People experiencing homelessness in New Jersey will now have easier access to mental health services. On Monday, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law that allows mental health professionals to provide care at shelters.
It removes red tape that previously prohibited this.
“The stress individuals often face when experiencing homelessness can unfortunately lead to or exacerbate existing mental health challenges,” Murphy said in a statement. “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.”
Connie Mercer, CEO of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness, said the law will make mental health services accessible to people who otherwise may not have the means to seek treatment on their own.
“If the program is in a shelter, they will have to be no cost. And not only no cost, but no barriers to getting in,” Mercer said.
Mercer said it’s hard to quantify how many unhoused people in New Jersey have mental health issues because many are afraid to self-report.
“When you’re asking a mom with two little kids if she’s got mental health issues and she’s terrified that they’re going to take away her kids because she’s homeless, the last thing in the world she will admit to is having any issues,” Mercer said.
Advocacy groups agree that the new policy will help many people.
“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,”CEO of Monarch Housing Associates Taiisa Kelley said. “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.”
The new law comes as the Murphy Administration touts youth mental health as a key priority.
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