Hospitals now allowed to construct housing, provide wrap-around services for homeless

Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill Wednesday that will enable hospitals to construct housing and provide wrap-around services for individuals who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.

Hospitals and health systems recently have begun instituting programs that address the social determinants of health — with a lack of secure housing always being near the top of the list of issues that leads to poor health. The bill, which was returned to the Legislature last month with recommendations to strengthen the affordable housing piece of the legislation, attempts to address this.

“Stable, quality housing and access to wrap-around resources have a significant impact on health outcomes,” Murphy said. “As New Jersey emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused severe economic and social disruption, we must think creatively about ways to reduce housing instability and improve access to services. I commend my partners in the Legislature for their efforts to eliminate housing insecurity and improve the health of New Jerseyans.”

Wrap-around services include health care-related programs such as behavioral health care and social services.

Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge), the chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and one of the sponsors of the legislation, said the bill was an example of government doing its part to help.

“Several pilots and partnerships are already underway in New Jersey with entities traditionally in the health care space — hospitals and health insurers — looking to provide housing and other wrap-around social services,” he said. “This law will make it easier for hospitals to provide housing and wrap-around services, allowing them to address more of the social determinants of health not always solved within the hospital walls.”

Another sponsor, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Delran) — who is the only member of the Legislature with a medical degree — said the bill addresses a need.

“Providing a stable living environment to housing-insecure people is a great way we can ensure compliance with medical treatment plans,” he said. “Homes represent secure spaces for the ongoing management of chronic conditions and the application of critical services in the areas of health education, nutrition, life skills and job training.”

Adam Gordon, the executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, said the potential impact is great.

“Living in a safe, decent and affordable home has an extraordinary impact on a family’s health,” he said. “We commend Gov. Murphy and the legislative sponsors for recognizing and strengthening this link at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the precarious position that many families are in, especially families of color.

“By enabling hospitals to create homes serving those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, New Jersey will reduce health care costs and improve the lives of many families.”