According to health experts and state officials, mental illness and homelessness often go hand-in-hand.
In an attempt to combat the intertwined issues, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill recently permitting mental and behavioral health care providers to operate within emergency shelters that serve people experiencing homelessness.
“Making behavioral health care accessible for unhoused individuals will make a meaningful difference in their lives and in our communities—and will help build better futures,”said Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman.
The new law authorizes licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage/family therapists, and substance use disorder treatment providers to provide mental or behavioral health care in homeless shelters.
Behavioral health care services in emergency shelters would not be mandatory, but, if made available, offered to any resident in the shelter in need of these services. The services must be provided at a location within the shelter that offers privacy for the residents receiving this care.
Stress of Homelessness
Murphy said the stress individuals often face when experiencing homelessness leads to as well as exacerbates existing mental health challenges.
“This law reflects my administration’s belief that every New Jerseyan deserves access to the mental health care they need and builds upon our work to expand these services throughout our state,” said Murphy. “Allowing mental and behavioral health care providers to offer critical services within shelters will provide much-needed care directly to more New Jerseyans.”
State Sen. Renee Burgess (D-28), a sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, said the action is a first step in placing a greater emphasis on behavioral health services to homeless persons in order to create and maintain permanent solutions.
“This law is a crucial first step to opening the door for service providers to work within shelters,” said Burgess. “But it is even more critical because the law provides homeless persons with the choice and access to efficient and holistic care.”
Working to End Homelessness
Advocates for the homeless offered that the legislation is an important step to providing wraparound services for people living in shelters or on the street.
”Addressing the mental health needs of individuals in emergency shelters will ultimately give them a greater opportunity to thrive and become more independent members of society,” said Connie Mercer, CEO of NJ Coalition to End Homelessness.
Taiisa Kelly, CEO of Monarch Housing Associates added that “if we as a state are truly committed to ending homelessness, as I believe we are, it is important we eliminate barriers people face trying to access the supports that they need. Whether we are talking about accessing shelter, mental health services, or a stable home, this legislation moves us closer to our efforts to create opportunity for all and end homelessness in New Jersey.”