HEALTH

Christie visit to homeless shelter highlights new anti-opioid program

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

When Chris Christie was a Morris County freeholder, he oversaw the county human services department. So coming back to the county complex, he said was nostalgic. It had been 22 years, he told people here.

Christie was visiting Homeless Solutions, the largest homeless program in Morris County. When a client arrived with a substance abuse problem, the shelter had to send him or her to a drug treatment facility. Now, thanks to a grant from the state Labor Department, case managers here are taking a course that certifies them as drug and alcohol counselors.

“Previously we were having to refer people out who had addiction issues, and that could often take a lot of time and there would be obstacles to that. For example, if they had to be on wait lists or transportation was a problem, and we wanted to come up with a new way where we would really meet people where they were from day one when they came through our doors,” said CEO of Homeless Solutions Dan McGuire.

Pascal Augustin is the instructor of the course.

“Working with a drug addict, their mind is a little more complicated because you’re battling the disease of addiction,” said Augustin.

Christie listened as the homeless shelter staff told their stories about serving drug addicted clients who have no home. People like Kathryn Ross, who tripped and fell, got hooked on pain killers, then switched to heroin because it was cheaper.

How long were you on heroin?

“About three years before I really decided I just had enough, after I lost everything, my house, my family, my kids, literally everything. I was living in a dirty hotel,” said Ross.

Now she lives on the grounds here, but plans to move and is grateful for the support.

“They helped me get a voucher for my house, they helped me get my license back. They just gave me the confidence that I needed to succeed this time,” she said.

Christie has made the opioid addiction crisis his cause in this final years of his governorship. President Trump put him in charge of a National Opioid Addiction Task Force. The governor is on TV urging addicts to reach out for help. He said he constantly hears addicts who say “and I come from a good family.”

“Folks around the state and around the country need to understand that addiction can happen to anyone,” said Christie.

Labor Commissioner Aaron Fichtner explained why his department is funding this initiative to merge drug treatment and homeless services.

“We want to make sure at the Labor Department we’re helping train people for jobs that are in demand, and this is unfortunately a job in demand but we’re doing our part to make sure we’re addressing the opioid crisis through a better trained workforce,” said Fichtner.

Christie said the opioid crisis is like the AIDS epidemic and he’s waiting for the Magic Johnson moment, the moment that humanizes the whole thing, and then he’s waiting for marches on Washington.