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Last year NJ 2-1-1 responded to over 70,000 calls for assistance with the cost of utilities. “As the state’s Utility Assistance Hotline we are able to explain how utility assistance programs like LIHEAP and USF work; direct people to where the online applications for these programs can be found; and connect them with local application agencies quickly and confidently,” explains Angie McGregor, NJ 2-1-1’s Help Center Manager. There are several programs that may be of assistance to those struggling to pay the bills. A complete rundown of utility assistance programs is available here. Our At A Glance synopsis will give you the bare essentials when it comes to programs and eligibility requirements.
“Utility assistance programs offer an important, often essential, savings to individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet,” says Executive Director Melissa Acree. The USF and LIHEAP programs, both of which began accepting applications on October 1, can save eligible families hundreds of dollars annually depending upon household size and the type of fuel used to heat the home. That money saved is then available to help meet other household expenses, like food, clothing, housing or transportation costs. For families living from paycheck to paycheck this assistance can make a difference in a family’s financial stability. According to the United Way ALICE Report, 37 percent of households in New Jersey could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation in 2014.
Applications for the utility assistance programs must be submitted annually even if an applicant has applied in past years. We are busy answering calls now from people who are looking for information about their local application site, the application itself, and program details. In December the bulk of our calls involve applicants who are calling to check on the status of their applications.
On January 24, 2017, a Point-in-Time Count took place on the streets of New Jersey, just as it did in every state throughout our country, in an effort to calculate the number of people who are homeless. The count is an annual event. Results from previous years are compared to the current one and conclusions are drawn as to the progress being made to end homelessness. New Jersey’s most recent count reflected a downturn in the numbers of those who are homeless (4.6% decrease in individuals and a 3.3% drop in the number of households who are homeless), but still counted a total of 6,340 households, including 8,532 people who were homeless that night. A total of 1,092 persons, in 992 households, were identified as chronically homeless (defined as families and individuals who have been homeless for a year or longer, or who have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years totaling at least 12 months, and have a disabled head of household) and 1,357 households, with 1,415 people who were unsheltered on the night of the count.
NJ 2-1-1 plays an important role in assessing New Jersey’s homeless population and in connecting those in need with the critical services that may lead to stable housing. We serve as the Homeless Hotline in four counties in our state (Morris, Middlesex, Passaic and Hudson) and the award winning Your Way Home program in Montgomery County, PA. “These Special Initiatives allow us to go above and beyond direct information and referral services and actually assess a callers’ situation in those jurisdictions,” explains Janice Kaniewski, NJ 2-1-1 Chief Operating Officer. The details of that assessment are passed on through a secure web-based platform to designated social service organizations in the county who use this information as they help each person find appropriate solutions.
In 2016, NJ 2-1-1 answered over 25,000 housing related calls statewide. These calls reflect all housing related topics including those from people who are looking for affordable housing, rent subsidy programs, supportive housing and senior housing, to name a few. Of those 25,000+ calls, over 19,000 came from people who were looking for shelter/emergency housing. A person living on the brink of homelessness and those who find themselves truly homeless have many needs. In an effort to raise awareness for these services, NJ 2-1-1 designed backpacks for school-aged children in Jersey City with a loveable puppy nestled in for the night that communicated the message we stand by, "Everybody needs a place to sleep at night." We tucked a card about NJ 2-1-1 in the pocket of each backpack we delivered hoping to spread the word about our services. Calling 2-1-1 or texting us at 898-211 is a good place to start when looking for solutions.
In mid-September the latest ad for ReachNJ, the state's addiction hotline, started running on TV and in social media. ReachNJ is powered by NJ 2-1-1. Our calls increased by 57 percent that day and have stayed steady or even increased at times since then. Callers are connected with resources that can help, bringing them one step closer to recovery.
This month NJ 2-1-1 participated in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Walk. We joined 15,000 other registrants in Parsippany to honor those we know and love whose lives have been touched by, and in far too many cases, lost to cancer.
The NJ 2-1-1 Partnership Team raised $660 through its collective efforts. We remembered Danielle Cummings one of our NJ 2-1-1 Family. Danielle, a devoted resource specialist, was just 33 years old when she lost her life to cancer last spring.