REPORTS RELEASED! Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts & Evidence Based Stabilization

Massachusetts is home to the county’s only statewide shelter system with a legal mandate to provide immediate shelter to all families who meet the strict eligibility criteria. The Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development funded by state dollars and includes 52 distinct non-profit shelter providers. Homes for Families is dedicated to learning from the experiences and perspectives of families overcoming homelessness and family shelter community.  As a part of that work, we embarked on a three year research project funded by the Oak Foundation. The research intended to look at the role and components of assessment, the range of shelter programs in Massachusetts, the experiences of families in EA shelters, and national trends and research to inform the next steps address homelessness in the Commonwealth.

Our research took place from 2014 to 2017. During this period, there were increases to the level of services in motels; an expansion of contracted shelter beds, the development of the co-shelter model; the restructuring and expansion of diversion practices; and increases to the benefit level of the HomeBASE program, and an increase in prevention funding and investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. According to statistics from the Department of Housing and Community Development from January 2014 through June 2017:

  • the average daily caseload during this time period was reduced from 4,458 to 3,545, a decline of 20%
  • the motel caseload declined by 98% from 2,098 families to 46
  • the number of contracted shelter beds increased from 2,018 units in September 2013 to 3,682 in June of 2017, a total of 1,644 units were added, an increase of 82%
  • the diversion rate increased from 5% to 21%
  • 9,140 families in shelters and motels were re-housed with the HomeBASE resource
  • 15,484 families received prevention assistance through the RAFT program
  • Over 1,700 families in shelters and motels were re-housed with vouchers through the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program

 

http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/hs/ea/eamonthlyreport.pdf

As the numbers and graph clearly indicate this was a period of tremendous progress in addressing family homelessness, especially when family homelessness in other high cost cities continues to rise (e.g. New York City, Washington, DC). At the same time the system is still serving more than double the number of families since before the Great Recession, about half of the families that apply for shelter do not meet the eligibility criteria, and thousands more families are facing housing instability. It is imperative that the system continues to evolve to address the structural causes and individual instances of homelessness.

Our research provides a pathway forward through a series of 4 reports. Each paper examines the ongoing crisis of family homelessness through a distinct lens; however, there are clear themes shared across the series. Common themes across the four papers include:

  1. Structural Gaps: We must address the structural issues that have created this crisis, namely the shortage of housing and the widening gap between wages and rent. We know that housing is the foundation to stability and services and opportunities can create a pathway to success.
  2. Children: There must be a greater focus on children. The safety and developmental needs of children must be an integral and core component of all policies, programs, and systems addressing the needs of families without homes. 
  3. Assessment: There must be an improved focus on conducting comprehensive, family-centered, and trauma-informed assessments.  The pathway to stability and improved well-being for parents and their children begins with a solid assessment. Strengths must be identified and risks assessed, and reliable and valid measures used to effectively target service resources.
  4. Data: Evidence based solutions are driven by data; data is key to driving policy decisions. To craft and implement policies that will make a real difference in the lives of families experiencing homelessness, it must be accurate, reflect their voices, and capture the full range of their experiences- from shelter through stabilization.  In research, practice, or policy, family input and data are required for effective outcomes.

The first paper in the series was released in March of 2015. Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Practitioners and Policymakers takes a step back to look at what is meant by the term “assessment” and walks through tips and strategies for a meaningful assessment process. The paper highlights the critical need to include children in the assessment process and the imperative to use the data to steer policy decisions.

The second paper was released in June 2015, The Family Shelter System in Massachusetts: A snapshot of program models, service needs, promising practices, and challenges  gives a general overview of the shelter programs across Massachusetts, with sections on system and family demographics, needs identified by providers and promising practices. This paper makes both programmatic and systemic recommendations, including issues around safety and program flexibility, a stronger focus on data and assessment, addressing generational poverty, cliff effects, and increasing coordination with community resources.


We are pleased to release the final two papers:

The third in the series, Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts: The Case for Family Centered Care highlights key data from a survey we administered with families in the Emergency Assistance (EA) program.  The survey was developed with the guidance of the Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT), a group of parents who have experienced homelessness and severe housing instability and that are full partners in our work.  Using a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach, a total of 117 parents were surveyed in the Springfield and Boston areas in motels, congregate scattered sites, and co-shelters. This paper provides a glimpse into families’ experiences within the shelter system and other systems of care and makes the case for family centered care as a model to best align family needs with service delivery. Click here the summary of the data.

The final and fourth paper in the series, Evidence Based Stabilization: A Solution to Reduce Family Homelessness in Massachusetts reviews national research about families experiencing homelessness and evidence based practices across the country.  The paper concludes by recommending an assessment and evidence based stabilization model be implemented across the Commonwealth. 


 

We would like to that the authors and researchers, Dr. Carmela J. DeCandia of Artemis Associates LLC and Marvin So, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Department of Housing and Community Development and shelter providers for their assistance in this project; and the staff, interns, and consultants who provided great support and leadership. We give special thanks to the Consumer Advocacy Team, and to all the families that participated in the survey and ongoing work of Homes for Families.

We look forward to our continued work to ensure the voices and viewpoints of families and shelter providers are heard and understood. We must couple those efforts with data to drive positive systems change and solutions. We welcome your reactions, ideas and feedback.

LH

Advertisements

You Don’t Have to be Fearless to be Brave

As Visioning Day neared, we recognized that we had a huge responsibility  to recognize and name the harsh realities, fears and concerns in this tumultuous climate faced by our families and providers as they work to build from the ground up.  We named these fears concerns and realities:

We are going to name some things here and now. The purpose is not to bring your spirits down but to Acknowledge & recognize the fears & concerns being carried by the all of us, by our friends and families, by the people and communities most vulnerable with the new heightened sense of pro rich /anti poor sentiment and political climate. History has taught us that simply looking away, will not make anything especially anything oppressive simply go away and so we have decided to try to be brave like you and name some of these fears and concerns .

To be quite honest, HFF does not have the answers for some of these serious fears, necessary questions that have surfaced this year, but we hear you and that matters because we carry with us…. your voice , your views, your lens….. at every table we join as we ask questions , provide answers and seek solutions

Here are some of the concerns we heard over the past year:

  • Displacement, rent hikes, gentrification seem to be happening at a faster pace than ever and communities that used to be affordable are changing quickly and becoming unrecognizable. For those who may be familiar with the effects but not the term, gentrification is when your neighborhood changes before your eyes, you can no longer afford to live there and you suddenly become the stranger in a strange place that you used to call home.
  • There are lots of concerns about what Federal cuts to housing coupled with gentrification and the privatization of public housing will mean for those who are already experiencing homelessness or housing instability
  • There are lots of notable concerns around the conservative direction in which Congress seems to leaning. Are the people in Congress, that understand the threats to housing, able to fight hard enough to prevent housing from slipping through the cracks?
  • Families recently describe the current climate under this administration as unmistakably pro-rich
  • We have heard that existing tenants in housing programs and subsidized units, are already seeing changes to the way housing authorities and property management companies , recertify, screen for income and carryout policies describing this new process as even more microscopic and screen out than prior years.
  • There are questions about implementation and honoring of tenants rights.
  • At a time when hate & discrimination are extremely visible and in some cases seemingly permissible, will tenants soon be faced with federal and local laws that seek to protect or fail to address landlords who discriminate against low income families, large families, undocumented families, people of color, LGBTQ communities.
  • How will fed cuts eventually trickle down to impact local and state responses to homelessness?
  • Will the length of stay in shelter shoot up (further) with the cuts to housing that already is too little to meet the demands of the population?
  • The opioid crisis is a threat to housing and family stability – how are these 2 things being addressed as such.
  • Providers and families expressed concerns and anxiety tied to the reliance on short term subsidies (Home base) being the primary tool that we have to respond to such a massive housing stability crisis that requires longer term solutions.
  • Providers have not been shy in expressing their shared concern with families faced with issues tied directly to immigration status.
  • There have been concerns about what families and providers describe as in increase to the number of families being separated by DCF.

Providers are working alongside families in this same uncertain climate, with many of the very same concerns and feelings of being overwhelmed while trying to do what’s best.

None of you are alone; none of you are wrong for feeling this way and all of you are strong for pushing forward anyway.

You don’t have to be fearless to be brave especially in times like these.  In fact our concerns and conversations about our fears will keep us on target, united and relentless as we fight with a sense of urgency for what is right.

As I mentioned this is heavy stuff, not neatly packaged or processed but know this

We hear you and we carry with us your voice, your views, your lens.

We also knew that despite the challenges and barriers, our spirits are resilient and we are pushed forward by the beliefs that we hold onto, hope and possibilities offered to us by tomorrow. We named that as well:

Your good intentions brought you here today; look to someone else and repeat after me, “Thank you for being a part of this special day”

No one here today is alone, look to each other and repeat after me, “I am with you”

If you have ever been shut down, turned away, or silenced – we see you and we hear you, repeat after me, “My voice is valuable and my opinion matters”

Some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I radiate love, peace, and happiness.”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I know that we will make a difference together”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I have your back, let’s do this”

– Nilaya Montalvo, Director of Leadership & Community Building

#WayBackWednesday, when we honored leadership at #VisioningDay 2016

On the eve of #VisioningDay 2017, we are looking back to last year’s event where we honored long time Policy Director, Diane Sullivan, with an Inspiring Leadership Award.  As Diane transitioned to new endeavors, she joined us to raise her voice at the Homes for Families podium and accept the award.  Her remarks, as always were passionate and inspirational, and also capture what is HFF , Visioning Day, and the movement to end homelessness.

To get everyone in #VisioningDay spirit, we are sharing her remarks today:

Thank you the Homes for Families Board, the Consumer Advocate Team and of course the incredible HFF staff . I am truly humbled. So, I’ll accept this on your behalf, Homes for Families, because you inspire leadership in so many ways. From the battles to the scars, the sweat and the tears, the jokes and the cheers. Homes for Families, you’ve inspired it all.

More than a decade ago, a sudden job loss, along with the rising costs of housing, utilities, child care, food…I became homeless with my family. Of course that’s the 2 second summary of a much broader and painful story, but after 2.5 months living in a hotel, we were transferred to a local shelter where I was first introduced to HFF.

I sat among other parents experiencing homelessness, shelter providers, community members and elected officials. Parents shared their stories of how they became homeless – and their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. And the work they were putting in to get there. And there, something started to make sense to me – that absolutely none of this makes sense to me. And I was inspired – inspired to pose a question to the elected officials who sat before us.

How do you justify spending so much money warehousing children in hotels and motels rather than investing in homelessness prevention and affordable housing options for them? I wasn’t expecting a response. Because there simply is no answer.There is no justification – because homelessness is not just.

Later that year, I began working as an eviction prevention specialist in Boston. I guess I figured that if I couldn’t save my own children from the hardships of homelessness, perhaps I could help others avoid the trauma. I began attending various HFF events – legislative breakfasts, community meetings, and of course, Visioning Days of years past. I quickly learned that Homes for Families provided a safe space for me, and parents like me, to share our stories, air our grievances while encouraging us to engage in open dialogue, focused on solutions. And I was inspired.

I later joined the Board and eventually the staff of Homes for Families, all of this about 10 years ago. That’s a long time. That’s a long battle. And I’m still inspired. I know we’re not there yet. I know many of you here today woke up in a state regulated shelter bed because despite the hundreds of millions the state spends on housing and homelessness programs every year, we didn’t reach you in time.

I also happen to know that the hundreds of millions dollars being spent each year on housing and homelessness programs represents a mere 1% of our state’s 39 billion dollar operating budget. A budget that is a statement of our very own priorities. One percent. We elect our state representatives and senators and our Governor into office. So, guess what? Ultimately, our state budget is a statement of our priorities.

Here’s my theory folks – want to cut down on healthcare spending? Invest in affordable housing so that we can rid ourselves of the physical and mental trauma caused by homelessness and the avoidable costs associated with their treatment. Or the further cost to humanity when they are not? Want to cut down on education costs for children who lack the housing stability that supports their success in school? Invest in affordable housing. Want to cut down on hunger so that families are not being forced every month to choose between paying their rent and feeding their children? Invest in housing.

Want to invest in jobs and economic development? Invest in housing. Want to invest in communities? Invest in housing. Want to invest in people? Invest in housing. Invest in affordable housing, so that we all, regardless our income brackets, have access to the very foundation that supports healthy families and thriving communities across this Commonwealth. And I know that you have the power to make your elected officials hear you too. You have the power to inspire them beyond that 1%.

Despite how uninspiring this world can seem at times, I hope that your involvement here today inspires you to turn your visions into action. And along your journey, I encourage you – to the best of your ability, to please look to yourself and each other for inspiration. It may be tough to see sometimes, but trust me, your strength and perseverance is inspiring to many into action here today and for days to come.

You do have the power to change this. You are the coalition. You are the movement! You ARE the inspiration. Thank you Homes for Families!

And thank you to Diane! We look forward to honoring our 2017 Inspiring Leaders and remain grateful for all Diane brought and continues to bring to the movement to end homelessness.

LH

Visioning Day This Thursday!

We are busy gearing up for Visioning Day 2017 this Thursday August 10th! We are excited for this yearly event when we, in collaboration with key partners, bring together families experiencing homelessness, family shelter service providers, and policymakers to share resources, reflect, and articulate our collective vision for the coming year. In anticipation of the big day, here are descriptions of each breakout group. We ask attendees to select one break out group that they will participate in.

Visioning Day 2017 Breakout Group Descriptions

# 1 Self Care through Poetry and Storytelling

Presenter: Alex Charalambides-Founder, Managing Director, Mass LEAP

Summary:  This workshop will allow participants to explore the idea of sharing in a way that heals as they speak their truth. Storytelling is an effective way to share and work through experiences and trauma. While written testimony and unified messaging are powerful tools we can use to raise awareness and change policies and practices, this approach doesn’t emphasize the self care component. Homes for Families recognizes that raising awareness can mean reliving the triggers and challenges of surviving homelessness and displacement, and we wanted to offer a space for healing in your own words.

#2 Child Wellness

Presenters:  Dr. Megan Sandel, Boston Medical Center; Sarah Slautterback, MA Department of Education; Ileen Henderson, Bright Spaces/Bright Horizons

Translation will be provided in this breakout.

Summary:  The primary concern of any parent is the well being of their children.  Housing instability and homelessness can have impact on a child’s health, as well as their educational performance and behavioral and emotional well being.  We also know that with the right supports, access to services, and strong relationships, children who have experienced homelessness and instability are able to thrive and succeed on par or beyond that of their peers. This group will discuss systems and initiatives that already exist to support and respond to the needs of children facing homelessness and work together to identify how the various systems and community can do more to support parents and children to minimize the impacts of homelessness.

#3: Immigration

Presenters:  Jessica Chicco, DOVE Inc.; Ellen VanScoyoc, Central West Justice Center; and Collin Mickle, Community Action Committee of Cape Cod & Islands, Inc.

Translation will be provided in this breakout.

Summary: The group will include attorneys who each offer a different lens on addressing immigration challenges as they relate to homelessness and intersection issues. On the panel are presenters from a range of agencies including legal aid, community action, and domestic violence. We recognize the unique challenges that families with undocumented immigrants or members of different immigration statuses face. Through this breakout we aim to increase our collective knowledge of resources and supports for families and providers to address these challenges. The break out will include brief presentations by our panel, followed by discussion. We will share best practices and practical tools and tips around accessing housing and important related supports for families with members of varied immigration statuses, especially those who are undocumented.

#4: Landlords

Presenters: Danielle Lariviere, Central MA Housing Alliance; Tom Plihcik, New Lease for Homeless Families; Luis Arzola and Jose Cruz, Center for Human Development

Summary:  Landlords are a key stakeholder in our collective ability to manage and end homelessness.  We need good landlords for scattered site shelter units; for HomeBASE tenancies, for subsidies and for market rent, and to work with tenants and programs instead of evicting. As rents increase and the rental stock declines, landlord relationships are that much more critical. Short term subsidies, like HomeBASE, and state rental assistance policies can be hard for both tenants and landlords to manage. This group will talk about tenants’ rights, increasing access and partnerships with big property management companies, engaging community based landlords, and ways to support families and landlords to build positive trusting relationships.

#4: Workforce Development and Cliff Effect

Facilitators: Molly Richard and Julia Tripp, Center for Social Innovation; Marija Bingulac, Center for Social Policy & the On Solid Ground Coalition; Anne Bureau, Community Connections in Worcester; and Meagan Pedemonti , Way Finders

Summary:  Each year at Visioning Day, participants raise their voices for education, employment and training, and better jobs.  Homes for Families’ recent survey showed that 65% of families in shelter have work experience but primarily in jobs with lower wages and no benefits.  As parents increase incomes, there are policies that cut or lessen benefits, so that even though incomes increase, families end up further behind – we call this the cliff effect.  This group will talk about advocacy efforts and practices to lessen the cliff effect and support families to become economically stable as well as about trends in workforce development and training programs.

Liz and Team HFF

New Leadership at the Department of Housing and Community Development

Homes for Families is pleased to share the news that Jane Banks has been appointed as the new Assistant Undersecretary for the Division of Stabilization at the Department of Housing and Community Development. The announcement below was sent to family shelter providers on 7/7/17:

Dear Providers:

I am excited to formally announce that Jane Banks will be joining the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) as the new Assistant Undersecretary for the Division of Housing Stabilization.  Jane is coming to us from the Center for Human Development in Springfield where she worked for nearly twenty years.  While there she held leadership roles with oversight of an array of multi-services programs serving families, children and individuals. She has managed a number of programs including: one of the Commonwealths largest EA shelter programs with shelter capacity of 297 families within their portfolio, HUD funded Supportive Housing Programs, Community Housing Supportive Program for families and individuals in Northampton, a Single Room Occupancy Program, and an very successful EA diversion program.

We are excited to be able to draw on Jane’s extensive experience in management and supervision, program development as well as her deep understanding of housing and homelessness, ranging from emergency shelters to permanent supportive housing

I know you will be as thrilled as I am that Jane has accepted the Assistant Undersecretary position.  She will be transitioning into her new role on July 31st.

Please anticipate that Jane will be reaching out to you all, once she arrives at DHCD.

Ita Mullarkey

Associate Director

Division of Housing Stabilization

Jane has been an active member of Homes for Families while in her roles at the Center for Human Development. We have long noted her commitment to the inclusion of the family voice, unifying providers, collaboration, and innovation. Her energy, commitment to the work, and positive attitude are inspiring and contagious.  These qualities will make her an exceptional leader at DHCD and guide the system through further progress and advancement in addressing homelessness in the Commonwealth.  We thank Jane for her outstanding work at CHD; we thank her for her role in strengthening the work of Homes for Families, including the growth of our Annual Visioning Day event; and we thank her for stepping up and taking on this new role; her perspective as a shelter and service provider will be an asset to the Department.  We urge the family homelessness community to welcome Jane and commit to partnering with her so that together we can continue to build on the strengths of families, shelter providers, and the community to end homelessness once and for all.

 

 

LH

The Future of Affordable Housing

On May 22ndCHAPA held a Breakfast Forum: Doing Business in Times of Uncertainty at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston where presenters shined a light on what is to come for affordable housing in Massachusetts. Speakers included Chrystal Kornegay, Undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development and Tim Sullivan, Executive Director of MassHousing. Panelists representing WinnDevelopment, Preservation of Affordable Housing, MA Housing Investment Corp., Citizens Bank, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, and DHCD emphasized that the nature of the affordable housing business is always uncertain and that there have been many times of uncertainty over the past several decades. The panel acknowledged the high degree of political uncertainty of these times and the challenging road ahead. They also offered many examples of how partners in the industry can be creative in order to continue to develop affordable housing that is accessible to families of low and middle incomes. Proposed and actualized federal policy changes are threatening families of very low income and those in the business of affordable housing, one panelist remarked, must be thoughtful in how they respond to the increased challenges for families.

David Gasson, Vice President and Director of Communications at Boston Capital gave a really intriguing presentation on policy changes to expect from DC in the coming months. David spoke to the concerns the President has raised by threatening to reduce the low income housing tax credit to 15%. (The low income housing tax credit promotes the preservation and development of affordable housing.) David reported that this tax credit has very good standing on Capitol Hill, and strong bi-partisan support. He said that affordable housing programs, generally speaking, enjoy bi-partisan support and that congress would not get behind this kind of cut. If there is broad tax reform, which the President’s administration has been talking about doing, it will likely take 5 years to transition to any new laws that are passed.

Still, proposals coming from the President and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, raise significant concerns about the future of affordable housing policy and the well-being of all families living in poverty. So we need you to take action!

Image result for pictures of the capitol

Ways to Take Action at the Federal Level on CHAPA’s and Homes for Families’ priority areas:

  1. Call/Email your members of congress to tell them you would like them to prioritize affordable housing, programs that support families experiencing homelessness, and critical support programs like SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Include something about your personal experience or story to illustrate why these issues matter to you. You can look up your members of congress here.
  2. Sign up for CHAPA’s email list and join a CHAPA committee.
  3. Join CHAPA’s young professional’s network.

Homes for Families supports CHAPA’s agenda and will continue to keep the fight for the housing, shelter and critical support service needs of families in Massachusetts a priority!

Liz Peck

Director of Operations and Member Engagement

The People United Event

On Tuesday May 9th 2017, Homes for Families and Project Hope hosted their first annual, People United event. We shared space, diverse perspectives, and common ground.

The Dudley – Project Hope community came together to share some of the advocacy and organizing, as well as some of  the possibilities for new action to address social justice issues being faced by local residents.

Image may contain: 2 people, indoor

The event was designed with the focus on action and with acknowledgement of how important it would be to tap into the community’s wealth of experience, given their long history of successfully organizing and mobilizing.

Some of the hot topics were gentrification/displacement, hunger and food justice, immigration, homelessness prevention, the cliff effect, and fair housing/discrimination.

Participants and partners included members of the Project Hope community, Representative Capuano’s office, Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz’s office, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Irish International Immigration Center , The Food Project, The Consumer Advocacy Team (Homes for Families) and Boston Tenant Coalition.

As an immediate action residents filled out the Fair Housing Assessment Survey in order to inform the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing process.

Looking to the group’s abundant and diverse skills and abilities as a major resource was a key theme. Other themes included:

  • Asking local spaces (e.g. Salvation Army, Schools, Churches) to invite community members in to organize
  • Turning to bilingual members of the community to translate (informally), and
  • Reviewing and expanding how the community is made aware of the existing community resources as well as opportunities to join in local advocacy and organizing efforts.

We thank Project Hope for their work on the event! We are grateful to have been a part of a meeting focused on drawing upon the strengths of the community to generate collective change.

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

(Picture above from left to right: Christine Dixon, Project Hope; Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George; Sister Margaret A. Leonard, Project Hope; and Linda Wood-Boyle, Project Hope)

Team HFF