housing options and improved access to related services that address mental health, substance use, domestic violence and other issues that contribute to housing insecurity.”

“We are aware of the challenges families are facing in keeping a roof over their heads as a result of the pandemic. The Department remains committed to ensuring that veterans, families and children who are facing homelessness can access housing that meets their needs and they can afford,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as DCA Commissioner. “Homelessness prevention is one of our key priorities and we will continue to collaborate with our partners on the shared goal of eradicating homelessness in New Jersey.”

“The ongoing pandemic has created economic and other challenges in communities across our state, especially for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, which is why we’ve focused efforts on keeping individuals safe and connecting to vital social services,” Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said. “We’ve recently made $2.5 million available to counties to help support ​local efforts to protect individuals experiencing homelessness during freezing temperatures and dangerous weather, made federal funding available to help families pay overdue rent or mortgage due to COVID and keep homeless services accessible, increased rates for shelter providers to help them manage COVID-related expenses and supplied PPE and disinfectant to ensure clean and safe environments. We will remain focused on these efforts to ensure individuals and families experiencing homelessness get the help they need when they need it.”

“Through our work within the Department of Children and Families, we recognize that economic stressors like homelessness, food insecurity, and economic instability can destabilize a healthy family,” said DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer.  “We stand with the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and our colleagues throughout the Administration to offer support to struggling families —this week and  throughout the year, COVID-19-related or not—to help all New Jerseyans be safe, healthy, and connected.”

Addressing Homelessness across the State

Governor Murphy demonstrated his commitment to addressing homelessness when he signed legislation allocating $3 million to support the Office of Homelessness Prevention (OHP) within DCA to coordinate homelessness-prevention efforts among federal, state and local agencies and private organizations with a goal of implementing a statewide strategy. To achieve this goal, the Office consults with stakeholders, including people who are homeless, to identify the policies and initiatives that have been most successful as well as those that have not. The Office also evaluates best practices and analyzes data, which will serve as the foundation for new initiatives based on national data.

The Department prevents homelessness through the provision of more than 40,000 vouchers for low-income families annually. The Department’s Housing Choice Voucher Section 8 Program, one of the largest in the country, and the State Rental Assistance Program (SRAP) make rents affordable for tenants in private apartments. In these programs, tenants pay a portion of their income toward the rent, while the programs pay the remainder, and this flexibility has helped keep many people in affordable homes as they have lost employment or income during the pandemic.

DCA has centered the needs of individuals with disabilities and other special needs through the Supportive Housing Connection, a partnership between DHS and DCA that connects tenants to quality housing opportunities across the state and provides assistance in making that housing affordable. DCA’s administration of housing vouchers along with DHS’s provision of supportive services ensures that participants in the Supportive Housing Connection remain stably housed.

Additionally, DCA and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, an affiliate agency, began working with hospital systems to provide permanent supportive housing solutions directly to individuals experiencing homelessness who are frequent users of hospital services. 

DHS Commissioner Johnson recently announced that DHS is providing counties with $2.5 million to support ​local efforts to protect individuals experiencing homelessness during freezing temperatures and dangerous weather. Under state law, a Code Blue alert is declared when either temperatures drop below freezing or weather conditions pose a danger to the homeless population. The Code Blue alert directs local ​authorities to ​make shelters or warming centers ​available for individuals who are homeless and unsheltered. County allocations are based on New Jersey's Point in Time Count of individuals experiencing homelessness, which is updated every year.

COVID-19 and Homelessness

The severe economic impact of COVID-19 has created a tremendous need for housing assistance for low-income people. To assist New Jersey residents affected by the pandemic, the Murphy Administration created the $100 million COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The program provides rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households that have had a substantial reduction in income as a result of the pandemic, and will help residents who have lost employment or income during the pandemic to remain in their homes and avoid homelessness.

More than $33 million in CARES Act funds will house approximately 1,200 homeless families and individuals across the state, providing up to 12 months of rental assistance, security deposits, and case management to reach self-sufficiency. These households will be referred to DCA by each county’s Continuum of Care.

The Department has also allocated nearly $5 million to help homeless shelters with the equipment and retrofitting they need to enable social distancing and keep staff and residents safe during the pandemic.

Governor Murphy’s eviction moratorium remains in place in New Jersey, which prevents landlords from removing tenants as a result of an eviction unless the court determines enforcement is necessary in the interest of justice. In response to illegal evictions and to prepare for when the moratorium is lifted, the DCA created an Anti-Eviction and Diversion Program, which is being piloted in three cities. The program uses federal funds to provide access to legal counsel and flexible funds to divert tenants from eviction and homelessness.

DHS recently made federal funding available to help providers of community-based services, including homeless services, remain open and accessible. Qualifying COVID-related expenditures include personal protective equipment and cleaning and infection control. DHS also has delivered PPE to shelters and has increased rates for shelter providers to help them manage added COVID-related expenses.

And since March DHS has waived program requirements so that individuals and families experiencing homelessness can access emergency housing assistance quickly and continue to get assistance beyond the normal program time limit.

Addressing Racial Inequity in Homelessness Services

The Office of Homeless Prevention (OHP) at DCA, Monarch Housing Associates, a nonprofit group dedicated to expanding the supply, accessibility and variety of affordable, permanent supportive housing; and the National Innovation Service have formed a partnership to address racial inequity in services provided to people who are homeless.

DCA and Monarch have witnessed a consistent trend where homelessness disproportionately impacts communities of color with the most significant disparities seen in the Black and African-American communities in the state. The annual point-in-time count, a one-day count of all persons experiencing homelessness in sheltered and unsheltered locations across the entire state, has consistently demonstrated disparities in people who experience homelessness in New Jersey. These disparities indicate that solutions to address and end homelessness must center on race and the impact of structural and systemic racism in order to effectively end homelessness.

The project focuses on establishing a baseline understanding of the impact of racism on homelessness and creating pathways for people with lived experience of homelessness to participate in the decision-making process of the homelessness service system. The critical work of centering the homelessness service system on racial equity began in 10 communities throughout the state.

Improving LGBTQ+ Services

The Governor’s Transgender Equality report identified gaps and challenges experienced by this group when accessing shelter and other homeless services due to a lack of cultural responsiveness training, education and inclusive policies. DHS will work with experts in service delivery to LGBTQ+ populations to make an assessment of current practices and access to homeless services as well as identifying strategies and best practices to improve services for LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness.

Providing Timely Services

DHS also took action to make it easier for individuals and families who are either homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless to receive critical services and assistance in a timely way by expanding access to emergency assistance; ensuring services for those in “immediate need”; and repealing the “Causing Your Own Homelessness” standard.

In partnership with the Legislature, the Emergency Assistance program was expanded to provide additional emergency housing benefits beyond the 12-month time limit for some at-risk and vulnerable groups so they can continue to receive support while the State works with them to secure long-term housing. In addition, individuals experiencing a new housing crisis who received emergency assistance more than seven years ago could be eligible for up to 12 additional months of assistance. 

DHS issued clarifying guidance to counties, which administer emergency assistance services, making clear that under the state’s “immediate need” policy, individuals and families who are likely eligible for financial and/or housing assistance but who have not yet been determined eligible are able to receive services immediately if they lack shelter or are at imminent risk of losing shelter. This clarification is intended to ensure that individuals in need of immediate shelter or of assistance to prevent losing their home or apartment, get help quickly while their application is reviewed. The policy provides for up to 30 days of temporary services for individuals and families in immediate need of shelter, food, or clothing.

Addressing Veteran Homelessness

DCA currently administers Veterans Administration Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers awarded through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which targets homeless veterans who are referred to DCA by VA Medical Centers. When VASH recipients no longer need the high level of case management and clinical services provided through the VA, they can transition into DCA’s “graduation program.” DCA issues the recipient a federal Housing Choice Voucher, which allows the formerly homeless veteran to continue to receive the housing assistance he or she needs to live independently while allowing the VA to backfill the VASH voucher, thus serving more homeless veterans.  In addition to the VASH vouchers that are providing housing support to more than 1,000 veterans, the Department provides project-based Housing Choice Vouchers to projects serving veteran households that are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Addressing Family and Youth Homelessness

The ‘Keeping Families Together Initiative’ is an innovative national program, which connects rental assistance and supportive wraparound services to extremely vulnerable families who are homeless or live in unstable housing, who are substance-involved, and who are involved with the child welfare system. The goal of this program is to support parents in recovery and ensure that children are not removed from their families or that families are able to reunify, with stable housing and social services designed to support their tenancy and sobriety through state-funded tenant-based vouchers from DCA and wrap-around services and supports from DCF.

The ‘Youth at Risk of Homelessness Initiative” is a national program administered by DCA and DCF in New Jersey that targets young adults with a history of child welfare involvement who are homeless or at risk of transitioning out of foster care into homelessness. DCA provides project-based Housing Choice Vouchers dedicated specifically for pregnant and parenting young adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.  DCF provides additional supports, such as educational assistance, work readiness programs, financial literacy and more to promote youth independence and interdependence.

DHS also intends to revise an existing rule to eliminate the requirement that some individuals seeking assistance, such as emergency assistance to prevent homelessness, provide their parents’ tax returns to demonstrate that they are not claimed as a dependent by their parents, which can make it difficult for young adults in need of services to obtain critical help.

Addressing Homelessness Prevention

Additionally, DCA administers three programs to address homelessness prevention.

The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) provides assistance and stabilization services, including back rental payments, security deposits, case management and other assistance to families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.  The Shelter Support Program provides funding to shelters and transitional housing facilities to improve living conditions for residents experiencing homelessness or to create new beds. 

The Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP) provides financial assistance to low- and moderate-income tenants in imminent danger of eviction due to temporary financial problems beyond their control. The program serves families that are homeless or at risk of homelessness in all 21 counties. 

Combatting the Opioid Epidemic

DHS provided the opioid overdose antidote naloxone for free to participating shelters serving the homeless as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to get naloxone into as many hands as possible to help save lives. Nearly 1,200 doses of naloxone were delivered to homeless shelters across the state to put this lifesaving tool in the hands of staff who can help prevent overdose. Naloxone was provided for free and did not require an individual prescription.

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