NEW BRUNSWICK — With the help of a pilot program launched by New Jersey, several homeless people who are in and out of hospital emergency rooms will get the permanent shelter and medical attention they gravely need.

The state Department of Community Affairs on Thursday announced a two-year pilot program, named Housing First, that will award 25 tenant-based housing vouchers to homeless people in the area who are frequent visitors to the emergency departments at Robert Wood Jonson University Hospital and/or Saint Peter's University Hospital.

Housing First initially launched in September with a similar program in Hudson County.

The idea is to initially meet their basic need of shelter, so then the work to address health-related issues can begin.

"On the one hand we reduce homelessness but also we reduce healthcare costs over time and also improve healthcare outcomes," DCA Assistant Commissioner Chigozie Onyema told New Jersey 101.5.

Through a partnership with local nonprofits and the hospitals, costs will be covered for two case managers to help connect voucher recipients, as well as other patients, with social service providers who can offer services related to food stamps, substance abuse, mental health issues, domestic violence and employment.

"We have a moral responsibility to positively impact the social determinants of health and improve our community's well-being before a visit to the emergency department is needed," said Leslie D. Hirsch, interim CEO and president of Saint Peter's Healthcare System, said in a press release.

The hospitals will identify the homeless individuals eligible for the program by scanning their database for high utilizers of their emergency departments. Coming Home of Middlesex County, the nonprofit providing the two case managers, will help determine who gets the vouchers first — based on health-related social needs — and keep track of the pilot program's outcomes.

"We have been able to establish this program through the determination of all the organizations involved to step outside their ordinary course of doing business to reach across sectors and collaborate for the benefit of Middlesex County residents," said Eileen O'Donnell, executive director of Coming Home. "We know that so much oft that affects a person's health status happens outside a health care facility or physician's office."

More from New Jersey 101.5:

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM