Murphy Administration Recognizes National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

The Administration is Committed to Preventing and Decreasing Overall Homelessness

November 22, 2019

TRENTON, NJ – During National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs November 16 through 24, the Murphy Administration, including the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Children and Families (DCF), is highlighting services and programs to serve New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents.

“Every New Jerseyan deserves access to safe and affordable housing,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “My Administration has been laser-focused on tackling homelessness head-on by expanding programs and strengthening services to provide individuals facing homelessness with the support they need to get them back on their feet. With our collaborative approach, we will continue our commitment to lifting up underserved communities and creating a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works for all.”

“Addressing homelessness in New Jersey needs to be a multi-faceted approach that starts with compassion and an in-depth understanding of the problem – because one homeless person is one too many,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as DCA Commissioner. “Governor Murphy and the DCA are proving our commitment to homelessness prevention by funding and implementing comprehensive programming and initiatives that are specifically designed to assist veterans, families and children who are facing homelessness.”

“As we take vital steps such as increasing the minimum wage to help our families improve their economic footing, we also are continuously working to ensure that we have strong supports to protect those who continue to struggle,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “The Murphy Administration has been taking action to strengthen our ability to prevent and respond to the threat of homelessness, while bringing critical help to individuals and families at their time of greatest need.  In partnership with the Legislature, we have expanded access to and made it easier to get timely help from our Emergency Assistance program, which provides critical support to individuals and families at-risk for or experiencing homelessness.”

“Finding solutions to address hunger, homelessness and extreme poverty are fundamental in our work to support and develop healthy families in the Garden State,” said DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer.  “Through our ongoing partnerships with our sister state agencies like DCA and DHS, we are keeping families together through substance use recovery and housing. We have connected families to vital SNAP and TANF benefits, and have helped them secure safe child care options.  As we recognize National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, I look forward to our continued efforts to create a stronger, fairer NJ by building alliances that assist families in being safe, healthy and connected.”

Addressing Chronic Homelessness

Housing First is a nationally-recognized supportive housing approach to ending chronic homelessness. Through this approach, DCA has provided vouchers to chronically homeless people to help them move directly into housing and receive wraparound supportive services that help them improve and maintain their health, stabilize their lives, and sustain their housing. Not only does this practice save lives, it also results in savings due to the decreased use of public resources such as emergency departments and hospitals. In a further step to address root causes of homelessness, DCA provides State Assistance Rental Assistance Program (SRAP) vouchers to assist long-term homeless people with opioid addictions. In collaboration with the NJ Department of Human Services, participants also receive access to case management services.  

DCA’s ‘Moving On Initiative’ provides general rental assistance to formerly homeless individuals who no longer needs a high level of supportive services because they have stabilized their lives, but still need financial assistance to keep their rent affordable. As these individuals ‘move on,’ from supportive services, their original vouchers are used to give other homeless individuals and families permanent supportive housing.

DCA has centered the needs of disabled people and those with 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 ensure that participants in the Supportive Housing Connection remain stably housed.

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

To address homelessness in New Jersey, Governor Murphy signed legislation allocating $3 million from the FY 20 budget to establish the Office of Homelessness Prevention in DCA to coordinate homelessness-prevention efforts among federal, state and local agencies and private organizations with a goal of implementing a statewide strategy.  During the first year, the Office will consult 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. Office staff will also evaluate best practices and analyze data, which will serve as the foundation for new initiatives based on national data.

 Providing Timely Services

DHS has taken 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 has been 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 we work 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.

DHS is also working to repeal regulations that allow individuals to be denied Emergency Assistance when they are deemed to have “caused their own homelessness.”  The lack of clarity around this regulatory standard has resulted in varied interpretations and inconsistency in implementation.  Instead, the revised rule will seek to more clearly define eligibility as well as good cause exceptions for individuals otherwise ineligible for Emergency Assistance.

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 are targeted to 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 VASH vouchers, the Department provides project-based Housing Choice Vouchers to projects that will serve 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 targets rental assistance and supportive 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 aging out of foster care into homelessness. DCA provided 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 (HPRP) program 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 (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 has provided the opioid overdose antidote naloxone for free to participating shelters serving the homeless as part of the Department’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 save lives from overdose. The naloxone was provided for free and did not require an individual  prescription.

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