Ocean County Forms Fund To Combat Homeless Crisis

In order to better meet the evolving needs of Ocean County’s disadvantaged and homeless population, the Ocean County Board of Commissioners is poised to create a Homelessness Trust Fund to help bolster programs for the underprivileged with more flexibility.

“The County-run Homelessness Trust Fund gives us the ability to look at real time economics and have great funding flexibility unlike many programs provided by the state and federal governments which regulates the funding for many social services programs,” said Ocean County Commissioner Barbara Jo Crea, liaison to the Ocean County Department of Human Services. “It is far from one size fits all when it comes to providing the assistance our residents need to keep them from becoming homeless or to get them re-established once they are homeless.

“We can use the funds raised by the Homelessness Trust Fund with more flexibility to provide rental assistance vouchers, supportive services and prevention services,” Crea said.

The Ocean County Board of Commissioners is expected to introduce an ordinance at its June 21 Board meeting creating the fund and a public hearing on the matter will be scheduled for the 4 p.m. July 6 Board meeting prior to adopting the measure.

“There will be 20 days for public comment,” Crea said. “We want to provide time for our residents to comment on this proposed action.”

Under the Homelessness Trust Fund, Ocean County, like most of the 12 other counties in New Jersey that have created the fund, will apply a $5 surcharge on most recorded instruments with the Ocean County Clerk’s Office for deposit into a County Homelessness Trust Fund. The money will stay in Ocean County to support ongoing programs.
In 2022, more than 130,000 documents were filed or recorded with the Ocean County Clerk’s Office.

“Based on the number of documents recorded over the last three years, the fund could raise anywhere from $275,000 to $390, 000,” Crea said. “These funds are raised annually and will be used to support ongoing homelessness and housing instability programs along with the Code Blue program.”

The fee is expected to go into effect Sept. 1.
The money also can be used for the acquisition, construction, or rehabilitation of housing projects or units within housing projects that supply permanent affordable housing for homeless persons or families, including those at risk of homelessness.

“Per the Homelessness Trust Fund guidelines, the funds cannot be used by the County to build a homeless shelter,” Crea said. “They will be used to provide support services.”

Once Ocean County approves the creation of the fund it will establish a task force to oversee the fund and serve as an advisory board to the Board of Commissioners. The New Jersey Homelessness Trust Fund legislation enables counties to establish locally controlled County Homelessness Trust Funds.

“Many of the steps needed to establish a Homelessness Trust Fund are already in place and have been worked on by the Ocean County Department of Human Services for many years including a 10-year plan to address homelessness,” she said. “This fund will complement the many traditional social services programs that are helping thousands of people living in Ocean County every day.

“A real benefit of the fund will be to serve individuals that were previously not eligible for services,” she said.

Deputy Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners Gary Quinn noted he has been working on this with his colleagues on the Board for a long time.

“We are seeing increases in the under employed and families are having a difficult time making ends meet and keeping a roof over their head,” said Quinn, who also serves as a member of the Ocean County Board of Social Services. “We need to do more and this is one of the tools we have available to us to create a permanent funding source that can be used to help our residents.”

For example, Quinn said a portion of the money that will go toward the Code Blue program which provides evening shelter during cold weather, could help the County expand the program allowing it to partner with more municipalities and non-profit agencies.

“We can use these funds to better engage with homeless individuals seeking shelter during Code Blue to determine their needs and provide them with the services that can help them,” he said. “The Homelessness Trust Fund provides funding based on the needs of individuals and families.

“Nineteen percent of Ocean County households struggle with factors of housing insecurity,” Quinn said. “The creation of the Homelessness Trust Fund is in response to the changes we have seen in getting assistance to those who need it.”

 

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