On Monday night, Jimmy Peters had nowhere to go. The mentally ill man had just been released from the psychiatric ward of a local hospital. Dressed in worn out clothes, the bearded man, with tattoos all over his body, set out to find a place to sleep for the night.
State Senator Richard Codey played the role of Jimmy Peters on Monday as he went undercover to determine how a homeless mentally ill resident could survive. Codey, who served as New Jersey Governor for 14 months in 2004 and 2005, has long been an advocate for the mentally disabled.
NBC News reports that Codey took to the makeup chair for over an hour on Monday to get prepared for the role. He wore a fake beard and had phony tattoos. His teeth were made to look tobacco-stained and his face was altered to appear worn and tired.
The State Senator then took to the streets of Newark trying to find a shelter that would accept him for the night. This task would not prove to be an easy one for Codey as shelter after shelter turned him down. Most shelters in Newark required their occupants to be officially registered for government assistance.
"To find a place to take you if you're homeless was impossible essentially, unless you're on some government entitlement program," Codey told NBC News.
For fear that this experiment would be a bust, Codey placed a call to Ross Croesmann, a Newark case worker, who helped the former Governor into the Goodwill Goodwill Rescue Mission by 9 p.m.
As Codey told Good Day New York on Wednesday, he was only allowed to stay in the shelter for one night as the occupants are asked to leave by 7 a.m. He wasn’t able to get a cot, so he was forced to join the other 20 occupants there and sleep on the floor with a bedroll and a blanket.
"For me it was tough, I sleep on my side so by 3 a.m. my hip was hurting," Codey told NBC afterwards.
Bob Davison, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County, told MSNBC that “sometimes you get in, sometimes you don't.” Both Davison and Codey told the news source that 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.