Op-Ed: We Need to House Garden State’s Homeless, Not Punish Them

Serena Rice, Udi Ofer, Richard W. Brown | January 13, 2016 | Opinion
Instead of implementing punitive policies targeting the state’s poorest residents, we should increase funding for proven solutions to homelessness

Serena Rice, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey
New Jersey Transit is piloting a program that creates a two-hour time limit for seating in its waiting rooms in Hoboken, Atlantic City, Secaucus, and Newark. We believe this policy, which is under review, will force the homeless out of the stations, out of view, and into the streets.

Instead of working to implement punitive policies targeted at the poorest residents of our state, we should increase funding for Housing First and other proven solutions to homelessness. Piloted in Camden County and other communities across New Jersey, Housing First works to first and foremost provide the chronically homeless with a permanent home. Once individuals are housed, support services are provided as needed. Housing First provides housing without litmus tests such as sobriety or checks for an incarceration history, much as you might provide water to someone who is thirsty — without first making them prove they deserve it.

Housing First effectively and dramatically reduces chronic homelessness, proving that homelessness is a problem we can actually solve. According to a piece by leading Housing First advocate Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, and Elizabeth Buck, more than 84 percent of individuals remain stably housed through a Housing First model.

Housing First is not only the most humane and successful solution to ending chronic homelessness, but it is cost effective as well. Providing stable housing reduces the reliance on shelters, soup kitchens, and emergency rooms.

As New Jersey Spotlight recently reported in its article on the Housing First program in Camden County, “Housing First Pilot Shows How it Can Help Improve Health of NJ’s Homeless”, when someone is chronically homeless it is difficult, if not impossible, to properly manage a chronic illness, like diabetes or asthma. Stable housing allows people to better care for their health and ultimately use emergency rooms less frequently.

The success of Housing First relies on the capacity to provide affordable housing through vouchers. As we write, it is critical that Congress increase funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program by providing $18.05 billion for Housing Choice Voucher renewals and restoring an additional $375 million for vouchers lost to sequestration.

Housing is a basic human right. Our focus should be on providing that right, not punishing those deprived of it.