As a minister in the Presbyterian Church and working for those in need through my position as the CEO of Homeless Solutions, Inc. I am committed to protecting the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. This includes ensuring that our public resources are prioritized to invest in the well-being of families with children. I fully believe it is our responsibility to “care for the least among us.” Far too many people in Morristown and the surrounding communities struggle each night to find a safe and warm place to spend the night. I see this struggle first hand.
Families, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans are forced to make hard choices between housing and putting food on the table. Unstable living situations take an enormous toll on both adults and children. The long-term effects of living in these stressful situations helps no one.
13,900 homeless men, women and children were counted across the State of New Jersey on the night of January 28, 2014. Many have turned to community benefit organizations (sometimes called nonprofits) and faith-based organizations for support in these difficult times. And while we are able to provide help for some, we do not have the resources to help most of the individuals and families in need of housing.
The federal Housing Choice Voucher program offers “the roof over their heads” that so many families need. Through the program, families receive vouchers to help them rent a modest unit in the private apartment market.
These vouchers reduce homelessness, housing instability and overcrowding. They are critical to helping many low-wage workers make ends meet and to afford housing.
Sadly, low funding levels means that there are very few spots available for families in our community — and across the country. Only a quarter of eligible families receive assistance through vouchers and many wait years in terrible situations before getting assistance.
To make matters worse, federal budget cuts through sequestration caused the loss of almost 1,600 vouchers in New Jersey between December 2012 and July 2014. That translates into almost 1,600 families going without assistance that would have offered them the opportunity to be safely housed.
Fortunately, there is strong support across both parties for increasing funding for vouchers. Both President Obama and House Republicans have expressed interest in working together to strengthen housing voucher funding.
The best way for Congress to strengthen the Housing Choice Voucher program is to renew all of the current vouchers – 64,420 were in use across New Jersey at the end of 2014 - and restore the vouchers lost due to sequestration. Congress should adopt President Obama’s idea of targeting vouchers to help reduce homelessness among particularly vulnerable populations, including families with children and victims of domestic violence.
We all share the responsibility of helping to care for our most vulnerable neighbors. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of so many families and children in our community.
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth S. Hall, an ordained Presbyterian minister, is the President/CEO of Homeless Solutions, Inc. a non-profit, community benefit organization serving Morris County.