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.




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