TRENTON - New Jersey's state Senate president wants to make temporary housing assistance for some vulnerable people permanent.
Democrat Stephen Sweeney announced his planned legislation Thursday in reaction to a policy change from Gov. Christie's administration that advocates say has caused some people to lose their homes.
The Republican governor's spokesman, Brian Murray, called Sweeney's announcement "alarmism and politics of the worst sort," saying the changes will not cause homelessness.
In the past, the state has extended temporary housing assistance for individuals, such as those who are chronically ill or disabled, sometimes indefinitely. The programs are run by county governments.
But now, the state says it wants to assign nonprofit groups to act as case managers for those residents and try to foster them into permanent housing options.
A state Department of Human Services spokeswoman said this week that because the change kicked in only this month there are no data yet on exactly what it has meant for residents.
Sweeney and antipoverty advocates say the new approach is not fully running and some people have lost their subsidies, rendering them homeless.
It is not clear how many people may have been affected so far. But Melissa DeBartolo, director of the Bergen County Community Mental Health Law Project, said she has had clients lose their homes already. One, she said, has children and could lose them as a result.
Sweeney said that apart from causing a humanitarian problem, homelessness hurts taxpayers because chronically homeless people often run up big bills for hospitalizations and other costs ultimately paid with public money.
The Republican governor's office has been heralding its commitment to reducing homelessness, including by forming a group to address the issue. The administration noted that homelessness in the state has dropped by more than one-fourth since he took office in 2010.
Murray said in an email Thursday that the administration is making sure that people who need housing will get it, saying that more than 1,000 vouchers are being granted for permanent housing for people with special needs.
Christie took office just as the Great Recession was ending, and since then the state's economy has grown, though more slowly than most states.