DCA Partners with Not-for-Profit Organizations and Major Healthcare Providers on Growing Initiative; Contributes 25 Housing Vouchers to the Program
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) today joined representatives of major healthcare and social service providers in the county to announce the launch of a two-year Housing First pilot program focused on fighting chronic homelessness by providing people who are homeless with housing vouchers and connecting them with needed health care and social services.
Under the pilot program, DCA will provide 25 tenant-based housing vouchers to people who are homeless and enrolled in the program to help them move into safe and stable housing. Also, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Saint Peter’s University Hospital have committed to fund Coming Home of Middlesex County for the cost of two case managers to help the 25 people who receive the housing vouchers, as well as other patients with health-related social needs. Additionally, Coming Home will utilize WellCare’s Community Connections database to track referred agencies and participants’ social services utilized and program outcomes.
“When an individual doesn’t have stable housing, it’s hard for them to pay attention to their well-being, which often means they use hospital emergency rooms as their primary means of health care,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, who serves as DCA Commissioner. “By embracing the Housing First approach, DCA is committing resources to programs that place people in permanent, quality housing first to meet their basic need of shelter. Then the holistic work of identifying and addressing their other needs, including health-related issues, can begin.”
“RWJBarnabas Health is committed to creating healthier communities by not only providing excellent health care, but also by partnering with community-based organizations to address the social factors that affect 80 percent of a person’s overall health outcomes such as education, housing, safety, income and affordable access to nutritious food,” stated Michellene Davis, Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at RWJBarnabas Health.
“When a person doesn’t have a place to sleep and is exposed to the cold or possible violence and lacks a stable source of food, it gravely affects their overall health. That, in turn, affects how we deliver health care to the homeless of our community, and that is usually through our emergency department,” said Leslie D. Hirsch, interim CEO and president of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System. “Saint Peter’s mission for more than 111 years has been to care for the underserved of our community. We have a moral responsibility to positively impact the social determinants of health and improve our community’s wellbeing before a visit to the ED is needed.”
Individuals will be identified for the program by the hospitals from their database of individuals who are, and have been, high utilizers of the emergency departments at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and/or Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Coming Home of Middlesex County will administer Middlesex County’s Coordinated Entry Program to prioritize use of the housing vouchers for individuals by determining the presence of health-related social needs.
“Organizations in Middlesex County and the County itself have been long-time, valued partners with DCA in homelessness prevention efforts. Their work in this area has been extremely successful and nothing short of remarkable,” said Janel Winter, director of DCA’s Division of Housing and Community Resources. “We look forward to contributing to this pilot program and anticipate it will positively change the lives of some of Middlesex County’s most vulnerable residents.”
The two case managers will help the patients with identified social needs that are affecting their health status, such as food and housing insecurity, including the 25 voucher recipients, connect with social service providers such as the Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB) and all member organizations of the Middlesex County Housing Continuum of Care to access supportive services that include:
- Assistance in obtaining identification documents and enrolling in mainstream benefits such as Medicaid, TANF, General Assistance and Food Stamps;
- Substance abuse treatment;
- Mental health treatment and counseling;
- Domestic violence prevention;
- Skills related to independent living and family and social supports; and Employment, education, and financial literacy services.
“We have been able to establish this program through the determination of all the organizations involved to step outside their ordinary course of doing business to reach across sectors and collaborate for the benefit of Middlesex County residents. We know that so much of what affects a person’s health status happens outside a health care facility or physician’s office,” said Eileen O’Donnell, Executive Director of Coming Home of Middlesex County, Inc. “Because of the perseverance of the stakeholders in discussions spanning more than a year, we will be able to begin addressing those health-related social needs in a concerted manner.”
“I am confident that with the commitment and energy of the Coming Home staff and the staff of the other stakeholders who stepped up to participate in this program, it will be a success and just the beginning of cross-sector collaboration between social and health care services in Middlesex County, to our collective benefit,” added Brad Caruso, Chairmen of the Board of Coming Home.
“As a provider of Medicaid services in New Jersey, WellCare understands it’s difficult to prioritize your health when you don’t have access to things like secure housing or reliable transportation,” said John Kirchner, president of WellCare of New Jersey. “Our Community Connection program is dedicated to finding solutions to those needs. We are proud to work with this outstanding coalition of healthcare and community organizations to help connect those in need in Middlesex County to resources to help them live better, healthier lives.”
The pilot program launched today is part of a greater initiative within DCA to address chronic homelessness and provide supportive housing throughout the state by partnering with local government entities and hospital systems. In September, DCA partnered with Hudson County and two hospitals -- Jersey City Medical Center and Hoboken University Medical Center -- to provide up to 25 rental vouchers to chronically homeless individuals who are the most frequent users of the Hudson County Corrections & Rehabilitation Center, homeless shelters, emergency rooms, hospitals, and other crisis systems. Also, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA), which is an affiliate of DCA, is collaborating with the New Jersey Hospital Association to develop affordable housing for community members in need. Under the $12 million Hospital Partnership Subsidy Pilot Program, NJHMFA will match contributions from participating hospitals to fund three to four housing projects. The developments must include units set aside for special needs residents and/or frequent users of those hospitals’ emergency rooms. Hospitals interested in participating in the program must submit letters of interest to NJHMFA by December 17.
“Through the efforts of partners like DCA, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital, the County of Middlesex and our expansive network of social service agencies, we continue to make great strides toward our shared goal of ending homelessness in Middlesex County,” said City of New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill. “Providing access to supportive services as well as safe and secure housing is essential in effecting positive change in the lives of some of our most at-risk residents.”
“Ending homelessness is a goal that requires teamwork, experience, and a dedicated network of professionals,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios. “I think the words we’ve heard today prove that this partnership will have all those qualities.”
Established in 1967, DCA offers a wide range of programs and services that respond to issues of public concern including affordable housing production, fire and building safety, community planning and development, local government management and finance, and disaster recovery.
For more information about DCA, visit: www.nj.gov/dca/