This month at Community Meeting, families, providers, and others had an open discussion around telephonic/electronic intake systems for Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter. Following that discussion, families of the HFF Consumer Advocacy Team supplemented and reinforced the questions, concerns, and experiences that came out of the discussion.
The following is a summary of concerns & experiences identified by families & providers, and supplemented and reconfirmed by a second group of families.
- The current face-to-face process serves a vital function by providing families experiencing homelessness a physical place of refuge in the office while undergoing the process of applying for shelter.
- Families felt strongly that if telephonic/electronic intake becomes the norm, safe spaces/places of refuge need to be provided.
- A safe space is necessary where families can access the internet, charge their phones, access computers or scanners, and stay warm/sheltered while applying for EA. Families identified a need for regional locations where these things are provided.
- Domestic Violence is a significant cause of/contributing factor to families experiencing homelessness in the EA system — a safe space to apply for shelter is essential. Some survivors may not have a cell phone on hand.
- “The telephonic system feels black & white, rigid.” Each change to the intake system leads towards a more impersonal system.
- The elimination of face-to-face interaction removes the emotional and personal connection between families and the worker on the other end who is determining whether or not a family can access shelter.
- Without the face-to-face process, the human interaction can be more easily overlooked – that human connection can be essential when it comes to whether or not someone will take the time and energy to fully understand a family’s situation.
- Families and providers were concerned about communication, especially when going through the placement process. Families need to know who will be contacting them and when, and providers need to be able to get in touch with families if a phone is disconnected, out of minutes, etc.
- Families and providers identified that there is a high chance of families experiencing homelessness changing phone numbers, having a phone disconnected, having no phone/access to technology at all.
- Concerns around not being able to get in touch with families when needed and families not receiving the documentation they need when they need it.
- These concerns lead to the question of accountability — placing the responsibility on families to respond to phone calls, especially given the realities described above, holds families accountable for any difficulties in communication. This would end up placing all the burden on families rather than requiring that DHCD and providers ensure that families receive information.
- Concerns around both submitting and receiving paperwork. The technical requirements for submitting paperwork could prevent families from accessing shelter. If a family is denied, how can it be ensured that the family receives the necessary information on reason for denial, etc.
What will the process for uploading documents look like? If it is done with smartphones etc., what about families who do not have access to a smartphone, place to charge, data/minutes?
Will it be a toll-free 1-800 number? Will there be a cost for families calling from out-of-area etc.?
What sorts of training will intake workers receive, specific to going through a telephonic intake process with a family who is experiencing a crisis?
What will the process look like if a person is deaf or has any disability? Or if a person is not familiar enough with technology to complete the process? What if a person does not have access at all to a smartphone or computer?
What happens if the shelter does not/cannot reach out to families about their placement?
How will families know who will be contacting them or sending documents about their placement, and when and how that will happen?
These conversations are part of ongoing process to engage the community so that these questions and concerns are thoroughly addressed if and when a new telephonic system is adopted. Please share your feedback with us about what was shared in this post or any other questions, concerns or experiences. Your voice is essential in efforts to have a system that works for all families.
The Conference Committee Budget includes language in the DHCD Administrative Line Item to ensure continued in-office application sites (see the actual language at the bottom of this page) and is at risk of being vetoed by the Governor.
If keeping in-person applications an option is important to you, you can call the Governor’s office at (617) 725-4005 and ask that they do not veto this language & explain why in-person application sites are important.
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The Conference Committee Budget includes language in the DHCD Administrative Line Item to ensure continued in office application sites:
provided further, that not later than September 1, 2018 the department shall promulgate and uniformly enforce regulations clarifying that a household that otherwise qualifies for any preference or priority for state-subsidized housing based on homeless or at-risk status shall retain that preference or priority notwithstanding receipt of assistance that is intended to be temporary including, but not limited to, any temporary or bridge subsidies provided with state or federal funds which shall include households receiving assistance under item 7004-0108 after July 1, 2013; provided further, that the department shall operate local offices in the 10 cities and towns in which the department maintained office locations as of January 1, 2018 in order to continue to accept in-person applications and provide other services related to the emergency assistance housing program funded by item 7004-0101; provided further, that such offices shall sufficient staffing to determine eligibility promptly and provide other program services to families; provided further, that the department may operate additional local offices in other cities or towns that are geographically convenient to those families who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness; provided further, that not later than September 1, 2018, the department shall submit a report to the house and senate committee on ways and means which shall include a spending and operational plan for maintaining in-person offices and detailing any plans the department may have to make greater use of telephonic service delivery to augment in-person services;