Wednesday, March 24, 2021
New Jersey has established an after-hours homeless hotline for those who are experiencing homelessness.
Individuals can call the state’s 2-1-1 hotline to be temporarily placed in designated establishments. Once there, it is determined if they are eligible for government assistance. If they are, the county works to find them housing or return them to their original state, county or municipality where they may receive those services. The state pays for the first day and if eligibility is confirmed state and federal funding covers the subsequent costs.
“While the system sounds good in theory, there are a number of flaws that have come to light during the pandemic, most notably those that have arisen as a result of the governor’s no eviction order,” stated County Executive Dennis Levinson.
According to Levinson, some individuals who are initially placed in lodging by 2-1-1 but later deemed ineligible, refuse to leave citing the no eviction order. Word spreads and more individuals call for housing assistance, knowing they are ineligible but cannot be evicted after being placed.
“There is no review of eligibility prior to placement. Individuals call at night and are directed to lodging. Once they are there it is difficult for them to be removed, even if they are already receiving substantial benefits,” Levinson explained.
“In our experience, approximately 60% of those placed by 2-1-1 are receiving as much as $1,000 a week from unemployment and stimulus benefits and do not qualify for homeless housing assistance. A number of callers also provide false names because they have heard that in addition to no verification of income, there is no check for duplicity. The 2-1-1 operators should perform the same verification the counties do.”
Levinson also believes the governor should consider modifying the no eviction order to permit the police to do their job and remove individuals who are violating the rules.
Case in point. The Madison Hotel in Atlantic City is where callers from the city are placed. In recent weeks, there have been a series of arrests among its “tenants” for drug distribution. There have also been two murders there. But other than those who commit crimes, the police cannot remove occupants who do not belong there.
“This problem also impacts other landlords who have not collected rent in over a year but have been stripped of their authority to remove disorderly tenants due to the no eviction order,” he added.
Last week the county was informed that the Madison Hotel may have to close. Should that happen, the county would be tasked with finding another location.
But the county executive argues that job should fall to the state that oversees Atlantic City’s day-to-day operations.
“It seems the state would prefer to move the homeless out of the resort, but each town should bear responsibility for housing its own homeless. The state cannot ask other towns to do what it is not willing to do in Atlantic City,” he stated.
Several neighboring towns complained last year when the state allowed Atlantic City to close all its lodging facilities and began placing Atlantic City homeless in their towns. Levinson said he heard from irate mayors with complaints that ranged from misdemeanors to serious felonies by residents who were placed from outside their towns. Finally, it was agreed that each town would accommodate its own homeless.
Levinson said he doesn’t want to criticize without offering solutions.
“The problems with 2-1-1, a state program, need to be resolved by the state and not put on the back of the counties. Modify the no eviction order and provide 2-1-1- operators with access to records so they can perform eligibility screening of those seeking homeless housing assistance before they are placed. It’s as simple as that,” he said.