Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Homelessness in Plainfield

Today communities across the nation are conducting "point in time counts" to estimate the extent and causes of homelessness. These counts are street level surveys done every two years by teams of human service and law enforcement workers and volunteers.

I participated in the Plainfield count which was coordinated by the Union County Department of Human Services. We found a lot of homeless people in Plainfield. Between 4 and 7:30 am our teams visited vacant buildings where we were able to make contact with 40 people. Our police escorts woke them up so we could fill out questionaires, provide food and clothing and make referrals for help as needed.

There was a group of people living in a vacant multi-family house near the downtown train station. Reasons given for their homelessness included unemployment, criminal justice system involvement, substance abuse and the high cost of housing. They were encouraged to go to the Plainfield YMCA shelter and they declined. The reason given was bed bugs. An unheated building does not have bed bug problems but the shelter does. Later I was told by an Bridgeway outreach worker that the Y works hard to deal with bed bugs and generally succeeds but this is a difficult problem to eradicate.

Nearby, a vacant office building was temporary shelter for a group of young men who are doing day labor and, apparently, saving money on rent. Only one of ten spoke English and through him we convinced them to go to the county social services office at Park Madison to get shelter vouchers.

Homelessness has many causes. Mental illness and substance abuse are common causes and are often associated with chronic homelessness. People with these problems are more likely to be noticed by the public. During an economic downturn, poverty and unemployment cause a surge in homelessness and we saw that today. Places like Plainfield see increased vacancies and foreclosures and some homeless people will find these locations as their least bad housing option.

Many people who experience homelessness are invisible to most of us. I may blog more on this. For now, I hope my observations helps the reader's understanding of homelessness in our community.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2012 Plainfield Municipal Budget Resolution

I thought I had posted this prior to Tuesdays Council meeting and to my surprise, it did not appear. I must have accidentally deleted it. The resolution is a set of recommendations for a new budgeting process that requires the Mayor and administration to collaborate with the Council and the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC). Better late than never so here is the budget planning resolution. It was just approved by a 4 - 2 vote. Mayor - the ball is in your court. The Council is ready and willing to begin this month.

2012 Plainfield Municipal Budget Planning Resolution

The municipal budget is a set of priorities of the government. With a finite budget, we can only spend so much money. Money spent in one area means there is less to spend in another area. As such, forward directional priorities are necessary to start the entire leadership of Plainfield thinking about pro-active and multi-year budgeting.

Whereas the state of New Jersey is imposing a 2% tax levy cap for Fiscal Year 2012 and

Whereas Plainfield’s municipal government expenses continue to rise while non-property tax revenues are decreasing in the short term and
Whereas the City Council desires to plan proactively to prepare for a difficult budgeting process that will challenge municipal government to meet the needs of residents and employees and

Whereas 2011 Council wishes to work pro-actively with the Mayor and administration to create a budgeting process that meets the above challenge,
Therefore the 2011 City Council recommends the Mayor and administration, in partnership with the City Council, utilize the following strategies:

1) An aggressive budget timetable for SFY 2012 that includes creating a 5 year municipal budget projection to be presented at the January business meeting.

2) The Council and Mayor appoint the CBAC no later than February and empower the 2010 CBAC as a holdover body until then; the Council Finance Committee, Mayor and administration to work closely with the CBAC beginning January to prepare the 5 year projection and 2012 budget.

3) 2011 should be year we begin to migrate non-core services to other entities. Further municipal funding of non-core services puts pressure on the budgets and causes the elimination of core-services like Fire, Police and Public Works. Council understands the value of most non-core services to the community and intends for these non-core services to be continued for our community which needs them.

4) In anticipation of the non-continued municipal funding of non-core services Council directs the administration to work with great haste to find new ownership of these programs. New ownership for at least one of these non-core services should be in place by June 30th. Administration shall report monthly to the Council on the progress of migrating these services to a non-governmental agency. An example and model of such a successful transfer is our own Dudley House.

5) The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) has endorsed this thinking and has named some non-core services to be migrated to non-profits. These include Plainfield Action Services, WIC and the bi-lingual day-care center.

6) The inspections department should be reorganized to include focus on core needs: greater inspection enforcement and reduction in C of C which is already done through the normal market forces.

7) Council directs the administration to utilize the auxiliary Police to the maximum allowable extent of the law. This may mean training, uniforms etc. The Council is hereby directing the administration to come up with a comprehensive plan utilizing the auxiliary department and the Council is committed to fully funding this as a means of increasing public safety.

8) Council directs the administration to continue consolidation of government divisions, bureaus and offices and to redirect scarce resources by shifting unneeded management staffing to direct services.

Only by the timely and collaborative effort of the executive and legislative branches of local government can we remain in control of Plainfield government’s future and avoid outside forces dictating how residents needs best be met. This requires leadership of all elected officials.