The United States is the wealthiest, most powerful and most technologically advanced nation in human history. Since before the country existed, New Jersey has been at the heart of our economic strength.
This prowess continues today, as we have one of the highest median incomes. Yet we have one of the worst income disparities, resulting in homelessness among our citizens.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development releases an annual assessment report on the state of homelessness. Last year, it reported 552,830 homeless persons. Of those, 9,398 people are in New Jersey, 555 of which are veterans and 518 are unaccompanied youth.
We may not have the power to change the nation, but we can do something for New Jerseyans. If a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable, how will our state be measured?
During this past holiday season, many of us took into account our blessings and considered giving to those who are less fortunate. It’s a time when we tend to be more giving, in the spirit of the season. However, for many people, that desire to give lessens as the decorations are packed away. The holidays may be over, but the homeless still need our help. We must be steadfast in our commitment to helping them all year-round.
New Jersey, fortunately, is heading in the right direction. Homelessness has decreased drastically over the past 10 years. While we have improved, this should not lull us into passivity. As long as there are homeless, there are ways to better support them.
Over the past few years, I have sponsored several bills that would be beneficial to the homeless. As an assemblyman, I sponsored legislation that would establish a statewide database of beds in shelters for the homeless. Shelters across the state can sometimes struggle to house the large population of homeless. When they know they are at a limit, they can coordinate with other shelters to better manage the homeless population.
Most recently, I sponsored a bill that would allow county homelessness trust funds to be used for Code Blue emergency shelter services when temperatures drop to extreme levels and shelter needs become dire.
As the new chairman of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, I recently introduced a bill that would require the Department of Community Affairs to make information on homeless prevention programs and services available on its website, thus making these services and programs more available to those who are at risk of homelessness. As I take on my new role as chairman, I will continue to work on ways to decrease the level of homelessness in New Jersey.
Last month, during my monthly “Serve With Senator Singleton” community service project, I partnered with Code Blue Collaborative and Extended Hand Ministries. These two local organizations are shining examples of people who work day in and day out to help those who are homeless and in need. They can attest firsthand that the need is great 365 days a year. It was also a reminder that the people who use these programs are not just numbers in media reports. They are men and women, teens and children, who deserve dignity. They are deserving of your help and kindness.
So, even though the Thanksgiving food drives may have ended and the holiday toy drives have wrapped up, it should not stop us from helping and serving the homeless today, tomorrow and in the months ahead. We can help by volunteering our time or by donating items, or simply by showing some respect and love the next time you walk past someone living on the streets. As the Rev. Matin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. ... You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”