Creating Safe, Welcoming, and Healing Spaces for Children

At our Policy Acton Team (PAT) meeting in September, we had a very informative and interactive presentation from Meghan Schafer from Horizons for Homeless Children. Not only did she provide a wealth of information on how family shelters can create safe, welcoming, inclusive and trauma informed spaces for children, but shelter providers at the meeting offered their own ideas on how to implement what research tells us kids need. Check out this Horizons video on effective strategies for play that promote healing.

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Turns out that supporting kids in playing, yes PLAYING, builds resiliency, ability to cope with and overcome trauma, and overall healthy development in children. Here are some ideas of shelter-based techniques that came from our group of providers:

  • making outdoor space accessible, inviting and safe: cutting the grass, fencing in the area, and making it free of trash, etc.
  • maintaining a supply closet with age appropriate toys to be able to offer to families when they arrive
  • providing staff training to understand what children need and to support children and families in a trauma informed way, e.g. children’s need to move around freely
  • having baking ingredients on hand for families to bake with children
  • giving children the space to build up trust to feeling comfortable to go to staff for a hug or comfort, and then staff being there for that kind of support
  • facilitating opportunity for open play and interaction with other kids in the shelter

Members of our Homes for Families Consumer Advocacy Team (families who have experienced homelessness) also added that it’s important to understand and acknowledge that behaviors can stem from a child’s current environment and children may carry stress from what they have experienced or are currently experiencing in shelter. Tools for relieving stress could help, for example, sensory toys and activities. Access to academic support would be valuable as well, including volunteer tutors or book donations.

In addition to these ideas, we suggest looking carefully at representation in play spaces – is there multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-racial, gender fluid, etc. representation? Recognizing that all kids are different/look different, the room should reflect that. Making a space cozy and welcoming can go a long way too, especially within the context of a more sterile shelter environment. Color on the walls, comfortable chairs, and warm lighting are ideas to consider for making a space more homey.

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Children’s Issues come up as a high priority again and again when Homes for Families asks families and providers to list important advocacy issue areas. There are many areas of focus within that large umbrella of children’s issues, of course. Safety is one of those focus areas among shelter providers and families, and in recent years, greater attention has been given to preventing child sexual abuse. We are committed to shining a light on this issue and sharing best practices as well. Darkness to Light provides a lot of resources. Here, you can find information for 5 steps to protecting our children on their website.

Let us know what you find useful, or if you have more to add to the conversation or best practices to share!

Liz and Team HFF

FY19 Data Info-graphics and musings with #MAHomelessness Data

We are patiently awaiting for the Emergency Assistance 4th Quarter Report to be posted on the DHCD website. That report will have the un-duplicated totals for the 2019 fiscal year, July 1, 2018 through June 30th, 2019.  In the meantime, we have been analyzing the June monthly report, which is currently posted online. The June report has the year end totals, but does not have un-duplicated numbers – this means a family that applies for EA shelter multiple times is counted as many times as they submitted an application. Once the quarterly report comes out, we will share more numbers and info-graphics…and in the meantime, we present the following:

 

Fig. 1: Applications and Placements

Please note, that this is the un-duplicated number. And for comparison – 8,145 applications were processed in FY2018, with 4,895 families entering the EA system. Over, 7,000 applications and 4,000 new entries per year is a very overwhelming number, especially when we stop to consider the humans and children those numbers represent.  At the peak crisis, in FY2014 -13,115 applications were processed and 6,562 families entered the system.

 

Fig. 2: Applications and Placement by Region

Data often inspires more questions than answers; there is a lot to consider here, including front door practices and regional differences. These rates have varied over time, but without knowing the reasons families are deemed ineligible, it makes it hard to understand trends, develop prevention strategies, and understand how to address unmet needs.

 

Fig. 3: Reasons for Homelessness – Evictions

The most common reasons for homelessness, per DHCD reports and how the data is collected, remain irregular housing at 41% of FY19 entries, and actively fleeing domestic violence at and staying in places not meant for human habitation – each at 16%. The reports parse out the Eviction categories, so the total percent (14%) or number of families (471) entering EA shelter as a direct result of eviction is easily overlooked.  This data does inspire solutions and helps makes the case for some of the initiatives before the legislature and municipalities. These include more funding for Eviction Prevention programs, including RAFT and TPP;  new initiatives like Right to Council and revisiting old ideas, like Rent Control and new imperatives like combating tenant blacklisting (read more here and here).

 

Fig. 4: Shelter Exits

A total of 3,090 households exited the EA shelter system in FY2019, this includes  – 445 households that “abandoned shelter”, 364 families that found other feasible alternative housing without any financial assistance, and 290 families on a Temporary Shelter Interruption. A total of 2,036 household exited shelter with the help of HomeBASE and/or another subsidy or financial assistance.  Only 674 households exited the system with a “permanent” subsidy. With the gap between wages and rent, exacerbated by the growth of the low wage job market and steep rises to tent, and the number of families entering homelessness each year, the number of subsidies must increase if we are to continue to make progress addressing homelessness in MA.

Graphics by Brianna Gaddy

 

 

 

Better Understanding Public Charge

We previously posted on how you can take action to prevent the public charge rule from taking effect, and despite Massachusetts and and other states surpassing their goals on advocacy in opposition to the proposed changes around public charge, the new rules are slated to take effect October 15th. Some members of the immigrant community will be assessed more harshly when officials are determining if they will be a public charge, and their applications for legal status therefore denied.

We had the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) present at our September Community Meeting. They are a part of a larger nationwide coalition Protecting Immigrant Families, and emphasized that no one needs to un-enroll in benefits. Immigrants affected by public charge assessments are those who will not be found eligible for public benefits to begin with.

For more on what public charge is, what will be changing, and how you can take action see MIRA’s fact sheet. You can also go to https://ProtectingImmigrantFamilies.org/. Congress can act to prevent the Trump administration from having the funding to carry out the rule changes. You can get your voice on record with your congresspeople, via the Protecting Immigrant Families website, where it says Take Action. Most likely, our best bet to stop the changes, is through one of the 6 lawsuits underway.

You can also share stories of impacted families with your elected officials (if it’s not your story of course seek families’ approval and keep their information anonymous). All stories are helpful: not only related to public charge, but as they relate to other immigration issues including on the pending HUD proposal that would make families of mixed immigrant status ineligible for section 8 housing. See our previous post on this!

In solidarity with immigrant families,

Team HFF

Act NOW to Stop the Roll Back of Access to the Nation’s Largest Food Assistance Program

A proposed rule from the Trump administration threatens to take away access to food assistance for millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of children. The proposed changes would severely limit who could access SNAP: the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). You can find more information on the proposed rule from the Hands Off SNAP campaign here. Please take action today!

Take action now and submit comment in opposition to this proposed rule by going here (to the Hands off SNAP campaign page). The deadline to submit comments is Monday, September 23rd.

This latest attack on families is an attack on basic human rights.

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The wrap up as we envisioned it.

Our community certainly knows that things don’t always work out as planned. Visioning Day 2019 ended abruptly and a little sooner than we envisioned. We are grateful that the fire alarm was not indicating a real emergency, that everyone was safe…and that we still received stacks of input forms, ballots, and evaluations.

This is a quick summary of what we missed:

  • A report back of the participant feedback and questions for DHCD (we will work on compiling this information to share out)
  • A final question to the representatives from the Department of Children and Families and Early Education and share about their take on hope and responsibility
  • A quick overview of next steps:
    • Stay engaged on social media (twitter and facebook)
    • Look out for the 2019 Visioning Day Report
    • Invite us for shelter visit; join us at a meeting (Community Meetings are the second Wednesday of each month from 11am-1pm at our office)
    • Advocate!!! Right now our advocacy focus is to the Governor’s office and his cabinet and Federal Government
    • Advocate!!! Much of our advocacy will be focused on the State Legislature starting in January
    • We encourage you to act local! Attend local hearings, meetings, protests…
    • Share your ideas, frustrations, successes with us and share information from us with your networks

 

And then, HFF Deputy Director, Nilaya, was going to give closing remarks and turn it over to Jonathan Burke, the Afro Cuban Cultural Arts Educator who facilitated the Reclaiming our Time: Dance, Joy, and Resistance breakout group.  Instead, Jonathan led some dancing and clapping on the sidewalk to close us out.

Below is an exert from Nilaya’s planned remarks:

I wonder if Visioning Day provided some space in our minds and hearts for hope and possibilities.

I wonder if after seeing the size of the crowd the room made it clear that none of us are on this journey alone.

I wonder if the conversations you participated in rejuvenated your spirit even just a little bit.

I wonder if you left feeling feel a renewed sense of strength and purpose.

HOPE  is necessary, hope feeds our spirits and allows for us to continue in a forward motion.

Hope is essential, that said hope alone will not house families.

We need to act, we need to see ourselves as part what  is necessary to bring about change.

We have a responsibility to shift society until the needs of all of the people in our communities have their needs met and are stable and safe.

We have a responsibility to act.

We have a responsibility to show up for each other.

We have a responsibility to show up for each child and family.

We have a responsibility speak truth to power because silence is complicit.

We have a responsibility to educate our communities the fact that homeless families is not OK, and should never have been normalized in the first place.

We have a responsibility to recognize the humanity in each other & collectively insist and demand the right of each family to have a place to call home.

Thank you for joining us; for giving us hope. And thank you for your continued engagement and taking responsibility with us to achieve justice and homes for all. 

– Team HFF

New Restrictive Child Care Regulations May Impact Families

Did you know that a lot of decisions that impact child care access and quality in Massachusetts happen outside of legislation, outside of the state budget, and outside, often times, of public view? State agencies that run important statewide services like housing, shelter, and child care actually have a lot of autonomy in rules (policies and regulations) they set that impact families seeking and receiving those services. While we spend a lot of time advocating for important legislation and state funding (which IS really important) we also spend time working with state agencies directly around how to improve the policies and regulations that they have control over. This is called administrative advocacy (a.k.a  advocacy to the Governor’s administration, since all state agencies report to the Governor). We always do this advocacy in a way that is informed by the HFF network of family shelter providers and families experiencing homelessness. There’s opportunity right now for you to learn more, and prepare to take action, on certain regulations at the Department of Early Education and Care in regards to child care services.

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Following a change in federal law, some new subsidized child care regulations took effect in March, 2019. The really great news is that the federal law says that child care has to be authorized for 12 months at a time, so that families don’t need to jump through hoops multiple times through out the year to continually get their child care re-authorized. During the 12-month period, child care can only be terminated for a few narrow reasons.

However, some of the Massachusetts state policies that were issued in March to implement the new federal law, are concerning and depart from the intention of the federal law including:

  • Requiring unnecessary reporting of information by families to EEC;
  • Making relatively minor infractions liable to be counted towards intentional program violations or fraud (for example, if a consumer does not return a request for information); and
  • Significantly limiting which education programs are to count as a “service need” or valid reason a parent needs child care. Some of the quality education programs subsidy holders are enrolled in right now no longer count based on the MA policy.
  • Fees associated with subsidized care also continue to be far more expensive than the federal benchmark for affordability.

These new regulations do not impact everyone accessing subsidized child care in Massachusetts, for example folks with a Department of Children and Families (DCF) contract slot or a Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) cash assistance program (TAFDC) voucher are largely not affected, but parents accessing other types of subsidies like a basic income eligible subsidy for child care, homeless contract slots, or teen parent contract slot are more likely to be affected.

What are your thoughts, questions, experiences?

If you or someone you work with or know may be struggling with some of the barriers posed by these policies, please reach out to Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). Regardless of where you are in Massachusetts, GBLS may be able to provide legal help and are interested in gathering stories to help in advocacy to change these policies. You can contact Sarah Levy slevy@gbls.org, 617-603-1619 or GBLS’s Welfare Law Unit at:  617-603-1806. If you may be interested in attending the next Department of Early Education and Care board meeting to share your thoughts on the policies during their open comment period, please let us or GBLS know and we will keep you posted when the meeting date is announced.

Liz and Team HFF

Hearing Alert! Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities

DTA, Children and Families, Two Generational Approaches and the Cliff Effect

 

Background on Hearings:

Tuesdays are generally the most happening days at the State House for Committee Hearings. Hearings are an opportunity for legislators and the general public to give and listen to testimony relative to specific bills.   Hearings are led by the Chairs of the Joint Committees, and other committee members are also present. There are 29 distinct joint committees – from the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy (no pun intended) to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. For a full list of Joint Committees – click here. For the Hearing Calendar, click here.

Upcoming Hearing of Interest:

Next Tuesday, July 16th, there will be 6 distinct committee hearings. The Joint Committee on Children and Families will be hosting a hearing relative to DTA, Children and Families, Two Generational Approaches and the Cliff Effect.  The Hearing is scheduled for 10 AM in Hearing Room B1 – which is easily accessed through the Bowdoin Street Entrance/Ashburton Plaza, as demonstrated by this cool map feature on the Massachusetts Legislature website.

There are 15 bills listed on the website and copy and pasted below. You can click on the distinct Bill Numbers to learn more about each proposed piece of legislation; and then click on “View Text” to read the language as it was filed by the Legislator. You can also click on the Legislator’s name to see their picture and contact information, about their district, committees they serve on and other legislation they have filed. Because bills are filed in the House and the Senate, some may be identical or similar. When the corresponding legislation is accounted for, there are 9 distinct Bills.  All are very well intended to better address poverty, homelessness, and public benefits in the Commonwealth.

 

Bill Summaries:

  1. S.36/H.102 An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty would increase the benefit amount of TAFDC cash benefits by 10% each fiscal year until the payment standard for the household size equals 50% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  2. S.65/H.107 An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program would test ways to distribute diapers for children in households with low incomes.
  3. S.57/H.174 An act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect: would aim to mitigate the cliff effect by establishing a test program in Western Massachusetts, and include the EDC and Working Cities Group, the Department of Transitional Assistance using the MA Earned Income Tax Credit Program and other benefit programs and resources.
  4. S.67/H.013 An Act proving immediate child care assistance to homeless families would codify that families in EA, DV, and recovery shelters receiving TAFDC shall be eligible for a child care voucher. It also would mandate that children in shelters, aged 0-3, would be screened for developmental risk factors and delays in coordination with the Department of Public Health.
  5. S.76.H.150 An Act Relative to the safety, dignity and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness, otherwise known as the Act of Living Bill, which would extend anti-discrimination protections to persons experiencing homelessness. Here is a fact sheet.
  6. S.31 An Act providing for coordinated data and assistance to address family homelessness would mandate improved data collection and reporting by state agencies relative to family homelessness and establish a hotline and calculator tools for families, and those assisting families facing housing instability, for information about benefits and eligibility and potential cliff effects. Here is a fact sheet.
  7. S.25/H.130 An act establishing a special commission on the status of homeless women would mandate a commission of legislators, state agency officials, and the lieutenant governor or their designee, other housing and service providers, and someone who has experienced homelessness meet, collect data and research, and submit a report with recommendations for improved policies and programs.
  8. H.160 An act to end child homelessness would not permit evictions from public/subsidized housing or terminations from shelter until and unless the Department of Children and Families and Department of Housing and Community Development have developed and implemented a plan to assure all children under 18 will be housed in a location which is fit for human habitation.
  9. H.105 An Act to promote employment would ensure education and training programs are considered adequate for any work-related requirements for TAFDC and that appropriate and comprehensive screenings and assessments are considered.

What Happens at the Hearing and Beyond?

Interested parties (which can mean YOU or anyone who wants to weigh in) have the opportunity to submit written testimony and/or provide oral testimony to the committee.  Here is a helpful tip sheet from the Citizen Advocacy Center.  There will likely be a sign-up sheet outside the hearing room for those that want to provide oral testimony and a place to drop off written testimony. Generally, the bills are heard in the order in which they are listed, and Legislators and/or other State Officials are permitted to go out of turn. Public Testimony should be limited to 3 minutes. You can also just observe and submit written testimony after.

The Committee will take the full slate of testimony into consideration and has the opportunity to “re-draft” the language of the bill, which means they can make changes and refine the legislation to address any concerns, add ideas, etc.  Then the Committee can report out bills favorably, where it may then go to another committee, and hopefully, eventually, will land on the Governor’s desk for him to sign into law or veto. For a reminder of How a Bill Becomes a Law, here is the Schoolhouse Rock! Many bills linger around and expire with the Legislative Session, and may be refiled, or addressed in other ways – through the State Budget, programmatically, etc.  Our voices are always helpful for legislators to learn and understand more about homelessness and ways to better manage and solve the crisis and address housing and other inequities plaguing our Commonwealth.

AND…..after the hearing is another hearing!!! The Judiciary Committee is hosting a hearing at 1pm in Room A-1 (follow another cool map upstairs). They have a full slate of legislation related to Right to Council, rent escrow, vacancies due to foreclosure, and the HOMES Act which would seal eviction records. Click here for more on that. And check out the hearing page for the full list.

 

We would love to hear from you, what are your questions, concerns, and ideas? Which Bills do you support? Are there items that you oppose? Let us know!  

 

 

 

S.36  An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty Sal N. DiDomenico
H.102  An Act to reduce deep poverty among kids Marjorie C. Decker
S.65  An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program Joan B. Lovely
S.57  An Act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect Eric P. Lesser
H.174  An Act concerning public assistance for working families and the creation of a pilot program to address the impacts of the cliff effect Aaron Vega
S.67  An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families Joan B. Lovely
H.103  An Act providing immediate childcare assistance to homeless families Marjorie C. Decker
S.76  An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness Rebecca L. Rausch
S.31  An Act providing for coordinated data and assistance to address family homelessness Joanne M. Comerford
S.25  An Act establishing a special commission on the status of homeless women Harriette L. Chandler
H.160  An Act to end child homelessness Denise Provost
H.150  An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness Liz Miranda
H.130  An Act establishing a special commission to study women and homelessness Kate Hogan
H.107  An Act establishing a diaper benefits pilot program Mindy Domb
H.105 

An Act to promote employment

Marjorie C. Decker

Graphic by BG

Post by LH