As the winter snows finally give way (I hope!) to spring blossoms, I'm happy to report success in one of the Coalition's advocacy efforts and a significant first step in another. I am also excited to announce our inaugural Garden State Leaders program. In all cases, progress is only possible because of the combined efforts of our members and partners, for which we are very grateful.
Settlement of anti-begging challenge: A settlement has just been reached in the lawsuit filed in December challenging two New Brunswick laws that prohibited begging for food or money. The Coalition was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with John Fleming, who had been arrested four times for holding a sign that says "Broke/ Please Help/ Thank You/ God Bless You." In the settlement, New Brunswick agreed to not enforce the laws and to repeal or amend them as soon as possible. The Coalition served as an organizational plaintiff because we believe that laws criminalizing homelessness violate the constitutional and human rights of individuals who are homeless and offend basic human dignity. Instead of putting resources into enacting or enforcing such laws, we should support policies that ensure everyone has a safe place to live and cost-effective models like Housing First and Rapid Rehousing (see below). The Coalition was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and pro bono lawyers from McCarter & English, LLP.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recently has examined the increase in laws criminalizing homelessness, and issued a report "No Safe Place; The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities." I encourage you to read the report by clicking here.
Legislation to repeal the ban on GA for individuals with drug convictions: On Monday, March 12, Senator Sandra Cunningham introduced bill S2806, which amends the Work First New Jersey program to remove restrictions on convicted drug offenders that deny them General Assistance (GA). GA is an essential part of the small safety net that keeps poor New Jersey citizens from becoming homeless. Eligibility for GA also determines eligibility for Emergency Assistance. The proposed legislation seeks to give individuals who have paid their debt to society the opportunity for successful re-entry by removing a significant barrier to shelter, permanent housing and supportive services, and also will:
- Save millions of dollars in incarceration and hospitalization costs for individuals who can be stably housed in the community with increased quality of life;
- Significantly reduce homelessness;
- Link persons with mental health and substance abuse issues with appropriate services
The ban was enacted in January 1997 as part of the now-discredited War on Drugs and applies to any amount, no matter how long ago or what efforts the individual has made to rehabilitate themselves. The Coalition has worked over the past year on this legislative effort to repeal the ban, which is supported by a wide range of organizations. If your organization would like to sign on, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the ban and the reasons for repealing it, click here.