UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county is working to find additional ways to assist its growing homeless population, following the relocation of over 50 homeless families from New York City as part of the city’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) policy.

“Because there is an increased need regarding the homeless population, we’re looking at outside of the box ways of managing,” said Debbie-Ann Anderson, the county’s human services director, at the freeholder board meeting December 19. “As a county, working with the County Manager, we’re looking at outside ways and thinking of getting warming centers and other things in place to assist the homeless.”

The county is opposed to New York City’s SOTA policy, which has relocated more than 50 homeless families from the city to several Union County municipalities since August. The freeholder board passed a resolution opposing the policy at their December 5 meeting, and the county has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with New York City to determine the scope of the policy’s impact on Union County.

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Freeholder Angel Estrada criticized the policy at the board’s most recent meeting.

“It’s not that we don’t want homeless people, but we just don’t like the way that it’s being done,” Estrada said. “We really need to find a solution to the problem, whether it’s suing New York, or having them do something differently in terms of letting us know exactly what is going on, who are the impacted individuals, [and] why are they here … [homeless individuals] do definitely need a lot of resources.”

The board took action to fund several of these resources during the meeting.

The freeholder board allocated $219,449 in funding toward nine community organizations that provide shelter night stays for people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), General Assistance (GA), or Emergency Assistance. In these agreements, the state pays 95% of the costs associated with the shelter nights, while the county pays the remaining 5%.

Anderson said the county’s shelters are beneficial for the homeless population to stay warm during the winter.

“We have over 357 people in shelters across Union County,” Anderson said. “We’ve had really good community partnerships, opening warming centers, and also calling upon our neighbors to help us, because the numbers are growing.  No one is out in the cold tonight, because we were able to find somewhere for them to go and stay warm.”

The board also approved a $75,000 contract with The Gateway Family YMCA, of Elizabeth, to provide transitional housing for homeless male veterans at the Dudley House Veterans Transitional Housing facility in Plainfield.

In addition, Anderson said her department is working to provide resources to individuals or families at risk of being homeless.

The county has been awarded an additional $778,000 in state grant funding for its Social Services for the Homeless (SSH) Spending Plan, which will be used to provide rental and mortgage assistance for at-risk households. The state first awarded the county the same amount of grant funding in 2019.

“We have done a lot of rental assistance, and mortgage assistance, to really prevent individuals from becoming homeless in the first place,” Anderson said. “To date [in 2019] we’ve helped over … 565 families and individuals.”

The freeholders also approved a $286,000 contract renewing a partnership with United Way of Greater Union County, which offers resources for families to sustain their households.

“We have been able to help over 400 families to access resources to sustain, like financial literacy to make sure that they know how to budget to keep the family unit together,” Anderson said. She said the partnership has helped over 1,500 families stay together and sustain their households since it began four years ago.