Sharing is Caring

In no state in the country can a family working a minimum wage job afford market rate rent.

The Out of Reach Study and Crittenton Women’s Union’s Economic Independence Calculator are interesting and interactive tools that show just how much money is needed to survive in the Commonwealth

Recent articles in the New York Times, Boston Globe Magazine and the Boston Globe have highlighted the math problem that too many families face- when income does not add up to cover the cost of rent and basic needs.

As a result of this juxtaposition between rent and wages- we are facing the biggest homelessness crisis in the Commonwealth’s history.

We continue to push for more affordable housing.  But it will take more than MRVP’s, public housing and flexible cash assistance. There needs to be a dramatic shift in federal, state and local housing policies- developing, financing and subsidizing.

There are national and state movements to increase the minimum wage- even the President said so! But there needs to be a dramatic shift in education and workforce programs and job development so that people can gain the skills needed to secure jobs that pay a living wage and companies can have a workforce pool to be successful.

But until those solutions come to fruition (and we can’t stop, won’t stop until they do), the reality remains- we are facing the biggest family homelessness crisis in our Commonwealth’s (and Nation’s) history. Shelters are full- not just EA beds, but Domestic Violence Programs, Teen Living Programs, and community beds; we are maxing out of motel rooms (1933 families are in motels tonight); over 5,000 families will be transitioning off of short term subsidies and more families than ever are being turned away.

So, what do we do?

We do the only thing we can do-we recognize the crisis for what it is- an extreme, very scary homelessness epidemic at a breaking point…and WE work together to figure it out. And the WE is everybody- shelter providers, families, housing agencies, and legislators, the Administration, the media, philanthropists, the private sector and community members- EVERYBODY.   We share a vision of a Commonwealth without homelessness. We share concern for families.  We share the stress of an overburdened system. We must also share hope, fortitude, and creativity.  Also, we may share an urge to throw up.

The intent of this blog post was not to be a pep talk, but rather to continue the conversation on sharing…apartment sharing, scattered site sharing, and best practice sharing.  We have covered this topic in a previous post, but it is important to give some context, because these are drastic times.  As we process and think about ideas and solutions, we must consider the alternatives and the realities.

This is neither an endorsement of, nor warning against, co-sheltering or apartment sharing.  Co-living is not THE solution, THE magic bullet, or THE answer to our current systems crisis or necessarily the ideal solution to individual instances or homelessness. However, our vision is that there is a range of rehousing resources, that families can maximize their own support systems as they move towards housing and economic stability, and that the right resource for one family may not be the right resource for another. Just because co-sheltering/housing is not appropriate for some families, does not mean it should not be an option for others.

And as the system stands, it will have to work for some families, because there are not many other options that are as feasible or humane (barrack style shelter, waitlists….) Shelters are being asked to double up families in scattered site units.  This is the fastest way to add on shelter stock at a time where we need beds.  It is the fastest way to assure that beds are available in communities with a greater need.  It is also a fast way for a family to feel unsafe, uncomfortable and stressed…so should be approached accordingly.

Apartment sharing MAY BE an alternative for SOME families to avoid or exit shelter.  One stabilization worker has taken initiative, on her own time, to develop a website that can be another tool for housing/stabilization workers and families to use to explore the idea and find appropriate roommates.  Think Craig’s list, but more targeted/focused/safe.  Dolores Beliso’s website and concept is in the pilot stage, but has great information, including sample roommate agreement forms and questionnaires. Check it out.  And share your reactions.

And can we give Dolores a round of e-plause for her initiative- to take an idea and build out the concept as resource for the system.

We also want to make a call for ideas, tips, templates, forms and resources that you are using, or that you have found helpful, for the discussion, for roommate selecting, for helping people adjust to apartment sharing.  When we have raised the idea of shared scattered sites to parents in (or recently in) shelter they often react in strong opposition…at first….but then after some discussion- about choice, about taking the time to agree on lifestyles and rules, the availability of staff or other services, and safety issues- most agree that it could be a positive option for some. We encourage you to take the time to have thoughtful discussions with families to share/have them share, how those discussions and new arrangements are working out.  Sharing is caring, and to get through this crisis, we need to share more- about the challenges, our fears, our successes, what is working and how…because we all care about overcoming this crisis.

And because we care so much I will also share the link to our upcoming conference, acknowledging the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of the shelter system. Click here to learn more and register.



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