Visioning Day Report 2014: Networks of Support That Treat ALL People With Dignity and Respect

networks fb pic

As our previous Visioning Day Report blog posts have highlighted, housing is the foundation to ending homelessness. But, we also need coordinated and systemic shifts in policies, programs, procedures and practices to achieve this paradigm.  Solving homelessness cannot be the sole responsibility of any one entity; we must have a societal accountability to ensure safety, justice and opportunity for all children and families of the Commonwealth.  It is through the connectedness- of people to programs; policies to procedures; resources to realities; data to doing; and systems to services- that we can have networks of support that treat all people with dignity and respect.  The specific recommendations for this vision are:

  1. Enhance coordination and implement complementary policies, practices, and procedures between state agencies
  2. Invest in technology upgrades to allow information sharing between shelters and state agencies, comprehensive data collection and reporting, and more transparent and accessible information for families.

Multi system coordination and technology were themes that emerged in each distinct breakout group and have been evident in each of the preceding summaries of our recommendations.  Considering homelessness with a cross agency and holistic lens- be it in policy making or practice- will present more pathways to economic and housing stability.  Using frameworks- such as the Full Frame Approach-will leverage individual social capital, peer support, and partnerships for problem solving.  Cyber networks and technology can allow us to connect and share information and resources in ways that are unprecedented. Policies must not be made based on perception or rhetoric, rather data should drive decision making.

On State Agencies

We have seen positive results from the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, especially in focused subpopulation initiatives and pilot programs. We need to build on this model of interagency collaboration. On a macro level- working across secretariats can glean conflicting policies; impacts of funding and spending across agencies; regulations that create disincentives, barriers and unjust sanctions; eliminate the cliff effect; minimize bureaucracy and duplication; and maximize efficiencies, resources, and effectiveness of state programs.  On a service level- interagency collaboration and coordination can provide opportunities for staff trainings (across state agencies and in housing and homelessness programs), less duplication of services, and more pooling of resources and wisdom.  Specific feedback at Visioning Day included more inclusion and coordination for solving individual and systemic homelessness with- schools, and early education and care programs, health care, the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Children and Families, and education and job training programs.

On Technology

Can we pause from this wonkiness for a moment to recognize that Facebook was invented in Massachusetts? And that we have some of the smartest students and computer technology professionals in the world right here in Boston? Yet, we seem to have such limitations with data systems, a hard to navigate state website, computer systems that can’t talk to each other? We can and must do better.  Maybe Zuckerberg can help?

Imagine going to the doctor’s office and if you had to provide all of your medical history every time you went- to the receptionist, then again with the nurse practitioner, and again with the doctor- and if after the nurse took your vitals, she kept that information and the doctor did it all over again. That is a little bit like what our homelessness and housing system does to families.  It is an inefficient and triggering. While there are confidentially issues to consider, attendees at Visioning day recommended a shared data base- like a Efforts to Outcomes, and a printable or accessible assessment a family could present at intakes to reduce the number of times they have to share their story.

The general sentiment was that we could be doing so much more with technology- to share information, to clarify guidelines, for applications, for centralized lists, to get questions answered, to learn about resources.

So how do we carry this vision forward?

How do we structure government oversight of homelessness and diffuse the urgency to solve the crisis across agencies and communities.  How can we create networks of support for families- in their communities and online.  How can we work collectively to ensure that families facing housing instability are treated with respect and dignity in the media, when they ask for help, and in their journey to stability?


Visioning Day Report 2014: To end homelessness we need housing, education, a living wage job and affordable childcare

We need FB pic

Some see homelessness is often seen as an individual failure, as something that can be avoided if better choices we made. .

We also believe that homelessness is something that can be avoided. We see that it isn’t the families that have failed, but the economy, the society, and the systems that are supposed to support them. However, we see what families go through, how hard they work, yet still struggle to achieve housing stability.  If you have housing, it means that many things are working in your favor.  If you are homeless, it means that many things are not.

The next of the recommendations contained in HFF’s 2014 Visioning Day Report point towards the vision and basic principle that we need housing, education, living wage jobs,  and affordable childcare.

The specific recommendations based on input from our Visioning Day Report are:

  • Create economic opportunities for extremely low income families through education and training programs, increased wages, and asset development.
  • Make deep investments in early childhood education programs, with simplified access and recertification processes.

It is crucial that we address root causes of poverty and continue to bridge systems and silos together in our efforts to end family homelessness.  On the funding priority ballot, Visioning Day participants ranked employment training fourth, education fifth, and education 6th. As for advocacy, participants ranked children’s issues and welfare reform fourth and fifth respectively. The call to address the cliff effect and  for more access to early education and care in the mission to ensure every child has a place to call home is loud and clear.

On affordable housing:

There is a severe lack of affordable housing across the country, and this is especially true in Massachusetts, which is ranked 6 out of 52* in two bedroom apartment affordability at fair market wage. The production of new housing units has slowed, resulting in an increase in housing value and rental prices. According to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card, “Unlike home prices in Greater Boston, apartment rents have continued to rise almost regardless of the state of the economy. With the exception of 2009, asking rents as well as effective rents (taking into discounts such as a rent-free month) have increased every single year since 2003.” Because of the high cost of living, “42,000 families applied for housing assistance from Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development in the last year” and “50,000 very low-income households are on the 5-year waiting list for the federal Section 8 housing voucher program.” Support for programs like Section 8 and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program are critical to close the rent wage gap, along with increasing the development of affordable housing so that all families have the opportunity for permanent housing. See our blog post “Housing is a Basic Human Right” for more information.

On education:

The “Massachusetts Legislature has cut spending for education and training for TAFDC recipients over 85 percent since the beginning of the last decade, from $53M in FY 2001 to $7.7M in FY 2014”.  Extremely low income families are more likely to have attained low education; 16 percent have not completed high school, and 34 percent have only a high school diploma or a GED. Because “the majority of jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage in Massachusetts now require higher education; by 2020, 72 percent of all jobs in the state will require at least some college education”, it is critical that we invest in low-income families to ensure that they have access to education that will enable them to work a living wage job.

On a living wage job:

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent”. “In Massachusetts, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $8.00. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment of $1252, a minimum wage earner must work 120 hours per week, 52 weeks per year”.  In addition, “the estimated average wage for a renter is $17.47. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 55 hours per week, 52 weeks per year.” With statistics like these, it is easy to see that low income workers are left with very little flexibility; they must make deliberate choices regarding how to spend their income, and because of high rents, lack of affordable housing and lower educational attainment and opportunities, it is no surprise that many low income families enter the shelter system.

However, as a state, we should recognize our efforts to improve the situations for low wage workers, and celebrate our successes. Each fight brings us that much closer to equality and a more just society. Paid sick days for low-income wage earners was just passed in the recent election- a huge step towards supporting parents in their efforts to balance work,  family and personal needs. The recent vote to increase the minimum wage reflects that the people of Massachusetts recognize and want to improve the current wage system. Governor Duval Patrick recently signed into a law a policy that will raise the minimum wage to $11/hour by 2017. However, this will not dramatically improve the situation for low income families because it is still not enough to make ends meet with the current stock of available affordable housing.

On affordable childcare:

According to Child Care Aware, “the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in center-based care is $16,430 in Massachusetts”, and for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) that service is $28,606. When “the cost of center-based infant care for a family of three living at the poverty level is 86 percent of their income”, and rent can be over 50 percent of a low income family’s earnings, families are faced with a choice: Do I work, or do I take care of my child? Any family can tell you that there is no right answer. Because of this dichotomy, low income families are required to rely on income eligible child care. Currently, there are 28,000 children between the ages of 0 – 8 on the waitlist for this service, and that number is a severe misrepresentation of the need. To put this into perspective- only 6.7% of children residing in the EA system are on the child care voucher waitlist, when 100% of them qualify.

Attendees at Visioning Day talked about the intersection of these problems, and what drives them.  So many of the benefits we offer are tied to the parent’s ability to work, when they should be tied to ensuring the child’s ability to thrive. There is no dispute when it comes to the importance of early education in a child’s life, and our policies should reflect what we know will make a lasting, permanent difference.

How do we push this agenda forward?

Homelessness is what happens when there is a gap between what a family has and what that family has to pay. It is up to us as a commonwealth to ensure that there are supports and programs available to fill that gap.

What can we do as a community to ensure that our systems are working together and not failing our families?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled (#NHHAW #VDAY) Blog Posts, to give you an important 9C cut update

According to Massbudget Policy Center. Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws requires that when projected revenue is less than projected spending, the Governor must act to ensure that the budget is brought into balance.  With a projected shortfall for this fiscal year, Governor Patrick has acted and proposed a series of cuts.  There are a lot of cuts and dings across programs- many to administrative lines, incentives, reserves, earmarks, and uncommitted grants.

Housing and shelter line items were essentially unscathed- less a reduction to the DHCD administration line, less than $1M from MRVP and a $76,000 reduction to the DMH subsidy program.  From our understanding the cut to MRVP will not impact the distribution of vouchers as the lease up time will result in a surplus in the line item.  The Salary Reserve was also preserved

Relative Human Services programs did take some significant cuts including the following:

DPH Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment ($50,000)
DPH Healthy Relationships Grant Program ($150,000)
DMH Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ($5M)
DMH Mental Health Services Including Adult Homeless and Emergency ($2M)
DMH Emergency Services and Mental Health Care ($3.6M)
Inpatient Facilities and Community-Based Mental Health Service ($790,000)
DTA Pathways to Self Sufficiency ($10M…out of $11M)
DTA Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children Grant Pmt ($5M)
DTA Emergency Aid to the Elderly Disabled and Children ($2M)


We will be in communication with our partners that work on the Pathways to Self Sufficiency Program and the Welfare Coalition to learn more about the impact of the cuts.

Other cuts to human services, according to the Provider’s Council (cut and pasted from their email) are:

Department of Mental Health

DMH will see a $11.6 million reduction resulting in delayed programs and a loss of funds in emergency funding for the uninsured.

Department of Developmental Services

DDS will have its budget reduced by $5.5 million. Much of this will come from reduction of funds to Day and Employment Services and Family Support Services.

Department of Youth Services
DYS will see a reduction of about $385,000. The costs will be absorbed through delaying the opening of two programs, according to DYS.

Executive Office of Elder Affairs
Elder Home Care Purchased Services (line item 9110-1630) will see a 9C cut of about $1.5 million. The FY ’15 final budget included $104.4 million for services in this line item which will be reduced to $102.9 million.

Local Aid

Governor Patrick proposed a $25.5 million reduction in local aid, which will require  legislative approval when the formal session starts in January.

There were also cuts to libraries, ANF, Fish and Wildlife, and Conservation and Recreation, and in education programs.

We are grateful for the Administrations commitment to preserving our housing programs and the safety net of shelter and the thoughtfulness to minimize the impact of the cuts on vulnerable populations.  We will work to understand the impact of the cuts to programs and people and do support the use of the rainy day fund to further minimize the of the budget shortfall.

Here is the link to the State’s website with additional information.

Now that you have digested all of that information, remember that this is the Governor’s proposal. There is already push back from the Legislature, as this Globe article reports.

Stay tuned!


Visioning Day Report 2014: Every Child Needs a Safe Place To Live; It’s Just The Right Thing

Child FB pic


The next of the recommendations contained in Homes for Families’ 2014 Visioning Day Report point toward the basic principle that EVERY CHILD NEEDS A SAFE PLACE TO CALL HOME; IT’S JUST THE RIGHT THING. Until we have developed an ample supply of housing that families can afford, and we are able to provide robust prevention and stabilization services, our state’s safety net shelter system will remain a critical tool to keep our children safe. Our specific recommendations based on the input from Visioning Day are:

  1. Implement a holistic and strength-based assessment and triage system at the “front door” of the Emergency Assistance system to maximize opportunities for diversion, placement, prevention, service deliver and rapid re-housing.
  2. Increase family-centered services in motels, shelters and for families that are doubled up or living in other precarious situations to ensure children’s safety, development and well being.

 Support services, access to shelter, children’s issues and motel services were ranked just below voucher distribution as the top priorities in the issue ballot distributed at Visioning Day. Feedback in each of the breakout groups also included themes of assessment, and support for all families- and all family members.

While Massachusetts has a moral and legal obligation to provide shelter to all families that meet the eligibility criteria, only 56% of the 11,595 applicants in fiscal year 2014 were determined to be eligible[1]. The primary function of the “front door” to the shelter system is an eligibility screening, rather than as assessment of the needs or strengths of any particular family.  Services for families are contingent on whether or not they enter the system and the particular service delivery model of the motel or shelter that they are placed in.

On Access and Triage:

An assessment based system would approach families in a more trauma informed, strength based and holistic model.  Information gleaned from an assessment process could identify opportunities, resources and family assets that may present pathways to stability outside of the shelter system. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a successful diversion program is one where services offered include, at a minimum, flexible cash resources, case management, conflict mediation, connection to mainstream services and housing search.[2]  At the same time, families entering the system could be triaged to the most appropriate placements, and/or linked with the resources they need for rapid re-housing and shorter shelter stays.  Systems across the country are implementing coordinated assessment systems.  If we embrace the diversity of program models, and maximize the services and resources across communities, Massachusetts stands poised to be a leader in this area.

But, most importantly, as assessment based shelter entry would function to ensure children’s safety.  According to DHCD’s June 2014 monthly report, 607 families entered the shelter system in FY2014 after staying in places not meant for human habitation.  We shouldn’t be, and can’t be, putting our children at such risk.  An assessment based system could also prevent situations like this.  Massachusetts was recently ranked #3 in the country for the well being of homeless children. The ranking  is, in part, due to having a plan that includes children and families.  It is time that we move past the planning and build on on the good, all the knowledge and all the strengths of families and our system.

On Services:

Increasing resources and support for family-centered services for families at all stages of housing instability is crucial. This is extremely critical for families who are housed in motels across the state and for families who are doubled-up or living in other precarious housing situations.  We know the impacts of homelessness on children- their health, their education, and emotional well being. Access to services can help mitigate the negative impacts of homelessness- and housing instability- on children.  Attendees at Visioning Day also discussed the need for access to child care, transportation, education/job training, and mental and behavioral health services- all complicated systems to navigate without an advocate.  Services, supports and opportunities can often be the determining factor as to if a family enters the shelter system, if they can utilize short term housing assistance (i.e. HomeBASE), and/or whether or not they will ever need to seek re-entry into shelter.

How do we push this agenda forward?

This is where you come in! What specific assessment tools, frameworks and diversion tactics do you see that are working? What are the barriers? What data to we have or do we need to track our successes? Who, or what entity, should be assessing families? What are the training needs of staff to successfully implement proper assessment, triage and diversion? How can triaging work in a system that is overcapacity- especially when more families are coming in than exiting? Who is responsible for providing services? How can families outside of the shelter system access the types of supports they need to move towards housing and economic stability?


[1] Commonwealth of Massachusetts Emergency Assistance Program Fiscal Year 2014 Fourth Quarter Report, Dept of Housing and Community Development, July 31, 2014
[2] National Alliance to End Family Homelessness, Closing the Front Door: Creating a Successful Diversion Program for Homeless Families,

Visioning Day Report 2014: Housing is A Basic Human Right

Basic Human Right FB Pic

The first two recommendations in our Visioning Day Report relate to the vision and principle that HOUSING IS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT.

As Representative Rushing often reminds audiences, the answer to the question, “Why are people homeless?” is actually quite simple.  The answer is, “because they don’t have a home.”   Using that logic to solve homelessness, we need two primary approaches- to increase the stock of affordable housing available to families who are homeless and to prevent households from losing their homes in the first place. Our specific recommendations based on the input from Visioning Day are:

  1. Implement an aggressive and expansive housing agenda which includes deep investments in housing subsidies, access to public housing, new development and zoning reform that promotes increased multi -family housing development
  2. Develop a more comprehensive and accessible homelessness prevention system that includes flexible resources, services, supports and pathways to opportunity.

MRVP, Prevention and Public Housing were ranked by Visioning Day attendees as the three most important budget priorities.  Voucher distribution and access to services were ranked as the top issues for Homes for Families to prioritize. The breakout group with the most attendance was the group on Housing, and the issues of housing and prevention were raised in each distinct discussion group.

On Housing:

MRVP and public housing are 2 of the state’s most effective defenses against homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2014 Out of Reach report, on average, a minimum wage earner in Massachusetts must work 3 full time jobs in order to afford the average rent of a 2-bedroom apartment. In Boston, 3.5 minimum wage jobs are required. The gap between what is affordable to an SSI recipient and fair market rent is a remarkable $1038*.

MRVP and public housing make housing affordable to households in a market that is often hostile toward their needs and available resources. Bold investments in these programs will assist the state on its path to increased affordable housing development, particularly supportive housing units that will provide wrap around services to increase family and community stability. The implementation of more residential service providers in public housing and private development could also reduce evictions and be used as a leverage point for easing the strict eligibility requirements for families that may have credit, CORI or other negative housing histories.

Zoning restrictions in many local communities often create challenges to the development of housing for low income households. In addition to funding affordable housing programs, elected officials should pass legislation that promotes local land use policies that support the development of small-parcel and/or multi-family development in addition revisiting and enforcing Chapter 40 to allow the state to provide communities with the appropriate tools for planning and development.

On Prevention:

You know the stories- the family that became homeless after a layoff, a medical emergency, a no fault eviction without enough savings for first and last- and we know you know the cost argument: Many instances of homelessness can be prevented with a fraction of what will be spent on sheltering that same family. Flexible cash assistance is a vital resource for families that need a short term infusion of money to preserve their tenancy during a short term economic emergency.    The challenge is to ensure that programs, like RAFT, are fully funded through the entire fiscal year, and that private, municipal and other prevention programs are coordinated and accessible so that families and case workers don’t need to go on a wild goose chase in the middle of an economic crisis. We also know that mediation and legal representation can be critical in preventing evictions.

However, the long term effectiveness of prevention through short term financial assistance is limited by the vast gap between wages and rent.   Without a living wage, a long term subsidy, ongoing gap funding, and/or a social/familial network of means, homelessness may be inevitable.  A comprehensive prevention system would also provide the supports, resources and opportunities for long term housing stability.  According to DHCD, in fiscal year 2014, 14% of families eligible for emergency assistance were homeless due to eviction.  At the same time, over half of eligible families were living in irregular housing situations or in homes where they were not the primary tenant**.  Many of the younger families who are in shelter never had their own apartment.  Prevention should also consider how to support young parents to live independently.

Resources, supports and opportunities needs to be accessible. Prevention discussions often highlight the need for upstream interventions.  The Maximizing Resources group talked about the role of schools and the health care community as core partners in doing outreach and linking families to resources.  Participants in the Shelter Breakout group discussed the positive attributes of shelter, including: supportive services, peer support, material goods, trainings and workshops, and housing advocacy.  How can prevention programs reach families sooner and incorporate such components, so that families can access the supports and opportunities they need without having to enter shelter?

How do we push this agenda forward?

This is where you come in! What are the specific programs and models that are working? What are the topics that you want to learn more about? What data do we need to make our point? What data is already out there? What are your stories?  What are the resources you are willing to advocate for?


*National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out Of Reach, March 2014.

** DHCD Emergency Assistance Program Fiscal Year 2014, Fourth Quarter Report, July 31, 2014

Visioning Day Report 2014: The Introduction

Family homelessness is at an all time high.  Currently, there are over 4500 families being housed in congregate shelters, scattered sites, and roadside motels.  And while we are proud to live in a state that provides shelter and support, it is up to us as a community to recognize the root causes of homelessness, and remove barriers to security, safety and stability.

Homes for Families works to strengthen and amplify the voices of consumers and service providers – those families that have experienced and are experiencing homelessness and those that work most closely with them – in the efforts to end family homelessness in Massachusetts. One of the ways we ensure the inclusion of families in poverty throughout the policy process is through one of our favorite days of the year: Visioning Day.

A lot of work goes into planning the day, but only because even more ideas, insights and experiences come out of it, eventually culminating in a report that provides recommendations to the legislature and Administration.

In accordance with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Homes for Families would like to present to you our 2014 Visioning Day Report. 

In the coming days, we will be sharing more information about the recommendations that will demonstrate our logic and reasoning behind them. We will be providing context and facts around the WHY we made these recommendations for a stronger system, but we need your input if we want to get to the HOW to create a better system.

THANK YOU for all you have done to move our work forward, but our work is not done yet! Please like us on Facebook, and stand with us and the rest of the nation against homelessness by changing your facebook profile and cover photos in honor of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

Stay tuned and please know how important crucial your feedback is in our efforts to end family homelessness!

Housing is the Foundation FB Pic 3

Click here for our Visioning Day Report

Inspiring Leadership Award for a Provider: Jane Banks

On November 6, 2014, Homes for Families held our Annual Meeting/Membership Convening/Provider Appreciation Lunch/20th Birthday Party. We voted in the recommendations from our Visioning Day report, did a SWOT analysis of unifying as providers,  broke out into groups to discuss Policy Advocacy and Consumer Engagement (PACE), did an activity to help us grow and strengthen our membership program, saw an awesome livetweet from Stephanie Brown during a Twitter tutorial, and updated the group on HFF’s efforts…all in three hours.

But we did two other things crucial to the day’s success:

  1. We ate a delicious birthday cake to celebrate 20 years of HFF’s leadership in the movement to end family homelessness, and
  2. Awarded Jane Banks of the Center for Human Development our Inspiring Leadership Award for a Provider.

To truly capture the spirit and leadership the Jane encompasses, you have to see her in action. A blog post simply cannot do her justice.  However, that is no reason not to promote, celebrate, or even try to explain the empowerment she brings to families overcoming homelessness, and those working to support them, like this local news paper did.

We would like to add to that explanation. Please read our letter to Jane announcing that she is this year’s Inspiring Leadership Award Winner from our Executive Director, Libby Hayes:

Dear Jane,

It is with much pleasure that I share with you that the board and staff at Homes for Families has voted to honor you with our 2014 Inspiring Leadership Award for a Provider.  We have been inspired by your commitment to quality services, to the inclusion and dignity of families overcoming homelessness, and to the power of the provider voice.  We have been inspired by the teamwork and collaboration you foster.  And, we have been inspired by your enthusiasm, your energy and your empathy.  We invite you to attend our Annual Meeting/Membership Convening on Thursday, November 6th from 10am-1pm at 6 Institute Road in Worcester, where will incorporate the award presentation and appreciation lunch.

Homes for Families, the state, and provider community has come to rely on you and your team at the Center for Human Development to be a leader in innovative practice, family centered services and adapting to, and being a catalyst for, positive systems change.  We have been so impressed with the quality of work, the consistency, how in sync your staff is with families, and the pride you take in sharing it all.  Your leadership, values, and dedication to the work is evident throughout your programs.  As you say, “You can’t do great work with a bad attitude,” and it is clear that your positive attitude is contagious….and inspiring.

You also make Homes for Families better- be it leading the discussion on membership dues, asking for action on controversial, but important issues, and of course, taking Visioning Day to the next level! Obviously arranging busses for families and colleagues in your region made the 2014 event a huge success (“Western MA Rocks”) and will hopefully inspire programs in other regions to follow your lead.  But your feedback about Visioning Day a few years ago helped us to recognize how important the inspirational parts of the day are-because of you we are now more conscientious to include elements of hope, empowerment and unity.

We rely on our members and partners to meet our mission- to keep us informed, to educate us, to advocate with us, to link us with families and front line staff, to challenge us, to run programs with integrity, to lead us, and to inspire us. Thank you for informing, educating, advocating, linking, challenging, running, leading, and inspiring.  Thank you for the positive role you play in the movement to end homelessness and the incredible impact you make in the Homes for Families community.

With much respect,

Libby and Team HFF

Thank you to Jane and the people who work with her for supporting families and strengthening the commonwealth…and with a great attitude.