#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:

201415SchoolYear

 

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.

studentsperyear

Source: MA DOE

Digression

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?

 

LH

The Family Shelter System in Massachusetts: A snapshot of program models, service needs, promising practices, and challenges

Homes for Families is pleased to release our latest report:  The Family Shelter System in Massachusetts: A snapshot of program models, service needs, promising practices, and challenges authored by Giselle Routhier, PhD candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. 

As part of our ongoing efforts to analyze the shelter system through the support of the OAK Foundation, this report provides a general overview of the Massachusetts Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program based on interviews and surveys from shelters across the state.

It highlights who is in it:

The characteristics of homeless families in Massachusetts follow larger trends of families living in poverty

It addresses the various types of shelter:

The state provides emergency shelter using four different models: congregate, scattered-site, co-sheltering, and motels.

It brings to light new data:

Through these data collection methods, information was gathered about the number of social service staff, staff training, and the types of services provided to homeless families.

And goes into detail regarding family needs and barriers:

Family shelter providers were also asked about their perceptions of the needs of homeless families. When asked to identify the top three needs in order, providers reported these as: (no spoilers, sorry!) 

This report illuminates the strengths and challenges of different programs:

Through site visits and open-ended survey responses, providers were asked about the specific strengths of their programs. These strengths can be categorized into those relating to services for families, relationships with families, and staffing structure.

And provides analysis on housing and exit data:

Collecting accurate exit data has been an ongoing challenge…but data quality improvement has been a priority over the past year.

Finally, the report concludes with promising practices and policy recommendations:

Moving forward with the goal of ending family homelessness, some recommendations for promising shelter-based practices can be made in addition to larger programmatic and systemic changes.

Because the report provides a snap shot, this blog post serves to share what is in it to encourage you to read it in its entirety, and share it with others who are interested in new data and analysis on the EA program.

Please click here for access to the report. We are happy to further discuss the report with you, and if you would like a PDF copy sent to you, please email Jamie at jminton@homesforfamilies.org.

Thank you, Giselle, for your unwavering dedication in this project, and for you clear commitment to finding and producing this important data. We are lucky to have worked alongside you and appreciate your balancing school/work/researching to make sure our field has the information they need to better serve families to ultimately end family homelessness!

-jm

MA Legislature Restores $3M to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)

Yesterday, both the House and Senate met in formation session on Beacon Hill.  On the agenda: veto overrides.

As you know, Governor Baker recommended reducing funding for MRVP in FY2016 from $90.9 million to $87.9 million. The Legislature has once again reinforced its support for MRVP by overwhelmingly overriding the veto and funding MRVP at the full $90.9 million.

Thank you for contacting your legislators to ensure they took this necessary step toward a full restoration of MRVP funding. Your calls truly make a difference in the shaping of the state budget and how that impacts the families we work with and the programs you run. In this work, it is not often that we take a moment to celebrate a victory because we move quickly onto the next task at hand.

Please take a moment to celebrate this victory with us and your elected officials by making 2 more calls- one to your State Representative and one to your State Senator- to say thank you.

And if you haven’t already done so, you can use this opportunity to remind them of another concern with Governor Baker’s recent proposal to further restrict access to family shelter. Below is a sample script you can use:

“Hi. My name is _______________, and I live/work in _____________. I am calling to thank the Representative/Senator for overriding the Governor’s veto of $3 million to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. This funding will allow the state to continue its work to create desperately-needed affordable housing across the state.

The Governor has also proposed further restricting access to emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness. His supplemental budget would deny access to families who are otherwise eligible and staying in places unfit for human habitation or in irregular housing situations. Please do not adopt these restrictions when passing the supplemental budget.”

If you are uncertain of how to contact your elected officials, click here.

Again- thank all of you for raising your voices! Because of your voice, progress is possible!

Help Stop the Governor’s Proposal to Restrict Access to Shelter and Cut MRVP

While many have taken to the beach or a lake to cool off from this week’s summer heat, folks on Beacon Hill are still hard at work, as they attempt to close out the state’s FY2015 budget and finalize the FY2016 budget. You might be scratching your head and thinking, “hey wait, FY2015 ended June 30th and Governor Baker signed the FY2016 budget into law, soooooo… what’s this all about?

Actually, you’d be right. Both of those have come and gone, yet there remains some open business for our elected officials to handle before they break out of official session on July 31st. Here are the deets:

MRVP and the FY2016 Budget

8Overrides

 

screen shot from https://malegislature.gov/Budget/Process

The final FY2016 Conference Committee budget voted on by the MA Legislature funded the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program at $90.9 million, which would allow for approximately 800 new MRVP vouchers. Unfortunately, Governor Baker vetoed $3 million from the line item which would result in the loss of 300 of these vouchers. As you know, we cannot afford to forfeit even one voucher to budget cuts.

Please take a moment to contact both your State Representative and State Senator to ask that they override the MRVP veto. If you are uncertain how to contact your elected officials, click here. Below is a script for you to use:

“Hi. My name is ________________, and I live/work in __________________. I am calling to ask my representative/senator to work to override Governor Patrick’s veto of $3 million to MRVP and restore funding to $90.9 million for FY2016.

 

I support MRVP because: ___________________________________________________________.”

 

EA and the FY2015 Supplemental Budget

In his supplemental budget proposal to close out the FY2015 budget, Governor Baker inserts language that would change the regulations that determine access to Emergency Assistance, or family shelter in the 2016 fiscal year.     If supported by the legislature, families who are staying in units  unfit for human habitation and those in irregular housing situations would no longer be eligible for shelter.

Both the House and Senate rejected the governor’s attempt to bring these same restrictions through the state budget process. We are in communication with Legislative leadership to ensure that the state does not implement further restrictions by keeping this harmful language out of the final version of the supplemental budget. In the meantime, you can help by calling the governor’s office at 617.725.4005 and asking that he remove this harmful language from his proposal. Here is a sample script you can use:

“Hi. My name is _______________ , and I live/work in ________________ . I am calling to ask that Governor Baker reconsider Section 30 his supplemental budget proposal to further restrict access to homeless families applying for shelter. Please ask him to remove the language that would turn away children staying in places unfit for human habitation and in irregular housing situations from shelter in his FY2015 supplemental budget.

 

This issue matters to me because: _________________________________________________.”

Whether you are a family who is experiencing homelessness, have struggled to obtain shelter, a provider working with families in these situations or an otherwise concerned stakeholder, please share your concerns with Governor Baker. It is our voice that needs to be heard!!

DS

The Red Pen

GovAction

Photo from mass.gov

The 7th of 9 steps in the State Budget process: The Governor’s Action.  The Conference Committee released their $$38.1 billion in budget recommendations on July 7th. The Governor had 10 days to review their proposal and make any vetoes – to dollar amounts and language – and sign the budget. Today, the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget was signed into law, with $162 million getting vetoed, including $38 million in earmarks.  For the first time in the last 4 cycles, the budget does not draw on the state’s rainy day fund.

What got the red pen?

vetoes

 

screen shot from mass.gov

The Governor vetoed $3 Million from the $91M recommended by the Legislature for the MRVP program, stating, “ I am reducing this item to the amount projected to be necessary”

[Digression] While this is blanket language used to explain many funding reductions, it is hard to fathom any new dollar for housing subsidies to not be necessary.  We have over 4,000 families in shelters and motels; a well documented shortage of affordable housing across the Commonwealth; an ever growing gap between wages and rent, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development just released a study highlighting housing subsidies as the best tool to combat homelessness

In addition, the Governor vetoed:

  • $2M in funding for unaccompanied homeless youth
  • $370,000 in earmarks in the DHCD Administration Line
  • $650,000 for the Housing and Consumer Education Centers
  • Language the HomeBASE and MRVP line items, citing administrative burdens
  • The Secure Jobs Line Item relative the mandate to target MRVP vouchers
  • Outside sections relative to the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund, changing the source of some of the funding from the General Fund to Masshousing

The Governor also filed a Supplemental Budget to close out FY15 spending and add funding for certain initiatives in FY16.  Click here to read the full letter.  You will see in the letter that he recommends $5M for homelessness prevention for homeless families.  This is for the trust fund at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services that he initially recommended funding at $20M.  The Conference Committee budget included $1M. In addition, the Supp Budget includes the eligibility restrictions that the Governor proposed in Step 1 of the Budget Process. The Supp Budget is a proposal to the Legislature and any changes and funding is subject to legislative approval.

What happens now?

The legislature will have an opportunity to override the Governor’s vetoes to restore funding and language.  You can take action by calling your legislator. The message is simple: “My name is _________, and I am calling from the Senator/Representative’s District.  I am concerned about the Governor’s veto to the MRVP Line Item, 7004-9024.  Please advocate to override this veto”

We encourage you to add any other issues that may be important to you in your phone call.

We will be sending out a call to action and additional information- as well as a full analysis of the language and supplemental budget- so make sure you are signed up for our action alerts. To find your legislators, please click here.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. And if you have any comments, don’t hesitate to leave them below or on our Facebook page. Thank you for staying engaged in the budget process and for taking action to ensure it has the proper supports for families across Massachusetts!

Joint Committee on Housing Public Hearing: July 28

As we wait for Governor Baker to sign the FY2016 budget into law, the MA Legislature remains busy on Beacon Hill as the various legislative committees host public hearings on bills that were filed earlier this year. While the budget cycle runs from July – June each year, the legislative cycle runs for 2 years- beginning in January of odd-numbered years.

This is how the process works: Each filed bill is assigned to an appropriate committee which hosts the public hearing. The committee then meets in an executive session to determine if they should report out to the entire legislature favorably or unfavorably. Bills that are originally filed are often re-drafted throughout the 2 year process.

On Tuesday, July 28th the Joint Committee on Housing, led by Chairwoman Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Chairman Representative Kevin Honan will be hosting a public hearing on bills relative to housing and homelessness. HFF staff will be providing testimony at this hearing, and we encourage you to consider doing the same. If you are interested in speaking on any of these bills, please let us know- we are happy to provide support as you prepare your testimony.

If you are not interested in providing testimony, still consider attending. Your presence says that you care about these issues. If you want to be heard but are unable to attend, you may consider providing written testimony. Again, we are happy to support you in your efforts. We encourage you to comment below with thoughts and questions as well so we can take them into consideration as we prepare our testimonies.

Please see the chart below for a list of the bills that will be discussed:

Housing Hearing

A message from the Secretary of Administration and Finance

forwarding a message from Secretary Lepore so YOU can participate in the process:

A&F Launches Regulatory Review Feedback Portal

Dear Interested Stakeholder,

As you are likely aware, on March 31st Governor Baker signed an Executive Order initiating a year-long review of Massachusetts regulations. Over the past two months, my office established clear lines of communication throughout the executive branch, developed an extensive internal database of existing regulations and is now putting the finishing touches on an elite team of subject matter experts from across state government.

When the Governor and I made this announcement, we said our goals were to make sure that state government speaks with one voice and that this review will help Massachusetts citizens and organizations of all kinds grow and succeed. An essential step towards achieving those goals is gathering feedback from you and your fellow stakeholders, the very people that are affected by state regulations on a daily basis.

To that end, we have established an online portal to solicit feedback. I hope you will consider sharing this link with any individuals or stakeholders you think are interested in participating in the process.

Link to Regulatory Review Portal: http://www.mass.gov/anf/a-clearer-code-regulatory-reform.html

Thank you in advance for your help. I look forward to both your feedback and a Massachusetts with a much clearer regulatory code.

 

Sincerely,

Kristen Lepore

Secretary

Executive Office for Administration and Finance