On appeal from the Division of Public Welfare.
Pressler, Gaulkin and Ashbey. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.
In Maticka v. City of Atlantic City, 216 N.J. Super. 434 (App.Div.1987), we addressed the problem of homelessness in the context of a challenge by the Public Advocate to the fault standard and time restriction prescribed by N.J.A.C. 10:82-5.10(c), the two-pronged qualifier which limits the eligibility of homeless families with dependent children for emergency shelter assistance. We held in Maticka that the fault standard of the regulation was arbitrary and unreasonable and therefore invalid. We declined, however, definitively to address the sustainability of the time limitation since we were of the view that judicial action would be premature until the ultimately responsible agency, the New Jersey Department of Human Resources, had the opportunity, by way of a rule-making public hearing, to reassess its time limitation and any other qualifying conditions in the light of reliable information respecting, among other considerations, the scope of the social and economic problem of homelessness, its root causes and effective long-term solutions, and the availability and interrelationship of the present multiplicity of public and private assistance programs and resources, administered with an apparent lack of effective coordination and efficiency by a multiplicity of governmental agencies and private charitable groups. Nevertheless, we stayed enforcement of the time limitation of the regulation pending the Department's hearing and any action it would take based thereon because we were satisfied by the record before us in Maticka that if we did not do so, families with dependent children who had no other available resources would be left without any shelter at all.
Maticka was expressly limited to families with dependent children who receive assistance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 44:10-1 et seq., since that was the only category of homeless person involved in that litigation. We nevertheless recognized that the problem of homelessness affects others as well, 216 N.J. Super. at 438, n. 1, among whom are recipients of general assistance (GA) pursuant to the General Public Assistance Law, N.J.S.A.
44:8-107 to -149. It is the imminent and actual homelessness of the GA recipients in these five consolidated cases which claims our attention here.
The basic issues raised by and on behalf of petitioners and plaintiffs here are essentially the same as those we considered in Maticka. First, they challenge the qualifying prescriptions of the regulation, N.J.A.C. 10:85-4.6, which imposes the same fault and time conditions on the eligibility of GA recipients for emergency assistance as N.J.A.C. 10:82-5.10(c) imposes on families with dependent children. Second, they claim a constitutional right to shelter under Article 1, §§ 1 and 2 of the New Jersey State Constitution (1947) as well as a mandated right of shelter under the General Assistance Law. Finally, they claim a statutorily mandated right of shelter under the Community Mental Health Services Act, N.J.S.A. 30:9A-1 to -11, for the homeless mentally ill in all state-funded mental health service areas. Because we reach the same dispositive conclusions here as we did in Maticka, we need consider at this time only the first of these contentions.
Of the five cases before us, three, Ancrum, Patterson, and Davis, each of which involves an individual petitioner, come to this court by way of direct appeal from a determination of the Department of Human Services affirming the action of the City of Elizabeth in terminating the respective petitioner's emergency assistance based solely on the time limits of the regulation. Rodgers, a representative action whose primary focus is on the shelter problems of the indigent mentally ill homeless of the City of Newark, was transferred to this court by the Law Division some two years after its inception. See R. 2:2-3(a)(2); R. 1:13-4. The last, Evans, involves a group of 22 petitioners, residents of Newark and Irvington, who were advised by their respective municipal welfare departments in March 1987 that their emergency assistance grants would be terminated effective April 3, 1987, pursuant to the 60 to 90 day time limit of the GA regulation. The Supreme Court, on an application for emergent relief, remanded Evans to us for our consideration
together with the other four cases and stayed termination of emergency assistance for those petitioners pendente lite. We then stayed the termination of assistance pending appeal in Ancrum, Patterson, and Davis.
Little need be said by way of factual recitation. It is virtually undisputed that the petitioners and plaintiffs in these cases are destitute and that their sole financial resource is the flat GA grant they each receive, $133 monthly in the case of employable recipients and $200 in the case of unemployable recipients. Their inability to obtain shelter is primarily the result of a profound scarcity of any kind of living accommodation affordable on their grant income, a scarcity exacerbated by the policy of many rooming-house owners not to rent to welfare recipients or to members of minorities or either. Inexpensive accommodations which are destroyed by fire, as in the case of petitioners Ancrum and Patterson, both of whom had been living in an Elizabeth rooming house which burned down on December 20, 1986, are not readily replaceable, if replaceable at all. Battered people and people discharged from mental hospitals, in-patient substance abuse treatment programs and other institutions who have no family or friends offering accommodation and who have no other place to go cannot afford shelter on their GA grants. There appears to be no governmentally provided emergency group shelters in Newark or elsewhere in Essex County, and the few privately maintained ones are seriously overcrowded, overstressed, and unable to respond to the overwhelming need. In short, the record in this case describes a catalog of human suffering, illness, disease, degradation, humiliation, and despair which shakes the foundations of a common belief in a compassionate, moral, just, and decent society.
The general assistance relief prescribed by N.J.S.A. 44:8-107 et seq., was conceived of as providing a program of "last resort to needy single persons and married couples between 18 and 65 years of age who have no minor children." Pascucci v. Vagott, 7 ...