(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Gabriela Mosquera, Jerry Green, Cleopatra Tucker, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Annette Quijano, Benjie Wimberly, Eliana Pintor Marin and Mila Jasey to make information about homeless prevention programs and services available online cleared the Assembly on Monday, 71-0 .
"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."
The bill (A-1658) requires the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to prepare and make available on the department's Internet website, in an easily printable format, information on all municipal, county, state and federal homeless prevention programs and services available to a homeless person or to a person who is at imminent risk of homelessness and who is not eligible for, or does not qualify to receive, municipal, county, state, or federal social or public assistance services.
The bill requires that DCA update the information whenever new information on the programs and services becomes available.
"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."
"It is surprising how many people are unaware of the many services available to them," said Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). "We have to do a better job of reaching the public. The wider we make this information available, the more people will be able to take advantage of it."
"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 bill requires that the information include, but not be limited to, a list, by county, of: grant programs and homeless intervention programs supplying grants and providing referral assistance services to homeless veterans, homeless persons, and persons at imminent risk of homelessness, as applicable; homeless youth programs, homeless services, and homeless prevention services provided by the Departments of Military and Veterans Affairs, Children and Families, and Human Services (DMVA, DCF, and DHS) to teens, young adults, families involved with the child welfare system, and persons suffering from mental illness or co-occurring disorders; and other municipal, county, state, or federal housing and homeless prevention programs that provide financial and other supportive services to homeless persons or those at imminent risk of homelessness.
The DCA, pursuant to the bill, is to require each county and municipal welfare agency, Division of Child Protection and Permanency local office, veterans service office, emergency shelter for the homeless, health care facility, state psychiatric hospital, crisis intervention unit, screening service, library, and community-based outreach program and nonprofit organizations providing housing and homeless prevention services in the state to post the information specified in the bill in a conspicuous public place in the agency, office shelter, facility, hospital, unit, screening service, library, or place where housing and homeless prevention services are provided.
The bill also mandates that the entities provide the information, at no cost, to homeless persons or persons at imminent risk of homelessness who are not eligible for, or do not qualify to receive, municipal, county, state or federal social or public assistance services.
The bill requires that DCA ensure, in consultation with DCF, DHS, and DMVA, that: the information posted on the DCA website be available on the DCF, DHS, and DMVA websites, and updated as necessary; and a link to the information be posted to the Intranet website of every county and municipal welfare agency, DCPP local office, and veterans service offices in the state.
As used in the bill, "homeless person" means a teen, a young adult, a veteran, an unemployed or underemployed person, a person with mental illness, or a person with developmental disabilities who is living outside, or in a building not meant for human habitation or which the person has no legal right to occupy, or in an emergency shelter, or in a temporary housing program which may include a transitional and supportive housing program if habitation time limits exist, or temporarily in the home of another household, or in a motel.
The bill provides that DCA, in consultation with DMVA, DCF, and DHS, is permitted to adopt rules and regulations to effectuate the bill's purposes, but is not required to do so.
The bill will now go to the Senate for further consideration.