This article from KnowledgePlex is one solution to how to address the fact that county jails have become de-facto shelters. In New Jersey this could be used to fund housing first or other innovative solutions.
After running the numbers, Dallas County (Texas) commissioners concluded it was economically feasible for the county to contribute $1 million annually to help pay for a new homeless assistance center. According to The Dallas Morning News, the financial return comes by keeping homeless individuals out of the county jail. A new study showed that 10 percent of the jail’s average daily population consisted of homeless individuals, at a cost of $2.4 million or more each year. The county jail, in effect, had become a shelter for many of the county’s estimated 6,000 homeless.
Typically, some of these people were jailed multiple times for minor crimes such as trespassing and evading fares. The new center will open next spring and provide shelter and services for as many as 400 people at a time. Its annual cost will be shared among the city of Dallas, which is paying half of the center’s $6.4 million budget; Dallas County, at a commitment of $1 million; and the nonprofit Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which will raise the rest of the funds. This city-county-nonprofit partnership to combat homelessness is relatively rare, as most homelessness programs are city-based.