New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced that the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) will issue vouchers for rental assistance to 500 individuals or families who are experiencing chronic housing instability and frequently utilizing public services. They will be housed across the state using the proven Housing First approach.

The Camden Coalition has been running a pilot Housing First program in Camden since November 2015, with 50 housing vouchers provided to the Coalition by the New Jersey Department of Community Services (DCA). 43 of those vouchers have been allocated to Camden’s high-need patients who have complex medical and social conditions and are experiencing chronic homelessness. To date, thirteen individuals have been housed.

Housing First is an evidence-based housing model that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible, and then providing wraparound social services as needed. Housing First differs from traditional supportive housing programs, in which patients must “earn” housing through through treatment compliance, psychiatric stability, and substance abstinence while passing criminal background standards and credit checks.

The Coalition has found that Housing First provides our patients with much-needed stability where they can work toward better medical and behavioral health and have a safe space to recover from substance use disorders. This leads to dramatic drops in hospital utilization and emergency medical services, with some Coalition patients experiencing zero hospital readmissions after entering housing. Across the country, Housing First programs typically see an 80 to 90 percent housing retention rate, compared with a 30 to 60 percent retention rate in traditional supportive housing programs.

The Christie administration has made addressing homelessness in New Jersey a priority, yielding impressive results: homelessness dropped 41 percent between 2007 and 2015, with a decrease of 14 percent between 2014 and 2015 alone. The new statewide Housing First program will allow local organizations to expand the work the Coalition has been doing in Camden, helping transform lives across the state.

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