PLAINFIELD, NJ — Shep Brown, Plainfield's Director of Health & Social Services, took City Council members through his department's 2020 budget on Wednesday, and outlined accomplishments and goals. Brown oversees the Health Division, Community Development, Plainfield Action Services, and the Plainfield Performing Arts Center (PPAC), with 40 members who he says "work hard every day to ensure all residents in Plainfield can achieve health, well-being, and self-sufficiency."
Brown focused on some highlights from 2019, including his time as Chair of the 150th Anniversary Committee that created a year-long celebration of the city. He noted 7,700 people attended the various events over the year, and said the House Music & Prostate Cancer Awareness Festival, the only house music festival in the nation that is dedicated to health, attracted 3,000 people.
He noted that in PPAC's first six months more than 3,800 people visited, and there is strong rental interest that extends into 2021. "Our goal is to reinforce both cultural and economic development." Brown, noting the intense interest, said there is a request in the 2020 budget for one position.
He said through his department's advocacy, "we have lifted up issues that impact urban communities," including legislation opposing human trafficking. Brown added that Plainfield is one of a handful of cities in the nation that requires companies to submit requests for proposals, or RFPs, to acknowledge that Plainfield does not work with companies that engage in any type of modern day slavery.
"We initiated a resolution opposing Federal legislation that would re-introduce redlining in communities of color, and updated the film ordinance to make the city more film-friendly."
Brown said in 2019 his department continued to manage the HUD process (Housing of Urban Development) to ensure $1.2 million continues to impact local non-profits and city projects including roads, parks and athletic fields.
He mentioned the Comprehensive Housing Assistance Program, or CHAP, has a portfolio of over $11 million with non-interest bearing loans for homeowners to do non-essential repairs. Thirteen homeowners were helped last year, 38 seniors received $500 grants for minor home repairs, and 30 families were housed due to various emergencies.
Brown continued, saying the Vacant and Abandoned Initiative continues to show progress. In 2019, the office collected $318,000 through registration fees, $136,000 in abatement liens, and $18,000 in court fees. His department is working with IT to create a portal so residents can report abandoned properties online.
The home buyers program expanded, bringing in 3,600 potential home buyers from cities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and New York City, and the office worked with around 150 families on foreclosures through relationships with various partners.
Councilman Barry Goode asked how successful the six home buyers presentations were, and wanted to know where the information can be found.
The presentations are usually held in conjunction with banks or credit unions, the Director said. Those organizations inform participants on how to get a mortgage, how to fix their credit, how to look for homes, and more.
He said in 2019 M&T Bank was giving out $18,000 grants to purchase homes in Plainfield; around 33 people bought a home in the Queen City as a direct result.
Brown said, "We are working to become HUD certified counselors so that we can become more effective in our service delivery." He said the department is also gearing up for a potential uptick in distressed homes due to the current economic environment.
The Division of Social Services, or Plainfield Action Services, worked to prevent homelessness through rental, energy, case management, and food assistance, and sometimes employment assistance. The group has helped almost 4,000 individuals stay housed, Brown said, and has become a model for other agencies. Plainfield Action Services received over $300,000 in grants in 2019 for direct support of those in need.
There is a request in Brown's 2020 budget for one position, a homeless outreach worker, but he said the overall budget has not increased. He noted the division is gearing up to help more individuals due to the impending recession.
The Health Division served residents with programs that promoted health, with services that are coordinated to ensure the public is safe from infectious diseases, and encourage healthy behaviors.
In 2019, 2,069 vaccinations were given to 1,045 residents; 425 flu shots were issued, 89 new lead cases were investigated, and 486 infectious disease cases were monitored. Food retail establishments were also inspected.
Residents are now able to order vital statistics online, and the department is working with various vendors to be able to offer residents the option to order pet licenses online, too.
Over 7,300 residents were reached through education initiatives on healthy eating options, diabetes and hypertension management, and general wellness.
Brown concluded, saying his departments are 45 percent grant funded, and the budget request for 2020 is $1.3 million, representing just 1.9 percent of the total municipal budget.
Councilwoman Ashley Davis asked if there is a contingency plan if future grants fall through.
Brown said the HUD and Plainfield Action Services grants run through 2021, noted money from the CARES Act will come in, and said he's put forth a resolution concerning the lead grant that runs through this year in case it is not renewed.
Davis also inquired about the Health Division's vaccine clinic goal, saying she's heard people are afraid to take their children to the doctor because of coronavirus. "What will be done to encourage people to participate in these vaccine clinics, and to also ease people's fears?"
Health Officer Dr. Atif Nazir answered, saying the vaccination program will not be ignored, and the clinic will be opened safely as soon as it can. "We don't want to leave the people with other preventable disease," especially with the vaccinations readily available in his office.
Council President Steve Hockaday asked Director Brown how he is allocating his staff's time in handling the COVID-19 crisis.
Brown said he and his team are working hard to make it possible to test every Plainfield resident, and acknowledged that the more tests that are done, the more positive cases will increase. But he said the good thing is that those residents would then be able to get the care they need.
"Right now, we have nine employees directly with us who are doing contact tracing," and he acknowledged there is a large amount of assistance from the Department of Education.
"I actually want to thank the Board of Education for giving us three nurses to help us with contact tracing."
But he said they will more than likely need more help, and will try to go through the CARES Act to pay for it.
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