We are experiencing family homelessness at a rate greater than ever before in Massachusetts, but that is not to say that nothing is being done.
On Friday October 17, the Department of Housing and Community Development convened staff from shelters across the state for a Provider Meeting. Getting everyone in one room is no small feat, but that is just one of many efforts that DHCD is taking to combat the influx of families entering the shelter system.
Aaron Gornstein, Undersecretary, presented a chart on EA entries and exits that compared the first quarter of this fiscal year to the first quarter of the last fiscal year. Here is a recreation:
In addition to an update on entries and exits, they presented on highlights of FY13 and FY14- important considerations in determining the progress of eliminating homelessness.
Since FY13, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program has assisted 2,000 families in attaining permanent housing. 4,000 families left shelter with HomeBASE house hold assistance, and 6,000 families were prevented from entering the system through RAFT. The shelter system has been expanded with over 725 beds and the FY14 goal of 1,000 supportive housing units has been reached.
These programs are recognized by our membership as FY15 priorities, and we plan to continue to advocate for them with the help of families and shelter providers throughout the state. Here is what is planned for them so far:
- 1,058 new mobile vouchers
- 350 new project based vouchers
- Rent level increases for existing project-based vouchers
In September, Local Housing Authorities will begin issuing 892 vouchers and Regional Administering Agencies will begin issuing 166 vouchers in December. The application period for the RAA’s is open NOW through November 3, so make sure to fill one out and share with anyone who needs to get on the waiting list ASAP.
- Increased to $8000 for shelter exits and $6000 through diversions
- Co-location of shelter provider staff in local offices to increase diversions
- 32% of exits are through HomeBASE
- $1.5M increase in budget
- Increase in households served: 557 in July-Sept of FY14 to 972 in July-Sept of FY15
YES, the shelter system is at capacity. YES, we are in need of information to determine the effectiveness of short term subsidy programs like HomeBASE and RAFT. YES, there are rules in place that do not benefit the families, providers and the communities in which they live. And YES, there is more that we as a society, the legislature and the Administration can be doing to curb the number of families living in shelters and motels.
But that does not mean our work is in vain. The high number of families does not reflect a lack of effort, it reflects the growing gap between wages, rent and supportive services. No matter how many families exit the system, if we are to decrease family homelessness then we need to prevent families from having to enter through addressing the root causes of poverty. We must commit to continuing to advocate for more funding, resources and supports to ensure that families have shelter, that providers have the tools they need, and that DHCD has the resources necessary to support both. We need to maximize on our passion, experience and the community.
And that need is recognized. DHCD called upon the providers to work in groups to brainstorm new initiatives that will help to support families in attaining permanent housing and preventing households from having to enter the system altogether. I heard a call for assessment at the front door, programs to educate landlords, intervention in the beginning of the evictions process, and an expanded supportive housing model. We also heard ideas like time limits on shelter stays, teaching providers to negotiate with landlords in housing search, and bringing back flex funds.
So we pose the same questions to you in hopes of learning new answers to bring to the table. Please read the questions below and share your ideas with us in the comment box below or on our Facebook page. Extra points if you can solve homelessness in 140 characters via our Twitter page.
1. What new initiatives are needed to make the shelter system work more effectively?
2. What steps can we take, and what programs will help, to prevent families from needing to enter the shelter system?