UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County freeholder board has taken action against New York City’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) policy, which has relocated several homeless families from the city to several Union County municipalities.
At their meeting Thursday night, the freeholders passed the following resolution:
“A Resolution urging New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal to support the City of Newark, the County of Union, and the municipalities of Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Hillside, Union Township, and Plainfield, in their efforts to bring the New York City “SOTA” homeless family relocation program to a halt, to obtain a full accounting of all families in the program from New York City, to obtain reimbursement for social services and other costs associated with the systematic placement of homeless residents of New York City into communities in New Jersey, and to ensure that these families are provided with the services they need.”
As a result of the SOTA program, more than 50 homeless families have been relocated to seven municipalities in the county, including Hillside, Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Union, and Plainfield, said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski. New York City relocated these families without notifying any county officials, Kowalski said.
“The problem is that it wasn’t done with notification to anyone here, and support services were not provided,” Kowalski said. “It really is a heartless policy that shows a disregard for the needs of families in crisis.”
The program is administered by the New York City Department of Homeless Services.
“The SOTA program provides one year’s full rent up front for eligible DHS clients to move within New York City, to other New York State counties, or to another state, Puerto Rico, or Washington, DC,” the department’s website says.
Union County was added to the program as an out-of-city relocation destination in August 2019.
“The main thing about this is that people have been sent here without a plan for services, without plans for their children, without the county coordinating with landlords on the housing,” Kowalski said. “There are many, many aspects to giving support to families that become homeless, and they have not been provided here.”
In addition to the resolution passed Thursday, Kowalski said, the county has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with New York City to “determine the full scope and impact of this policy on the families and on the Union County community.”
Freeholder Angela Garretson, who lives in Hillside, also spoke out against the program.
“This is not just about the City of New York relocating its residents to Union County towns, but it’s that they’re not giving them the proper wraparound services,” Garretson said. “So, as a county, we’re dedicated, we’re committed, and I want to go on record and say that I fully endorse and support that we ensure that we address any improper placements.”
Despite potential litigation, Kowalski said assisting the relocated families remains a priority for the county.
“I hope we can come to a successful conclusion,” Kowalski said. “[We] really would like some help for these families.”