Meeting Scarcity with Abundance, in Community

Hunger and homelessness are interlinked and the experience of both can lead to higher risk of family separation, being held back at school, experiencing higher health risks such as asthma, and developmental delays. National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an annual program to bring attention to these important issues.

Across the Commonwealth over 90,000 children live in neighborhoods where over 30% of residents have incomes below the poverty line. This means a household of four is using their income of about $25,570 a year to pay for the cost of housing, utilities, food, childcare, transportation, and more. These basic necessities are often put in competition with one another, as housing prices continue to rise.

This year, Homes for Families will be participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week during the week of November 16th to the 24th. We will be sharing important information on hunger and homelessness nationally and in the Commonwealth.

We are witness to the ways in which families experiencing housing instability and food scarcity meet these challenges with resourcefulness and resiliency, creating abundance in the face of scarcity. There are many examples of how family shelters, and community partners in Massachusetts do this with families as well. At our November Community Meeting we had a dialogue about just this and key themes emerged around the importance of autonomy, control and choice for families. Here are some of the examples of where scarcity in housing and food stability is met with abundance, followed by some opportunities to learn and improve when it comes to the family shelter setting.

Promoting Abundance in Community Done Well:

  • Donations when aligned with what families want: E.G. Asking for size, need, and following up to ensure need is met
  • Gift cards
  • Gift cards for teens and tweens specifically – gives control and autonomy for families to choose
  • Taking parent wishes, making it beautifully wrapped
  • Case manager collecting from families what is wanted
  • Asking families what food they want for the holidays and if they want to help prepare

Opportunities for Improvement/Lessons Learned:

  • The way staff receives donations- make sure it is family-centric and empathetic
  • Families to have increased involvement with which foods are available for greater cultural variety, for general variety in what is served- pantries to reach out to charities for support in meeting need for fresh foods, and a variety of foods.
  • Understand the impact of staff having toys visible- families will ask about specific toys; the impact of when families know what other families have received
  • Vetting sources of donations
  • Working on effectively managing and getting gifts out: The process, being understaffed, having few vehicles. Where could vehicle/driving donations be made by services like Uber/Lyft?
  • Giving throughout the year, and shelters using gifts as incentives.

Whether it’s through a communal meal, being surrounded by loved ones, or a warm welcome , when we find abundance through the support of community, so much more is possible.

-Team HFF

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