Hudson County Executive Thomas A. DeGise and the Board of Chosen Freeholders have become the first in New Jersey to call on the Governor and the State Legislature “to create a statewide system of County-based Trust Funds to prevent and end homelessness.” Mr. DeGise stated “Governor, if your priority is reducing the cost of services in the name of property tax reform, here is a great way to do just that. And best of all it is the right thing to do.”
The Hudson County action will add momentum to the campaign to establish County Homeless Trust Funds so that homelessness can be ended and not managed. To read the Jersey Journal article on the speech click here.
The following is the section of Mr. DeGise’s speech on Eradicating Chronic homelessness.
County government must develop and carry out a plan to eradicate chronic homelessness.
Eradicating Chronic homelessness
This morning I met with a group of remarkable volunteers and professionals taking part in Project Homeless Connect, and our annual homeless Point In Time (PIT) count.
Tonight they will go out into the bitter cold in search of people living on the streets to count them, and to let them know about available services.
The annual count not only tells how many people are homeless, it helps us understand who is homeless.
In our hearts, of course, we know who they are already: family members and friends, someone’s son or daughter, a mother trying to do right by her kids.
But if we look inside the numbers, we can gain an insight into how we might finally address this frustrating issue properly.
Last year’s census found that there were at least 2,973 people experiencing homelessness. Of those, 308 were considered chronically homeless.
These numbers mesh with what experts find nationwide, that the chronic homeless generally account for about 10 percent of the total.
The overwhelming majority is transitionally homeless. They are often Moms with children, undergoing a difficult transition brought about by domestic or employment difficulties. On average, they usually find shelter within a period of 30 days.
The chronically homeless are typically older single men, struggling with addiction, mental illness, physical disabilities, and the health problems associated with long periods of exposure.
As explained in a February 2006 article in The New Yorker magazine, our current, haphazard approach to dealing with chronic homelessness is shockingly expensive and ineffective.
Reporter Malcolm Gladwell chronicled how a leading service group for the homeless in Boston tracked the medical expenses of 119 chronically homeless people.
In the course of five years, they found that 33 people died and seven more were sent to nursing homes, and the group still accounted for nearly 19,000 emergency-room visits at a minimum cost of a thousand dollars per visit.
Gladwell also described how the University of California, San Diego Medical Center followed fifteen chronically homeless inebriates.
They found that over eighteen months, those 15 people were treated at the hospital’s emergency room 417 times.
They generated medical bills that averaged $100,000 each. One person came to the emergency room 87 times!
While an equivalent study has yet to be done in Hudson County, local experts believe our chronically homeless fall into much the same pattern, making them one of the stressors on an already strained charity care system.
There is a something else to consider as well: approximately 14 percent of our chronic homeless are disabled veterans.
We are rightly proud of our new medal program honoring our Hudson veterans developed by former Freeholder Barry Dugan.
But we owe our veterans more.
There are disabled veterans out there today, being counted, in the cold.
In a sense, they remain on the battlefield.
We must finally bring them home.
That is why today, in conjunction with the Board of Freeholders Task Force on Homelessness, we present for the Board’s consideration a resolution.
Governor, if your priority is reducing the cost of services in the name of property tax reform, here is a great way to do just that.
And best of all it is the right thing to do.
Already 76 counties across 10 states in the U.S. have instituted Homeless Trust Funds, paid for in a host of different ways.
Sometimes the funding is provided through the dedication of a small percentage of document recording fees, through bond fees, or drawn from existing hotel and motel taxes.
Counties then leverage those funds from other sources, including the private sector and the Federal government.
They have reported an average leverage rate of five times the original trust allocation.
One of the nation’s most successful, in Miami Dade County, raises $11 million annually.
These trusts can be used to deal with chronic homelessness, to support those at risk, and to promote affordable housing construction.
We will leave it to Trenton to hash out the administrative details for these trusts.
But we are developing a plan that can work if the resources are made available.
In partnership with the City of Jersey City, Hudson County is designing a ten-year plan to eradicate chronic homelessness.
It is based on a new approach one that has produced real progress.
It includes a housing first strategy, that focuses on getting the chronically homeless into permanent housing as quickly as possible.
Cities like Baltimore, Columbus and Denver have used this approach to cut their number of chronic homeless cases by as much as half and they have significantly reduced the attendant medical and social service costs to the taxpayers.
A trust fund dedicated to fighting homelessness will give us the stable source of funding needed to make this plan a reality.
Doesn’t it make far more sense to finally solve chronic homelessness than to go on endlessly, expensively managing it?