Trenton, NJ – Legislation sponsored by a pair of state lawmakers from Newark that would allow county homelessness trust funds to be used for Code Blue emergency shelter services was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The legislation was co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin and Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, both Newark Democrats. It would allow counties that have adopted County Homelessness Trust Funds to increase the surcharge for each document recorded from $3 to $5, with the additional two dollars going to fund Code Blue shelter services in the county.
“On cold winter days, there are over 8,000 people in New Jersey who don’t have the option of finding refuge in a safe, warm home,” said Pintor Marin (D-Essex).
“Code Blue alerts can be potentially life-saving for our homeless population when temperatures plummet below freezing with precipitation, or under 25 degrees without it. This new law will allow counties to use its County Homeless Trust Fund to support emergency shelters that take in at-risk individuals during Code Blue alerts to protect their health and safety," Pintor Marin said.
According to Legal Services New Jersey, a Code Blue alert is declared whenever temperatures drop below the freezing point and weather conditions pose a danger to the homeless population.
The Code Blue Alert allows authorities to take homeless people to local shelters or other agencies known as Warming Centers.
“Winter can pose a dangerous threat to New Jersey’s homeless population. The colder months can throw our most vulnerable population into truly dire circumstances,” said Ruiz (D-Essex). “Permitting shelters to access the county trust fund during Code Blue alerts will provide them with more options to assist the homeless and ensure they have a warm place to stay. These options include permanent affordable housing and rental assistance.”
The law will allow for county homelessness trust funds to be used to help support homeless shelter services when there is an influx of people during a Code Blue alert. Previously, county homelessness trust funds could only be used for permanent affordable housing.
The funds can be used for the following: prevention services such as one-time financial assistance for those at-risk of homeless, rental assistance vouchers for affordable housing projects or units within housing projects that provide permanent affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, permanent affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, and supportive services such as social workers connected to affordable housing.
Currently, nine counties have set up a homelessness trust fund. The nine counties include: Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, Middlesex, Union, Somerset, Mercer, Camden and Cumberland.
During the cold days of this winter, Code Blue has been vital to provide shelter services for our state’s homeless population," the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey wrote in a letter to the governor to sign the legisaltion. "This bill will enable those counties to create a funding source for Code Blue, which was adopted in 2017, while not taking any funding from the current uses of their County Homeless Trust Funds. Hopefully, this bill will encourage the counties that do not have Trust Funds to enact one."
Other primary sponsors on the bill were Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) and Assemblywoman Jann Downey (D-Ocean).