Using Current Tools and Resources to End Homelessness

Taiisa Kelly, Janel Winter, and Melissa Bellamy

Role of Homeless Trust Funds, the Opportunity with the Office of Homeless Prevention and the Importance of the Continuums of Care

On October 18, 2019, Monarch Housing’s CEO Taiisa Kelly participated in a workshop panel at the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey’s annual Under One Roof conference.

The workshop, “Using Current Tools and Resources to End Homelessness” also featured as panelists Janel Winter, Director of Housing and Community Resource, NJ Department of Community Affairs and Melissa Bellamy, Division Head, Div. of Housing, Community Development & Social Services, Middlesex County 
Kelly gave some background about how existing resources including county homeless trust funds have been used across the state.  The homeless trust funds were created specifically to address issues of homelessness locally.  The Homeless Trust Fund legislation was passed in 2009 establishing a $3 surcharge on filing documents at the county.  This surcharge has since been increased to $5 per document.
On a county by county basis, the Board of Chosen Freeholders must approve the development of a homeless trust fund and there must be a plan in place to address homelessness for the county.  Homeless trust funds must be used as targeted funding to help communities end homelessness through prevention and other services and the creation of permanent housing.  Homeless services funded must be evidenced based and measurable.
To date, twelve New Jersey counties have homeless trust funds.  These trust funds are used to fill gaps in the ending homeless system including providing prevention dollars.  These dollars can be allocated to a group that experiences homelessness that is not eligible for state dollars.
Homeless trust fund dollars can leverage other resources: for example, provide money towards services partnered with state rental assistance programs.  The dollars can also enhance programs that are effective: for example, more funding towards RRH programs to serve more people.  Communities are using the dollars for innovative solutions.  This is especially helpful because current federal and state funding sources can have strict regulations in program implementation and the trust fund dollars can be used to fund innovative initiatives to help end homelessness
New Jersey communities that have implemented a trust fund all have plans in place and work with agencies that are already addressing homeless issues. The trust fund is a resource added to homeless systems already in place.
Communities that do not yet have a homeless trust fund may find that their freeholders are concerned to pass a trust fund locally because of concerns that constituents will see a trust fund as another tax.  But local agencies, constituents and advocates living in communities without trust funds can get involved and make a difference in getting trust funds passed.
Janel Winter explained that the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) covers a wide variety of programs including Section 8 housing vouchers and variety of other voucher programs.  DCA provides housing assistance to over 40,000 families.
DCA is in the process of developing the Office of Homelessness Prevention in New Jersey.  There are a lot of state agencies and office doing innovative work to end of homelessness and there is some duplication of work across state agencies.  The Office will first look at what the problem of homelessness is in New Jersey.  It will analyze data from Continuums of Care, community development corporations and non profits and use this data to shape strategies.  
New Jersey is at a tipping point.  While the homelessness issue is grave, it is addressable and we can end homelessness, but if we don’t address homelessness, we could tip in the other direction
The Office is in the process of hiring staff and a consultant.  Winter asked the room, what is the one particular issue we would like to see the office work on?   Answers from the workshop audience included:
  • Better coordination between continuums of care and state offices
  • Addressing displacement due to gentrification
  • Eliminate duplication between agencies
  • More education for agencies on services available
  • Addressing the issue of illiteracy among the homeless population 
  • The lack of a central “resource bank” for particular counties
  • Working with hospitals and doing assessments bedsides in the emergency departments for housing and food needs
 Melissa Bellamy encouraged everyone in the workshop audience to attend local CoC meetings as the CoC drives ending homeless in your community.  She reinforced the local homeless trust funds are tools to assist in helping the homeless system.  She also suggested finding out how the Coordinated Entry System works in your community
It is important to work to get all agencies working to end homelessness to buy into the system working to end homelessness and coordinate services.
The annual Point in Time count, also known as NJCounts, focuses on outreach and counting the unsheltered persons.  Middlesex County’s homeless numbers have inched up in last few years.  This inching up of the numbers is due to better outreach and the ability to find persons that have been homeless but may not have not been found and counted in years past.
She said that it is important to focus on coordinating services from all funding sources including state, federal, Veterans, and domestic violence services to better serve those on the prioritization list.