Update on the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness

While the Executive Order officially designating the state’s re-establishment of the Interagency Council on Housing And Homelessness (ICHH) has not yet been signed, Executive Secretaries Jay Ashe (Housing and Economic Development, HED) and Marylou Sudders (Health and Human Services, HHS) have begun to build upon its design. To share some information about the objectives of the ICHH, Linn Torto, its newly appointed Executive Director, attended the recent meeting of the CHAPA Homelessness Committee to share the vision and framework of the ICHH.

The ICHH has hired the consulting firm, Public Consulting Group, which has been meeting with various stakeholders – including advocates, shelter & service providers and consumers – to finalize a list of recommendations on measures the state could take to build stronger connection between state departments, particularly between HHS and HED agencies, particularly the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The ICHH will be co-chaired by Secretaries Ashe and Sudders and its members will include heads of other state agencies that connect with individuals and families who are at-risk of or who are experiencing homelessness. Linn shared the excitement of the ICHH members and their commitment to working toward improved assessment, triage, diversion and placement; more upstream collaboration and early on planning; and implementation of a model replicating HUD’s coordinated entry system.

Linn provided a list of subgroups and areas of focus (this is not all-inclusive) that the ICHH will look to for guidance in addressing the needs of particular populations of stakeholders. These groups will either be direct sub-committees of the ICHH, or they currently exist elsewhere in parallel efforts of state government.  Here are some more highlights (and some commentary) from the discussion on specific populations/programs:

  • Veterans – much work is being done to end homelessness amongst veterans on both the federal and state level. For those veterans who are not eligible for the federal VASH vouchers, DHCD is making available 65 newly-funded MRVPs through various Continuums of Care (COCs) across the state. The ICHH will continue to support these efforts and explore the leveraging of federal dollars through Medicaid to provide stabilization supports for veterans. Additionally, this committee will look at how the state could provide homelessness prevention services to veterans at risk of losing their public housing.
  • Elders – ICHH will form a subgroup to look at solutions to homelessness amongst elders, particularly those experiencing chronic homelessness
  • Youth – there will be no ICHH subgroup on youth homelessness because of the existence of the Commission on Youth Homelessness, of which Linn is an ad-hoc member. The Commission will be looking to revisit its youth count and the survey that will be administered to youth experiencing homelessness. An RFR will be released next month on the $2 million that was secured in the FY2016 state budget to provide housing and services to youth.
  • Survivors of Domestic Violence – the ICHH will work closely with the Governor’s Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence to look at how to address more appropriate placements for families escaping DV along with enhanced prevention and housing search strategies, while making connections further upstream.
  • Individuals – with a recent spike in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness, the ICHH will work to maximize federal resources to service this population, particularly for those experiencing chronic homelessness and through federal reimbursement for housing stabilization services through Medicaid.
  • Families – of important note, Linn shared that the ICHH currently has no intent to recommend further restricting access to Emergency Assistance (EA, the state’s family shelter system). Also, the ICHH will look at how to replicate the model for federal reimbursement for housing stabilization services for families through Medicaid.
  • Tenancy Preservation Programs (TPP) – exist in parts of the state where the Housing Courts do and provide eviction prevention services to individuals and families where a household member has a disability. Linn will be meeting with MassHousing to look at how to expand the TPP model and provide more of those upstream services through the COCs.

The list above is not intended to be a full list of all of the work the ICHH plans to do and the stakeholders it hopes to engage, but it does provide some insight in the direction we can expect the Council to take. We are thrilled that it seems we may not have to go another round of fighting against restrictions to accessing shelter and look forward to learning more about the upstream prevention work the ICHH envisions for at-risk households – and for all of us to being part of those discussions. And finally, we hope to learn more details of the ICHH’s objectives on the preservation of our state’s current affordable housing stock and its plan to develop housing for low and extremely low income households across the state.

DS, Policy Director

Some thoughts for the final days of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic violence is a threat to us all. Domestic violence hurts communities, children and families. Only when we see it as our collective responsibility, to address it as everyone’s issue; only when we make sure that we have supports in place to respond to the needs of survivors can we move forward significantly in serving survivors and their families.

While domestic violence may not be the immediate reason families may be presenting when they apply shelter, so many of the families that I encounter throughout the year express that they or their children have been impacted by domestic violence.

All too many times it has been confided in me that perhaps there would have been less irreversible damage had there be a place for the survivor and their children to go. Survivors expressed that having no place to flee to or uprooting their children made the decision to flee more complex, scarier.

It saddens me to know that in some cases housing instability could be major factor in why families that are in an unsafe situation are forced to stay. It would be remiss of us to ignore that housing is an important piece to the puzzle.

As unfathomable as this may seem too many of us, this happens daily, repeatedly and unnecessarily.

When Domestic Violence hurts a person or family, domestic violence rocks that community.

When homelessness and housing Instability threatens a family, homelessness rocks that community.

If this is true than we can only imagine what happens to a family and communities that are plagued by domestic violence and housing instability coupled together.

While these traumatic experiences are unique, the outcome can be anticipated… for families that survive, they will have to start anew often vulnerable and in many cases with little to no resources and or connection to peers, friends, family or support.

If there is one thing that survivors teach us all it is that hope and creative solutions couple with networks of collective support can put an end to injustice.  Can we come together … DV, EA, advocates, providers, families and be that network of support to come together with creative solutions and unified voice and put an end to injustice?

If there is something we can all learn from survivors it is to look at the strength and opportunities that surface in the most difficult times.

Can we as a community that cares use our strength and see the opportunity to demand supports, safety and housing so that survivors and their families can rebuild?

I invite you to read and share two blog posts:

And I invite all of you to think about what your role might be, how you can connect with places that are doing the work and how we can partner in order to push forward the work and message of the domestic violence community as well as the EA community in order to make sure that safety and housing are never on the table as negotiable when we talk about our families.


Director of Leadership and Community Building

We raised #OurVoice for State Agency Collaboration

Homes for Families is part of the On Solid Ground Coalition, which partners with families who have experienced homelessness and includes advocacy groups and other organizations from across distinct sectors such as housing, workforce development, domestic violence, child care, health care and public health, and prevention.  The coalition believes that focusing on housing and economic stability, instead of the short-term goal of reducing shelter numbers, thousands of families will avoid the need for shelter, and families in shelter will be less likely to re-enter in the future.

A primary recommendation of the coalition is Systems Change:  to build a coordinated service delivery system across government departments. The coordinated system will support homelessness prevention, minimize cliff effects, and provide integrated case management services.

The coalition’s white paper, released in February of 2015, called for the appointment of a Special Secretary.  A Bill was filed, by Representative Rushing, to establish this short term position to oversee the Commonwealth’s programs, policies and initiatives relative to homelessness.

The Governor has appointed an Executive Director of an Interagency Council on Homelessness which could serve some of the functions that we envisioned for the Special Secretary.  The Coalition has worked to redraft the language of Bill H.2812 to establish a Memorandum of Understanding across Government agencies.  This MOU would establish monthly meetings, a mechanism for community input, and reporting requirements.

There was a hearing on Tuesday, Oct 27th in front of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight regarding this Bill and 53 others (including H. 3366 to make Boston Cream the official cupcake of Massachusetts).  Homes for Families provided testimony along with our partners on the On Solid Ground Coalition.

State agency collaboration was ranked 5th out of 13 priority issues at Visioning Day.  We raised our voice for this bill as we believe it is a key piece of legislation to build collaborations and positive systems change across state government.  

Here is a copy of Homes for Families’ testimony:

Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony in support of Bill H. 2812, An Act Establishing a Special Secretary to Reduce and Prevent Homelessness and Increase Economic Mobility.  My name is Libby Hayes, Executive Director of Homes for Families.  We are a membership organization of family shelter providers dedicated to the inclusion and leadership of families overcoming homelessness.

Family homelessness is simultaneously the most simple and the most complex social injustice facing the nation.  Wages have simply not kept pace with rent; we simply don’t have an adequate supply of housing; too many jobs in the Commonwealth simply do not pay enough.

Homelessness is also complex, as the root causes of those dynamics are entrenched in racism, sexism, and NiMBYism. Complex as it involves our tax structure, banks and corporations, the job market, health and social services and education systems. Complex because we are talking about families and about children, and about individual, organizational and societal responsibility, accountability, and limitations.

While the Department of Housing and Community Development is charged with providing shelter, their ability to solve the crisis is contingent on all state agencies. This bill — and the redrafted language we are proposing to establish a Memorandum of Understanding between state agencies and reporting mandates — would provide a blueprint to prevent the inefficiencies and counter-productive policies which have impeded our collective progress.

A greater focus on the intersections and accountabilities across state agencies would address the following:

  1. The need for cross training and collaboration: staff at one state agency may not know the eligibility criteria, rules, and protocols of another, creating confusion and mixed messages; duplicative services and unaligned service plans.
  2. Policy decisions are made to reduce costs in one department or program but lead to exorbitant cost for another. For example, restricting access to family shelter has forced families to turn to Emergency Rooms for safety.  While DHCD may be saving $80 for a motel room that night, MassHealth will be charged at an even higher rate.
  3. Success is defined in a vacuum and may not equate success for a family or for the Commonwealth. Take the mom who was granted a short term subsidy through a pilot program, and when it expired; she was so intent on not going back to shelter; she committed crimes for rent money. She was caught and incarcerated; her daughter to foster care.  Yet, for purposes of the pilot, she is counted as a success because she did not return to shelter.
  4. Progress in one area can result in negative consequences in another. For example, eventual increases to the minimum wage will create another cliff for families trying to access benefits and shelter.
  5. Resources are allocated based on definition and arbitrary criteria instead of need; for example families in domestic violence and substance abuse shelters cannot access HomeBASE or some child care resources because they are the wrong kind of homeless.
  6. The focus is managing the short term or immediate crisis not on long term prevention. A more preventative focused system would consider predictors of homelessness such as: dropping out of high school, aging out of foster care, incarcerations, chronic medical needs and include those systems in discussions and initiatives to address homelessness

Each state agency is required to balance their budget and operate programs under their distinct set of regulations.  However, we see every day, the resulting inefficiencies, service gaps, and costs this creates.  This bill would require state agencies to work together in a new ways to simplify a complicated system and support families to be on solid ground.

Thank you for your consideration of this testimony.



Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Public Hearing, Tuesday, October 20th

On Tuesday, October 20th at 10:30 in Room B-2 at the MA State House), the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities will be hosting a hearing on a variety of bills that have been filed and assigned to their committee. Click here to view the entire list of bills that will be discussed. As always, you are encouraged to provide oral or written testimony or consider attending to demonstrate your support for these issues that impact homeless and at-risk families.

You may recall that our Executive Director, Libby Hayes and our Board President, Gabrielle Vacheresse presented testimony recently before the Joint Committee on Education regarding An Act Providing Immediate Child Care Assistance to Homeless Families. This bill will once again be heard before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities next week, allowing us another opportunity to speak to the importance of this bill before a new audience of legislators.

Another bill that will be heard on Tuesday is An Act Relative to ensuring the wellbeing of all children in the Commonwealth, a comprehensive bill that addresses not only child care, but also a range of other issues impacting children living in low income households. Among the items contained in the bill are:

  • Access to child care vouchers for up to 6 months after a family exits shelter into housing,
  • Removal of the requirement that families must spend one night in a place not meant for human habitation before qualifying for shelter,
  • Requiring a written explanation as to why any family entering EA shelter is placed more than 20 miles from their home community,
  • Establishment of a working group to assess the need for and methods to provide meals to homeless families residing in motels and
  • Requiring MassHealth to provide medical transportation to and from shelter placements to medical appointments.

Other bills with the potential to impact families, both indirectly and directly are:

We hope that you are able to be present at the hearing and are able to provide testimony in support of these important bills. Please let us know if you need support in developing your ideas for submission. Remember that if you do not plan to testify, your presence in the hearing room that day can make a difference. Again, thank you for all of the work that you do to end family homelessness in the Commonwealth. We could never do this work alone!!


#TBT We raised #OurVoice for Access to Childcare

Usually #TBT, or Throwback Thursday, refers to the posting of old pictures, like this one of a 2004 Memo about child-care services for families in EA shelter:


But for the purpose of this post, we are throwing back to September 16th, just two weeks ago. That is when we joined our allies, Horizons for Homeless Children, on a panel in front of the Joint Committee on Education in support of Senate Bill 286: An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families.  

(also full disclosure that we are copying this #TBT to this particular hearing idea directly from Horizon’s Facebook page)

It was an honor to give testimony on this important bill, especially after Visioning Day participants voted access to childcare as the number one policy issue that we should raise our collective voice for to end family homelessness. 


Homes for Families was represented by Libby Hayes, executive director, and Gabrielle, board co-chair.  We joined Horizon’s staff Emily Levine, director of policy and advocacy, and Megan Teixeira, director of quality assurance.

Emily and Megan provided background on the bill, the challenges of the current system and the opportunities this bill would create.  Gabrielle spoke about the impact childcare had on her family and her success on her journey from homelessness to a leader in the field.

And here is the text of Homes for Families’ testimony:

Thank you members of the Committee.  Homes for Families is here today to give testimony in support of Senate Bill 286: An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families, sponsored by Senator Dorcena Forry. 

Each summer, Homes for Families convenes families, shelter providers and other stakeholders for our annual Visioning Day event.  This year we had over 340 participants, with over 100 children.  At the event, participants vote on the resources and issues they feel are most important to address homelessness. The number one priority identified for more funding is – once again – housing subsidies, but the number one policy issue that families and providers identified is… access to childcare. 

As a former shelter director, I can attest that families in shelters are mandated to have a service plan which consists of at least 30 hours per week of activities towards housing and economic stability. This often involves education and training; employment; budgeting workshops; parenting classes, negotiating with past landlords and utility companies; support groups to overcome any traumas and barriers; gathering paperwork; applying for affordable housing; searching for available units; negotiating with potential landlords; mandated case manager meetings; mandated housing search meetings; and mandated house meetings.  Families who are homeless must comply with shelter rules, navigate complicated eligibility regulations and bureaucracies, and adjust to new communities.  These are the expectations we, as a Commonwealth, put on families who are homeless.  Childcare is critical for families to be able to meet these mandates.  

Any move is traumatic for children, but especially when due to domestic violence, no fault evictions, loss of income, threats to health and safety. The number one priority of any parent in the shelter system is the safety, care and protection of their children. Why else would any family face the scrutiny, the shaming, and the loss of freedom, the challenge of living in a motel, or in shared space with strangers? However, when survival, safety, and protection are the priority, the focus on education and development can sometimes take a backseat or be hindered.

  • Would you let your child crawl around on the floor in a moldy budget motel room?
  • Does the mother who is being abused have a chance to read bedtime stories?
  • Does a child who has to carry their belongings from house to house before their family is determined eligible for shelter have toys to help develop their fine motor and language skills?

If we want to break the cycle of poverty, end homelessness, leave no child behind, and address the achievement gap, we must provide all children with an opportunity to be prepared for school.  Children who are homeless face additional barriers to their development and learning – from the trauma and stress to the conditions in their surroundings.  Early childhood education and care, for this sub-population of the Commonwealth’s children, is vital. 

We have over 1,260 families in motels because shelters are full.  We, as a Commonwealth, should be doing everything in our power to find ways to support families to overcome homelessness as quickly as possible. Childcare is key so that parents can do all they need to do to move out of shelter.  Early childhood education is key so that children who are homeless today can have every chance to be as successful as every other child in Massachusetts. This bill is key in reducing inefficiencies and opening the door for children and parents alike. 

It should be noted, highlighted and underlined that Gabi’s testimony had an incredible impact.  It truly is the voice, the stories, the strength, and the tribulations of families who have experienced homelessness that help policy makers understand the significance of the bills and the line items in front of them. 

Thank you Gabi, and thank you to Horizons for Homeless Children for your leadership in ensuring access to to child care for families overcoming homelessness.


PS: here is a link to a story and radio clip that features a family living in a motel. The story mentions the high cost of childcare as a barrier to their housing stability.


We raised #OurVoice for more housing!

We gave testimony in front of the Joint Committee on Housing.  Here is what we said:

September 29, 2015

Good morning and thank you Chairwoman Dorcena-Forry and Chairman Honan and members of the Committee.  My name is Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families.   I am here today to testify in support of House Bill 1111: An Act Relative to Housing Production sponsored by Chairman Honan.

First I would like to thank the Chairman, this committee and the legislature for your commitment to restoring the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and for maintaining the safety net for families that are victims of our housing market’s impossibilities.  MRVP is one of the most critical tools to address the housing affordability crisis in the Commonwealth.  However, MRVP alone cannot solve it.  We simply do not have enough units to house the people of the Commonwealth.  This bill aims to change that.

As the Pope so clearly articulated last week, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” 

Yet, here we are –  with:

We recently released a report synthesizing information from surveys taken by family shelter providers.  The number one barrier to re identified was the lack of affordable housing. Each summer Homes for Families hosts an event which convenes families from shelters and motels from across the state, to discuss solutions to homelessness. This year, like each year before, participant recognize housing as the number one solution.

According to Enterprise Community Partners and Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies. The number of U.S. households that spend at least half their income on rent—the “severely cost-burdened,”—could increase 25 percent over the next decade.  Last week, the Boston Foundation’s 2015 indicator’s report shared that more than 85 percent of the positions added to the Boston economy since 2009 pay less than $38,000 a year – a big gap from the over $60,000 per year needed for a family to be housing and economically stable.

Rent continues to outpace wages at a rapid rate.  Rent increases are also outpacing voucher limits.  We often hear legislators say that their number one constituent call is related to housing.  In my office, we have had an increase in calls from families with vouchers in hand that cannot find an apartment that meets the qualifications. 

Here is our reality in the Commonwealth:  right now we have a housing crisis caused by a lack of housing stock and a vast gap between wages and rent.  Recent reports show that dynamics will only get worse. As a result, our homelessness crisis will only increase.  The housing stability forecast for the lowest income families – and children – in the Commonwealth is grim.

But there is good news – we know the path we are on, we are aware of the dynamics at play, and we have the collective ability to turn towards solutions.  Housing Solutions.  We know housing construction has a multiplier effect on the economy.  We know stable housing leads to better health outcomes, and leads families on a path to economic mobility. And we know that there is resistance to building and multifamily housing….but there is also resistance to motels.

Housing is the foundation. – for families, for stability, and for a thriving Commonwealth – and to ending our family homelessness crisis.  We need the physical housing structures – and for families to have either the subsidies and/or wages to achieve housing stability.  Massachusetts has a choice – to continue to manage the crisis or to start solving the dynamics that have caused it. This bill is the foundation for solution. This bill provides the tools to build the housing we need.

We agree with Pope Francis, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” and hope this committee reports favorably on the Act Relative to Housing Production.


#BackToSchool Homework Assignment: Think about the 19,515 students that were identified as homeless last school year

Despite the summer weather, we can feel the buzz of the Commonwealth gearing up for another year – parents buying school supplies; teachers setting up classrooms; first day of school pictures being posted on facebook; figuring out bus schedules and stops, carpools, riding the T, and safest walking routes; uniforms, clothes and shoes; fresh haircuts; first day jitters; and new friends, new routines, new teachers.

But as this headline recently pointed out, thousands of children are “shouldering more than backpacks.”  Last academic year the Massachusetts Department of Education identified 19,515 children who were shouldering homelessness along with the homework in their backpacks. Here is the breakdown by grade:



This trend, unfortunately, is not getting better.  As the graph below shows, we have seen a steady increase of students identified as homeless in recent years.


Source: MA DOE


This data does not include college students, which in MA, is something we must also consider.  Not only because of the number of colleges, but also the job market and competition that results from both. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently put out a brief and the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted one mom shouldering college and homelessness.


Back to the subject at hand: the 19,515 school aged students who were homeless last year and the potential 20,000 that may face homelessness this year.  Here is a list of links, information and thoughts:

  1. Children who are homeless have special right per the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act of 1987 
  2. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty put together this FAQ on the act. It is an oldie and wonky, but the facts remain the same.
  3. Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education’s page regarding McKinney-Vento,   complete with contact lists, regulations, data, power points and more
  4. Of note, there has been one significant clarification made this school year: the US Department of Education only considers a student’s school of origin rather than their district of origin relative to the enforcement of the McKinney-Vento law. Massachusetts officials previously interpreted the law to mean the district (IE town or school system) of origin but the Feds have issued guidance that MA officials can only enforce that children can remain in their physical school of origin if they are forced to move out of their community by homelessness.  In other words, if a child has been promoted from elementary school to middle school, s/he does not have a school of origin and must begin the new school year in the town where the student resides, not where they lived prior to becoming homeless. Same goes for students graduating from middle school to high school who may be in a shelter or motel in a new community.  All other protections regarding enrollment remain.  A school can allow the student to attend school in the district of origin, but cannot be reimbursed for transportation per the US Dept of Education under the McKinney-Vento Law. 
  5. This series and video, Trying to Live, Trying to Learn is from last year and from Denver, but it is a great piece of journalism and is about the same challenges we face in Massachusetts.
  6. Homes for Families (on our own and in partnership with Project Hope) has done trainings for teachers, corps members, teaching students and visited with students in elementary and high school classrooms. We are always up for talking about homeless, awareness and solutions. Contact us if you are interested in learning more.
  7. Massachusetts ranks as the best state in America for our education system. We have an obligation to educate children who are facing homelessness, to provide supports and to track outcomes.
  8. We also have an obligation to advocate for solutions; 19,515 is a number that is unacceptable. Not because of the cost of transporting children. It is simply unjust and wrong.  In a state as wealthy as ours, as compassionate as ours, and as smart as ours – we must work together to #BendTheTrend.  We can not watch the number continue to increase.
  9. If we are serious about ending homelessness, as a society, we must start with the children

Most lists end at number 10, not 9  But final thoughts are being left to you.  What should be added?