Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Homeless Point in Time County 2016

Every year, the U.S. HUD (the federal housing agency) holds a nation-wide count of homeless people.  Today, January 27, is the day.  In Union County, daytime and overnight counts are conducted.  Volunteers seek out people who are homeless in the urban centers - Elizabeth, Plainfield and Linden in particular.  Questionnaires are filled out.  People are offered packages of food, clothing and toiletries and also transportation to shelters or the county Division of Social Services (in Plainfield, at the Park-Madison office building)

I participate in the Plainfield overnight count.  This year we began at 3:30 AM, three groups in vans, accompanied by police officers.  Using police intelligence and others in the know, we visited locations likely frequented by people who are homeless.

 evidence of homeless overnight location by east bound downtown station

We found less people than in previous years, probably because the heavy snowfall drove more people into shelters.  We also looked along Park Ave in downtown and spoke to some people who were spending the night standing in doorways.  One said she was homeless for two years.
In the past, we found people at the downtown station, but not this year.
Union County Department of Human Services is to be commended.  We are the first county in New Jersey to implement Code Blue, when the temperature drops very low and the county assertively looks for homeless people and brings them to shelters.  I am told that Freeholder Angel Estrada was the champion of this initiative, which is now spreading across the state.
Freeholder Linda Carter, County Dept of Human Services Director Frank Guzzo and yours truly
The photo above shows some of the people who showed up at 3 AM for the Point in Time Count in Plainfield.  There was a good turnout  of HomeFirst employees , Plainfield police and county Sherriff's Office.
Eventually reports will be issued nation-wide documenting the people identified as experiencing homeless on January 27, their characteristics and the outcome of our interventions for the day.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Conduct of City Council Meetings, Part 2

My assessment of the two January Council meetings is that they were good meetings.  Discussion on agenda items by the Council was issues oriented, not political or personal.  The "hottest" subject, the City Identification Card Ordinance, generated a lot of discussion by Council members.  The message from Councilors was to consult the people who implemented the non government ID cards so there is no confusion and a smooth changeover to the city ID cards.  This a job for the city administration and I am sure that this will come up next month when this ordinance is up for second reading and final approval.

Councilors expressed concern about having input on the proposed Plainfield marketing initiative and a meeting of the minds resulted in approval for the proposal.   The PARSA ordinance amendment was approved on first reading.  Other resolutions were not controversial and were also approved. 

There will be more discussion on Council conduct in February.  I will be adding two items for discussion:  2016 city budget process and the procedure for approval of Councilor expenses. 

The budget process includes the role of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and the Council's timetable for budget approval.  I favor approving the budget as soon as a thorough and transparent process allows.  I find it absurd that because of state policies, municipalities cant approve their budgets before the year begins and actually cant even do so until the third or fourth month of the year.  

Plainfield has an ordinance that directs how Councilors may spend money budgeted for Council purposes.  This includes travel, accommodations and registration for conferences and workshops. 

The City Council is not ready yet for Kumbaya but its a good start.  The truer test will be the 2016 city budget.                                                 

Friday, January 8, 2016

City Council - Conduct of Meetings

Council meetings are to conduct the business of the city.  In support of that purpose, I have put "conduct of meetings" on the agenda for discussion.  It takes seven Council members to make an effective meeting so I am very interested to hear from my colleagues and the public.  Here is some of what I have to say:

1. I want to give each member of the public the same right to speak and I will treat all speakers the same.  Letting some speakers extend for another 5 or 10 minutes and not letting others does not seem like equal treatment.  In fact, our Corporation Counsel just indicated to me that unequal treatment could be seen as a "content based restriction on speech", in essence a violation of rights by those not given a 5 minute extension.

2. I will do my best to assist members of the public who come to the microphone seeking help on a problem specific to them.  Many times these problems can be handled off-line by one of our department heads and I will ask that this approach be used more often.  Of course, speakers who have tried to get help from city hall and did not get satisfaction will have the full attention of the Council.

3. I will ask the City Clerk and/or Corporation Counsel to explain the meeting motion "point of order" and will do my utmost to abide by this rule.

4.  Respect for each person at our meetings is paramount. This is a responsibility we must all own.  The Council President particularly is responsible should disrespectful behavior be exhibited and I will not allow such behavior to continue.  When we criticize, do so not of a person but their position, statement or behavior.

I don't expect that everyone will agree all the time.  Especially as we get closer to election times.  But I encourage all stakeholders to put the issues first - those critical subjects like public safety, quality of life and taxes.