Getting Wonky With It: Information for next week’s budget debates

On April 15th, the House Committee on Ways and Means released their budget proposal.  You can read our analysis here, Mass Law Reform’s analysis on programs impacting families with low incomes here, and Mass Budget and Policy Center’s full analysis here.

Representatives filed 1,096 amendments to the proposal.  All of the amendments are posted online and can be viewed here.  Using the on-line tool, you can search for particular amendments by key word, line item number, and amendment number and/or legislator name. If you click on the amendment number, you will be able to see the text of the amendment, as well as the names of the legislators that have signed on in support.

The chart below includes amendments that are relative to homelessness.  We included all amendments that are being filed to our priority line items, issues that correspond to our Visioning Day recommendations, amendments that are priorities of our partner organizations, earmarks, and amendments that would have a negative impact on the people experiencing housing and economic instability, so that you know what is at stake in the debates.

Amendment Chart Take 2

Click the picture to enlarge 

Next week, the House of Representatives will debate the amendments in order to finalize the FY 16 House Budget.  Much of this process is done behind closed doors in “caucus meetings”, or meetings pertaining to a particular topic, such as housing.  Legislators will have an opportunity to speak for or against a specific amendment, and then the Ways and Means committee will determine which amendments will get considered as part of a broad “consolidated” amendment relative to each topic.  Then legislators will vote on the consolidated amendment.  In other words, not every amendment will get voted on.  This is why it is so important for you to advocate and let your representative know what amendments are important to you – and to addressing our family homelessness crisis.  We need Legislators to show their support through co-sponsoring, but also for going to the caucus meetings and speaking up for the important issues. They need you to help educate them so that they can be active participants.

Click here to find out who your Representative is and their contact information.



Report Release: Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness

Through support of the OAK Foundation, Homes for Families is taking on an initiative that aims to improve the application and placement process for families who need to utilize the Emergency Assistance program.  As part of this project, we will be releasing a series of reports and documents regarding family homelessness, the Emergency Assistance system and the families it serves.  We are pleased to present the first report, Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Practitioners and Policy Makers

A bit of background: Continuums of Care funded by HUD are required to institute a coordinated assessment, but currently there is much variability in the process. The term itself is often applied to tools that function to collect data, to screen for eligibility, to determine a housing intervention, to guide a differential response for service delivery or for clinical interventions.  The topic is gaining momentum as a key component in addressing homelessness here in Massachusetts as well; Governor Baker mentions the term “assessment” as part of his plan and vision for addressing the homelessness crisis in the Commonwealth. 

As a beginning step in our project we pause to ask- what does assessment really mean and how can it be applied to the Massachusetts family shelter system? We turned to Dr. Carmela DeCandia to get some answers, and as a result, this report came to life. We encourage you to read and share it in its entirety, and to encourage this, we highlighted some of the main components below:

The report begins with a thorough introduction on family homelessness in Massachusetts, and why it should be a priority:

In Massachusetts, the rise in homelessness among families and children has been dramatic. According to America’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, in 2010 an estimated 28,683 children were homeless in the Commonwealth; by 2013 that number had grown to 31,516 (Bassuk et al., 2014a).

And continues to get to the crux of the issue at hand:

To achieve its goals and ensure that families’ needs are met, careful consideration must be given to the assessment process. Traditionally, assessment of homeless families has taken a resource driven approach; providers ask only about issues for which services or referrals are available (NAEH, 2015). However, by not screening for known risk factors in homeless families they remain inadequately served and are less likely to attain residential stability. Considering the growing numbers of homeless children across the country, and knowing the impact adverse experiences has on child development, comprehensive assessments are needed to effectively link families with both housing and services.

The report covers the importance of comprehensive assessment,

Assessment lies at the core of the work with homeless families. To provide the best service possible, providers must determine what families need. When done too narrowly, assessments only capture a small piece of a larger puzzle; done too broadly, assessments may not accurately and reliably capture the information needed to guide effective practice.

and it addresses the challenges that come with it:

Assessment can be a challenging process; providing services to a high-risk group with an array of stresses is demanding work for anyone no matter how well trained.

The report reinforces a comprehensive approach,

An effective response to family homelessness requires a shift away from an adult focused, single generation model, to a two generational, family-centered approach that supports resiliency. Reliable screening tools can help providers better identify and target services for all family members. With training, homeless providers can successfully identify and refer families for needed services.

recommends a two-generational approach,

Two generational approaches offer services to help children while simultaneously working with parents to enhance and strengthen parenting skills, build economic self-sufficiency, and address health or mental health needs

And shares how the family-centered approach is unique:

Adults are viewed as parents first; child development is assessed in relation to the parent’s functioning. In families with young children, a mother’s desires and wishes for her family are central and should guide the process. In addition, the developmental status and needs of each child is assessed.

Dr. DeCandia ends with a call for policy change

At this time, political will is needed to move beyond the status quo. Massachusetts is well on its way to taking these bold next steps, and may lead the nation in developing a holistic, family/person centered approach to the assessment of homeless families.

And the reason why we all do what we do:

Doing so holds the promise of helping families achieve housing stability and improved well-being, and preventing adverse outcomes for another generation of homeless children.

About the Author:

Dr. Carmela DeCandia is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialties in trauma, child and adolescent development, program development, and assessment. She worked for more than 10 years at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children as the Vice President of Programs and was most recently the Director of the National Center on Family Homelessness.  She has partnered with Homes for Families in the past as a participant on committees, partner in pilot projects and training programs, in the facilitation of family focus groups, and as an advocate.

For the full report, please click here. Feel free to email for a PDF version or any questions.

Please join us in this important conversation by leaving your feedback below and sharing this information with you network.

Budget Action Alert: Call Your Representatives Before 12pm TODAY!

Team HFF is blitzing the MA State House asking our State Representatives to support certain amendments to the House Ways & Means budget that was filed this week.  We have analyzed the funding recommendations and language, and are giving it our all to ensure the legislature is aware and informed of the programs and policies that work to end family homelessness.

And we need your help –RIGHT NOW! Amendments need to be filed today, and your representative needs to hear from you before 12pm.

Please take a moment to call your state representative. It is incredibly important that they hear from their constituents as they work towards creating the budget that determines how we approach family homelessness as a state.

To help, we created a sample script for you to use during this phone call:

“Hi. My name is                                                 and I live/work in                                            . I am calling as a constituent to say I support the House’s recommendation to fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program- or MRVP- at $91 million.

I would also like to ask that the representative support several amendments that will also work to support families to avoid or transition out of homelessness:

  • Representative Marjorie Decker’s amendment to Emergency Assistance (EA, line item 7004-0101) to allow access to shelter for otherwise eligible families if they are at imminent risk of having to sleep in a place not meant for human habitation
  • Representative Marjorie Decker’s amendment to HomeBASE (7004-0108) to reduce the bar from 24 to 12 months on accessing HomeBASE after previous termination from the program
  • Representative Christine Barber’s amendment to allow access to HomeBASE to homeless families residing in domestic violence and family residential treatment shelters
  • Representative Marjorie Decker’s amendment to level fund Transitional Assistance (4403-2000), preserve the rent and clothing allowances and provide a long overdue grant increase
  • Representative Marjorie Decker’s amendment to require the Department of Transitional Assistance to take no negative action on pending recertifications of cases for households who have submitted paperwork that has yet to be properly processed
  • Representative Danielle Gregoire’s amendment to require the Department of Housing and Community Development to report on the reasons applicant families are denied access to shelter

As always, if you have any questions, please call us at 617.227.4188. If you are uncertain how to contact your representative, visit .

We also want to acknowledge and thank our leaders for recommending $91 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) and for their overall commitment to ending family homelessness in the Commonwealth.

Thank you for your support and for your efforts as we work together to finally put an end to family homelessness in Massachusetts. Our voice in this process is necessary and working- and that is because of you! We will keep you posted throughout the process, and please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our blog for ongoing updates.


Boston Legislative Breakfast Recap

On March 18, 2015, the Boston Legislative Breakfast was held at Project Hope.  Be sure to check out our album on Facebook for pictures of the day!

Thanks to Whole Foods (Jamaica Plain AND Charles River), Starbucks, and Haley House, the actual breakfast part was abundant and delicious. After networking, we got down to business. Libby Hayes, our Executive Director, laid out our priorities and recommendations to the Administration. We heard from a working father facing homelessness-because even affordable housing in Boston isn’t affordable. We also heard from a mother in school who can speak to the difference a voucher makes firsthand- and how it promotes her family’s success. As you know, HFF sees families and providers- those closest to the issue- as experts on it.

We brought four questions to the panel to hear their thoughts, then brought those questions to the audience, and now we are bringing the questions (and responses) to you (in word cloud form):

1. What should the process of applying for shelter look and feel like?

What should the process of applying for shelter look like?

2. What does stable housing mean to you?

What does stable housing mean to you?
What does stable housing mean to you?

3.How can we use short-term resources as a tool towards long-term stability?

How can we use short-term resources as a tool towards long-term  stability?
How can we use short-term resources as a tool towards long-term stability?

4. What community resources should be available?

Question 4
What community resources should be available?

The Boston Legislative Breakfast allows us to bring together localities to discuss issues that impact their city and community directly. Various other legislative breakfasts and lunches are held across the state with HFF input and presence to help cities connect with their legislators, and share ideas and concerns about specific issues.

Please share your thoughts on this questions in the answers below, or use this blog to inform others on what families- and those who work to support them- are doing to end family homelessness in Massachusetts.

(Special shout out to the Boston Legislative Breakfast Planning Committee Members for bringing this event to life!)

House Ways and Means Budget Analysis (as it relates to homelessness, housing and support services)

FY16 Budget
[image taken from

Today, the House of Representatives released their Ways and Means Budget proposal.  The proposal is best articulated by the Chairman of Ways and Means, Representative Brian Dempsey, in his letter presenting the recommendations:

The Committee’s budget proposal preserves existing eligibility criteria for the Emergency Assistance Family Shelter program and looks to address the issue of Homelessness by making targeted investments in programs that have proven results.  The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) will see its funding increased to historically high levels and create 737 new vouchers that will be utilized to keep at risk families in their homes and out of the costly shelter program.  The budget also boosts the funding for HomeBASE Household Assistance and Housing Education centers and provides $11.5 million to recapitalize the Housing Preservation and Stabilization Trust Fund.

He goes on, in the Executive Summary, to say:

The Committee’s Housing and Community Development budget recommendation preserves existing eligibilities while strengthening proven homelessness prevention programs spearheaded by the Department. A new $20M investment in cost-effective programs with established track records such as the HomeBASE program, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, and the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, will further foster housing stabilization and facilitate diversion from temporary emergency shelter. The Committee proposes a record funding amount for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program that will allow for the creation of approximately 737 new mobile vouchers. 

After a preliminary analysis, here are some of the highlights of the proposal relative to the Homes for Families priorities:

Budget Analysis


click on graph to expand

Language Highlights:

  • Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (7004-9024): The language was removed that prohibited the DHCD from targeting families in the EA system.
  • Emergency Assistance (7004-0101): No changes were made to the eligibility for family shelter. The Governor’s proposed restrictions to the Health and Safety category were not supported, and no language changes were made to eliminate the categories or add in language to protect children at imminent risk of homelessness.
  • HomeBASE (7004-0108): The Ways and Means proposal supported the increase of the cap of the HomeBASE benefit to $8,000.

Homes for Families will work to do a full analysis of the budget language and spending amounts across programs and work with our partners regarding any needed amendments and advocacy.

In the meantime, we want to thank everyone who has helped to advocate for housing solutions to our homelessness crisis– and for opportunities instead of restrictions. 

We are grateful to the Committee on Ways and Means for their thoughtfulness in crafting this budget proposal to address the homelessness crisis in the Commonwealth and look forward to working with the legislature and Administration to keep families safe, supported, and housed.


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Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

Viewpoints from Around the State: Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

by Libby Hayes, featured in the Provider, a monthly newsletter from the Provider’s Council that highlights some of the biggest issues in the human services sector.

According to the 2014 report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, the number of homeless children increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013; there were increases in the number of homeless children in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The report also states that 1 in 30 children in America are without a home.

Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education identified 15,812 homeless students last year. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a 94 percent increase in the number homeless families in the Commonwealth from 2007-2014. The state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) program is currently providing shelter to approximately 4,460 families each night. We were battling the issue of homelessness before the recession hit. That issue is now an epidemic. An epidemic that can – and must – be solved.

Despite the daunting statistics above, the number of families in motels has been reduced from a high of 2,200 families in December of 2013, to fewer than 1,400 in March of 2015. This reduction is a result of a combination of efforts, including an expansion of the number of family shelter units. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the EA shelter providers have worked to implement more efficient and specialized program models such as co-sheltering, a shelter for single fathers and enhanced services for domestic violence and substance abuse.

 Next, a pilot program was launched in July of 2014, placing EA providers in the five busiest shelter intake offices. The providers meet individually with eligible families, to explore resources and opportunities outside of the shelter system. According to DHCD data, the statewide rate of families “diverted” from shelter in January 2015 was 21 percent, a significant increase from the 5 percent diversion rate in FY ’14. At the same time, DHCD reports the total number of exits from the EA system has increased from a year-to-date total of 2,955 in January of 2014 to 3,696 year-to-date total in January of 2015.

The HomeBASE program has been a critical resource in these achievements. Investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Leading the Way Home Vouchers through the Boston Housing Authority, access to private developments through the New Lease Program, and augmented staffing in motels have all contributed the increase in the number of families exiting the shelter system. Building on these efforts will further reduce the reliance on motels and better support families to overcome homelessness.

The recently released On Solid Ground report outlines the economic context of the family homelessness epidemic – specifically exploring the issues of wage stagnation, a decline in housing production, disinvestments in family supports and fragmented public policies and programs. On Solid Ground calls for more coordination and accountability across all state agencies to better align policies and maximize resources and effectiveness.

Historically, homelessness has been looked at in one of two ways: through a human service lens or through a housing lens. We now recognize that we must look at housing as the foundation, and at human services, child care, education, labor and workforce, and health care as the materials needed to construct a future without homelessness. Resources are needed, and coordinating a holistic response requires leadership and vigilant tracking of data to evaluate progress.

Governor Baker has made family homelessness a priority issue for his administration. His FY ’16 budget proposal includes $20 million for a new End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund to be administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), but has also proposed further restrictions to shelter eligibility. Further restrictions are simply not tenable; already about half of the families that apply for shelter are determined ineligible; more than 600 families entered the shelter system in FY ’14 after staying in places not meant for human habitation. These are children. Blanket categorizing and excluding subpopulations of homeless families has never proven successful in the Commonwealth’s 30-year battle against family homelessness, especially compared to successful prevention and diversion models.

 Thoughtful distribution of the Reserve Fund will be needed to avoid making the system more convoluted and confusing to families in crisis. While flexible funding has proven to be a useful tool to manage homelessness more cost effectively, it cannot solve an epidemic caused by larger systemic issues: a shortage of affordable housing and wage stagnation at our lowest income levels. But a focus on housing, children and providing the necessary opportunities and resources will do more than manage homelessness – it will end it.

-Libby Hayes, Executive Director of Homes for Families

Providers Council

FYI on the FPL and how it relates to EA

Sorry for the alphabet soup title.

Using Words : For Your Information on the Federal Poverty Level and how it relates to Emergency Assistance

 DEFINITION of ‘Federal Poverty Level – FPL’

The set minimum amount of gross income that a family needs for food, clothing, transportation, shelter and other necessities. In the United States, this level is determined by the Department of Health and Human Services. FPL varies according to family size. The number is adjusted for inflation and reported annually in the form of poverty guidelines. Public assistance programs, such as Medicaid in the U.S., define eligibility income limits as some percentage of FPL.

An explanation: Each year, the federal Department of Health and Human Services updates the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) based on the rate of inflation.  The FPL is used to determine eligibility for a variety of programs, including for Emergency Assistance (EA), or the state’s family shelter system.  To be eligible for emergency shelter, families must earn less than 115% of the FPL. A notice was posted on the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Website, and sent to DHCD field staff, on February 3, 2015 with the updated EA eligibility income guidelines based on the 2015 FPL. Here is the full notice and below is the chart with the current monthly income eligibility standards based on family size:


Based on those numbers and using my calculator and multiplying by 12, the income eligibility guidelines based on annual income  are as follows:

1 person: $13,536

2 people: $18,324

3 people: $23,100

4 people: $27,888

5 people: $32,676

6 people: $37,452

7 people: $42,240

8 people: $47,028

Interesting facts on the FPL: The poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963-1964 by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration.  Orshansky took the dollar costs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s economy food plan for families of three or more persons and multiplied the costs by a factor of three.  For more information and frequently asked questions, visit the Dept of Health and Human Services website

Interesting Opinions and Data: There is considerable criticism and discussion about the FPL for being an outdated tool, but one which has tremendous impact on people’s lives as it determines who can and cannot get access to resources. Check out the hyperlinks links to learn more and tell us what you think. How should poverty be measured? What should determine access to shelter and other programs?

Despite the concerns with FPL, it is what draws line in the eligibility sand for now, so please be aware and share. But also remember, income eligibility is only one factor in determining shelter eligibility. For more information about the other determinants, click here for the regulations and/or here for a guide designed for families.