TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz that would allow county homelessness trust funds to be used for Code Blue emergency shelter services cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.
“Winter months are the toughest for the homeless, as shelters struggle to house an increased number of people seeking refuge from the cold temperatures,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “Giving shelters the flexibility to access the county homelessness trust fund during a Code Blue alert is a compassionate solution to this very real, human problem. Instead of turning people away, the shelters can instead open their doors and help more homeless find the warmth and comfort they deserve.”
“Winter can pose dangerous threats to the homeless population in New Jersey, they are the most vulnerable population during the colder months,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Permitting shelters to have access to the county trust fund during Code Blue alerts will enable them to have more options to assist the homeless. These options include permanent affordable housing and rental assistance.”
According to Legal Services New Jersey, a Code Blue alert is declared whenever temperatures drop below the freezing point and weather conditions pose a danger to the homeless population. The Code Blue Alert allows authorities to take homeless people to local shelters or other agencies, known as Warming Centers.
The bill, S-2737, would allow county homelessness trust funds to be used to help support homeless shelter services when there is an influx of people during a Code Blue alert. Currently, county homelessness trust funds may only be used for purposes tied to the provision of permanent affordable housing.
The bill would expand the list of permitted uses of these funds to include support for homeless shelter services that are provided in connection with a Code Blue alert. Permitting county homelessness trust funds to serve as an additional source of funding for this purpose would help ensure that homeless shelters can continue to provide a critical service at a time when these organizations have limited funding resources.
The funds can be used for: prevention services such as one-time financial assistance for those at-risk of homeless; rental assistance vouchers for affordable housing projects or units within housing projects that provide permanent affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness; permanent affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness; and supportive services such as social workers connected to affordable housing.
Currently, nine counties have set up a homelessness trust fund. The nine counties include: Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, Middlesex, Union, Somerset, Mercer, Camden and Cumberland.
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 11-0, and next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.