POSTED: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 1:44pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 1:51pm
NEWARK, NJ — Former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey went undercover Monday night, disguised as a homeless person on the streets of Newark, in an attempt to get a different perspective.
"To find a place to take you if you were homeless was impossible, essentially," Codey said.
Most shelters in Newark require applicants to be on government assistance, or at least have an official ID.
After having trouble finding shelter, Codey, who is now a state senator, turned to a resource most homeless people don't have -- a personal connection with the Mental Health Association of Essex County.
The connection put him in touch with case worker Ross Croesmann, who places homeless people in shelters and was able to get Codey into the Goodwill Rescue Mission in downtown Newark at about 9 p.m.
The former governor, who filled the office in 2004 and 2005 after Jim McGreevey resigned in disgrace, has championed the cause of the mentally ill for decades, beginning when he was a state senator.
On Monday night, after an hourlong makeup session to make him unrecognizable, Codey assumed the role of Jimmy Peters, a mentally ill individual who had just been released from the psychiatric ward of a local hospital.
Croesmann could only get Codey into the shelter for one night, and a telephone survey of other homeless shelters found them even more difficult to get in.
"Sometimes you get in, sometimes you don't," said Bob Davison, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County.
Both Davison and Codey said there are more mentally ill out on the street than institutionalized, after recent cutbacks at both state psychiatric hospitals and in the psychiatric wards at community hospitals.
At the Goodwill Rescue Mission, Codey said he was one of about 20 homeless who slept on bedrolls on the floor of the chapel.
"For me it was tough, I sleep on my side so by 3 a.m. my hip was hurting," Codey said.
Codey, who went undercover as a worker in one state mental hospital and, as governor, slept overnight at another, left later in the morning to return to his life as a state senator.
But he said he will not forget the mentally ill homeless he left behind and will continue to urge the governor and state legislature to find more and better housing for them.