The Shelter Providers Consortium harnesses our relationships with government officials and the expertise, passion, and caring of our members to advocate for shelters and those they serve. During the worst, earliest months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Shelter Providers Consortium successfully fought for NJ shelters’ ability to house and care for its clients. Over the past year, the Consortium has achieved major policy successes and continues to advocate on behalf of common interests and goals, as described below.
Frontline Worker Pay Increases
Due to the concerted efforts of Consortium members and Sen. Shirley Turner, the NJ FY22 Budget includes $9 million in per diem rate increases for homeless shelters to boost pay for frontline workers. As an organized group, the Consortium put the issue front and center, preventing shelters from being left out of an historic, $46.4 billion budget that included hundreds of millions in pay raises for other frontline workers.
We have successfully fought for homeless shelters to be among the first to receive Covid vaccines. This provided staff faster protection from the virus while working with highly vulnerable members of the community during a time of rapidly increasing Covid cases statewide. We ensured that local Points of Dispensing (PODs) connected with shelters to provide vaccines to those experiencing homelessness and survivors of domestic violence.
Vaccine Education & Advocacy
The Consortium organized a Covid-19 listening session with shelter providers and NJ Department of Health officials to strengthen relationships and build trust with groups prioritized for vaccination, particularly those from marginalized communities. The Consortium also successfully advocated for a stakeholder call with Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli regarding vaccines for the homeless.
Covid Testing. The Consortium has worked closely with high-level staff from the NJ Department of Health & Addiction Services to address the urgent need for Covid-19 rapid testing at shelters. We advocated piloting rapid testing at a few shelters, and once successful, the NJ Department of Health agreed to its expansion. The State has since implemented a rapid-testing program for homeless clients and staff at shelters across the state. This was a huge and critical win. Without testing, under public health protocols, our facilities could not accept new homeless households in desperate need. At the same time, without any new clients several months into the Pandemic, most shelters’ operating budgets were hemorrhaging expected fee-for-service income. Rapid testing has permitted shelters to reopen our doors fully to the steady flow of those who need emergency housing and support. Not only does testing allow shelters to help more people effectively, we are saving the State thousands of dollars in costs.
Priority Access to PPE. From the very beginning of the Pandemic, the Consortium has worked with the New Jersey Department of Human Services to ensure shelters have adequate personal protection equipment, cleaning supplies and other essentials that are provided to healthcare facilities. We have redoubled our efforts in anticipation of a second wave of the virus. The Consortium was able to get “shelter providers” added to the State’s list of “essential workers” and for the Consortium to be recognized as a New Jersey State purchasing collaborative, with significant increased access to supplies and potential savings.
Shelter Licensing. The Consortium is taking part in high-level meetings with NJ Department of Community Affairs to assure that shelter representatives will have meaningful input in shaping new shelter operation guidelines and requirements in light of COVID realities. We are also in direct discussions with DCA regarding the content and direction of new licensing regulations. To provide the state with a comprehensive assessment of the current situation, we surveyed shelters to gather information on bed availability and other operation details pre- and post-COVID.
New Funding Stream. We are working with the NJ Department of Human Services, Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services/Medicaid Office, on developing a whole new, more sustainable funding stream for shelters. Promising discussions are underway.
Mental Health Solutions. The Consortium reached out and warned of the growing mental health crisis at shelters. In response, the New Jersey Department of Health, Director of Mental Health & Addiction has pledged to work with the Consortium to develop and fund a sustainable solution to provide ongoing direct mental health services in shelters for homeless adults and children.
Health Services. We have discussed with NJDOH the need for better access to critical public health services for “hard to serve populations” at our shelters, starting with more addiction counseling and STD, TB and other testing. In addition, we are working to get the Mental Health, Substance Use System serving our clients.
Through Act-Cess USA, the Consortium successfully applied for the NJ Department of Labor’s Upskill New Jersey Incumbent Worker Training Grant, which will provide up to $150,000 in reimbursement for shelter worker training, including courses in crisis de-escalation, trauma-informed care, and Homelessness 101. This will enable needed training for providers who could not otherwise afford it.
The Consortium has partnered with two employment lawyers, who will serve as resources to our member shelters – many of whom have been forced to navigate thorny legal questions without adequate HR staff. One of these lawyers led a Q&A session at our full Consortium meeting, which members found helpful.
Thought Leadership. We are in frequent communication with the director of NJ’s new Office of Homelessness Prevention, who has recognized the Consortium as the go-to representative of homeless shelter providers’ interest and as a public resource, already referring shelter start-ups to the Consortium for guidance.
In a year’s time, the NJ Shelter Providers Consortium has established its identity and purpose in New Jersey’s policy circles. We are convening regular monthly meetings (now, virtually) with over 100 individuals, primarily CEO’s from over 200 unique New Jersey shelters. Meetings have become a valuable vehicle for sharing ideas, expertise, and nurturing collaboration, particularly so during time of COVID.
Presentations by invited guests at Consortium meetings have included high-level staff from local, county and state government agencies throughout the state. Non-governmental guest speakers sharing crucial Pandemic information have included accountants, and human resource (HR), insurance and employment attorneys. Going forward and starting in October, the Consortium has arranged a cost-share partnership with Americorps VISTA, hiring a VISTA Volunteer to assist with capacity-building, for a year-long placement with the Consortium.
Consortium member involvement has been widespread and enthusiastic. We have convened active sub-committees on various shelter and Pandemic-related issue areas, leading to above advocacy achievements, including:
• The loss of shelter revenue due to health and space protocols
• Lack of available COVID testing
• Special needs of traumatized children and families during pandemic
• Insurance coverage for shelter operations in response to COVID
• Preparing for the looming eviction crisis and landlord issues