Light and love from the Homes for Families, Consumer Advocacy Team

Families, providers, partners, and beloved members of the community… now more than ever,  you are in our hearts.

In these challenging times we may find it nearly impossible to feel hopeful or inspired.

We may doubt whether or not we belong, we may even wonder if there is still good in this world.

It is in these moments that we must remind each other; it is in these moments that we must be the good that we wish to see… and it is in these moments that we can find inspiration in our ability to be resilient, in our ability to lift others despite our feeling down and out, and in our ability to insist on joy and unity.

At our last monthly Consumer Advocacy Meeting (C.A.T. meeting) our family consumer advocates took time to send light, love and hope out to the larger community.

The messages in these photographs are of letters / messages of hope to :

  • Future Generations
  • Our Undocumented brothers and sisters  in the community
  • The world / global community
  • Anyone who is wondering if there is hope for us

 

This isn’t the first time we will be faced with struggle and it’s so important to understand that good things have come of past struggles… people have continued to smile, love one another and ultimately move humanity forward.  Let us be the world we want to see, let us lift each other, let us inspire each other.

If you can say or do something kind for someone else … it may be just what they need & it’s certainly what the world needs.

Light and love from the Homes for Families, Consumer Advocacy Team 

 

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MA Homeless Education, Part 2

Following up on our previous post on the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, here are some data points to further detail ‘the picture’ of student homelessness in Massachusetts.

Data collected: In Massachusetts there have been 27 districts that have received sub-grant funding through the McKinney Vento Homeless Education Grant in the past two school years; their data-reporting is included in the following charts. In addition, roughly 97% of school districts without sub-grants reported for the 2016-2017 data, compared to roughly 93% reporting for the 2015-2016 data.

The following data includes students from Pre-K to 12th grade:

TotalCountGraph

(Check the ‘Sources’ links at the end of this post for the full DESE data set tables.)

Of the 21,112 homeless children and youth reported for the 2016-2017 school year, their primary nighttime residence at the time of their initial identification varied:

PrimaryResidence

For the 2016-2017 school year in Massachusetts public schools:

  • The statewide total of homeless children and youth has leveled off since the previous school year, but still is over 8,000 students higher than in 2009-2010
  • More students are doubling-up than are in shelters
  • While less students are in hotels / motels, the numbers of those who are in shelters, doubled-up, and unaccompanied have increased

NighttimeResidenceLines

  • Some districts are experiencing very large increases
  • By grade level, counts of homeless students are…
    • down to 1,694 among Kindergarteners (from 1,917 in 2015-2016)
    • down to 1,809 among 1st-graders (from 2,020 in 2015-2016)
    • up to 1,417 among 8th-graders (from 1,320 in 2015-2016)
    • down to 1,873 among 9th-graders (from 1,962 in 2015-2016)
    • up to 1,329 among 11th-graders (from 1,127 in 2015-2016)

The increases in students experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts must be met with actions for more funding and for further collaborative interagency efforts, both for reconciling socioeconomic inequities and to collect and share better data on current challenges around and solutions to student and family homelessness.

-McMillan Ilderton Gaither

MSW Public Policy Intern, Homes for Families / Salem State University

 

Sources / More Information:

http://www.doe.mass.edu/mv/

http://www.doe.mass.edu/mv/2015-16DistrictData.html

http://www.doe.mass.edu/mv/2010-15DistrictData.html

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2016). Ending Family Homelessness, Improving Outcomes for Children.

Standing With Hope & Denouncing Abuse #DVAM17

The members of our Consumer Advocacy Team consist of advocates and activists against violence.  The members of this group consist of survivors and allies; this group knows how damaging the impact of violence is on children, families, individuals and communities.  We also know that there is power in healing, there is resilience in the spirit, there is something of immense strength and courage to be said for each and every survivor.

For Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2017 – and every day of the year –  our Consumer Advocacy Team takes a stand against violence by denouncing abuse and the normalization of abusive behaviors and rhetoric while standing for safety, hope, and promise of a better tomorrow.

This is practiced by:

  • raising community consciousness about DV and how its impacts are wide spread and longstanding hurting not just the survivor but entire communities
  • creating spaces for safe, candid, often difficult conversations (sometimes sharing personal experiences) about safety, trade-offs , policies & practices that can help / hurt others on as they are faced with violence, abuse , unsafe circumstances or relationships

The Consumer Advocacy Team, worked together on this last poem as a group to share with others. In this poem, they share a message about what it means when we normalize abuse as well as what it means to find hope in each new day.

When you normalize abuse
You become an abuser and life is never the same again
But one soul can make a difference for another
Today is now and yesterday is a memory
Live for now and thrive to survive
Revive your soul daily,

Lean on the strength of the mountains

And the sureness of the sun
Meditate, breath, love, create

And make your new pathway to healing

 

NM

MA Homeless Education Liaisons, Student Rights, and Resiliency

At our last Homes for Families’ Community Meeting we came together to focus on back-to-school issues. This included a comprehensive presentation from Sarah Slautterback from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on school based supports for homeless students and their families along with the rights and strengths of students experiencing homelessness.Elementary and Secondary Education logo

All students who are experiencing homelessness and attending a public school in Massachusetts have certain rights. Homelessness is defined more broadly by DESE as compared to the definition used by the Department of Housing and Community Development when determining Emergency Shelter eligibility. DESE utilizes the definition under the federal McKinney Vento law, which defines anyone who lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing as homeless including those that are doubling up due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason.

Image result for back to school

Student Rights:

  • The right to school selection and to remain in the student’s school of origin: Towards this end, the school must provide transportation to the school of origin (up to an hour away). Students have the right to this transportation through the end of the year during which they are housed, even if this means multiple years of transporting to their school of origin. If a parent does not agree with a school district’s assessment on where the student should attend school, the parent can appeal. Generally the parent’s decision is the final decision unless the Commissioner of DESE decides otherwise. No attorney is needed, but parents can certainly seek an attorney if they wish.
  • The right to immediate enrollment: If a student does want to enroll in a new school system, the only thing the school can require is emergency contact information. This emergency contact information cannot be shared without a parent’s consent. HFF tip: Ensure this sharing of information does not happen for a student you are working with, as typically this is published as directory information.
  • The right to participate in all activities and programs, including summer school: Such as alternative education, ESL, Title I, field trips, and gifted and talented programs.
  • Categorical eligibility for free meals being served: A few districts are doing dinner in addition to breakfast and lunch. Some are also packing backpacks on Friday afternoons with food for the weekend. Students experiencing homelessness have automatic access to all meals being served or food being provided.

In addition:

  • Unaccompanied homeless youth can enroll with or without a guardian, have independent status for financial aid, and can apply to colleges and access career and college counseling.
  • Schools supplies including uniforms and basic school supplies must be provided by the school.
  • Undocumented students have all the rights of other homeless students; they cannot be asked for documentation information. All undocumented youth have the right to access any public education. If homeless, they can share that they are homeless and will be provided with the same access as any other homeless student. There has to be a court order or consent of a parent to release personal records that may include notes on the students’ immigration status.

The Role of the Homeless Education Liaisons

Every school district in Massachusetts (and across the country) has at least one homeless education liaison. Some larger districts have liaisons in every building. DESE encourages at least a contact person in each school building of every district.

Homeless Education Liaisons must:

  • Be able to identify homeless students in their school/district;
  • Make sure homeless families know what their rights are;
  • Make sure that students are accessing programs and that referrals to community resources are being made for mental health, dental, and medical services, etc. DESE strongly encourages liaisons to stay abreast of what is being offered within the community;
  • Engage families, including helping to inform parents about how to get involved in their children’s school;
  • Facilitate disputes around enrollment (and if a liaison has challenges with this, someone from the DESE compliance office will step in and facilitate the process with superintendents); and
  • Train staff in districts: Sarah has always offered to go in and offer trainings, but homeless education liaisons should also be able to do this on their own now.

For more information, check out this flyer. Please contact DESE at: 731-338-3700 with questions and for technical assistance for a family or student experiencing homelessness.

Trauma and Student Resiliency

We also discussed how trauma intersects with the challenges students and families face and how to build on strengths. Our group named domestic violence, walking to school while navigating gang territory, bullying, and periods of absenteeism as only a few examples of the added layers of potential trauma faced by students experiencing homelessness. The role of support systems, spirituality, and becoming involved in after school activities, especially those that can build on students’ interests and talents like art, sports, and theater, can be tools for enabling students and their parents to find community supports.

Join us in putting these important resources and supports in Massachusetts to work by ensuring that you or families you work with know who the liaisons in schools near you are and that you are in dialogue with liaisons regarding the needs of students and families in your community. Let’s ensure that the rights of all students experiencing homelessness are fulfilled and all supports maximized, promoting young people’s and families’ innate strengths and resiliency.

Liz Peck, Director of Operations and Member Engagement

REPORTS RELEASED! Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts & Evidence Based Stabilization

Massachusetts is home to the country’s only statewide shelter system with a legal mandate to provide immediate shelter to all families who meet the strict eligibility criteria. The Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development funded by state dollars and includes 52 distinct non-profit shelter providers. Homes for Families is dedicated to learning from the experiences and perspectives of families overcoming homelessness and family shelter community.  As a part of that work, we embarked on a three year research project funded by the Oak Foundation. The research intended to look at the role and components of assessment, the range of shelter programs in Massachusetts, the experiences of families in EA shelters, and national trends and research to inform the next steps address homelessness in the Commonwealth.

Our research took place from 2014 to 2017. During this period, there were increases to the level of services in motels; an expansion of contracted shelter beds, the development of the co-shelter model; the restructuring and expansion of diversion practices; and increases to the benefit level of the HomeBASE program, and an increase in prevention funding and investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. According to statistics from the Department of Housing and Community Development from January 2014 through June 2017:

  • the average daily caseload during this time period was reduced from 4,458 to 3,545, a decline of 20%
  • the motel caseload declined by 98% from 2,098 families to 46
  • the number of contracted shelter beds increased from 2,018 units in September 2013 to 3,682 in June of 2017, a total of 1,644 units were added, an increase of 82%
  • the diversion rate increased from 5% to 21%
  • 9,140 families in shelters and motels were re-housed with the HomeBASE resource
  • 15,484 families received prevention assistance through the RAFT program
  • Over 1,700 families in shelters and motels were re-housed with vouchers through the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program

 

http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/hs/ea/eamonthlyreport.pdf

As the numbers and graph clearly indicate this was a period of tremendous progress in addressing family homelessness, especially when family homelessness in other high cost cities continues to rise (e.g. New York City, Washington, DC). At the same time the system is still serving more than double the number of families since before the Great Recession, about half of the families that apply for shelter do not meet the eligibility criteria, and thousands more families are facing housing instability. It is imperative that the system continues to evolve to address the structural causes and individual instances of homelessness.

Our research provides a pathway forward through a series of 4 reports. Each paper examines the ongoing crisis of family homelessness through a distinct lens; however, there are clear themes shared across the series. Common themes across the four papers include:

  1. Structural Gaps: We must address the structural issues that have created this crisis, namely the shortage of housing and the widening gap between wages and rent. We know that housing is the foundation to stability and services and opportunities can create a pathway to success.
  2. Children: There must be a greater focus on children. The safety and developmental needs of children must be an integral and core component of all policies, programs, and systems addressing the needs of families without homes. 
  3. Assessment: There must be an improved focus on conducting comprehensive, family-centered, and trauma-informed assessments.  The pathway to stability and improved well-being for parents and their children begins with a solid assessment. Strengths must be identified and risks assessed, and reliable and valid measures used to effectively target service resources.
  4. Data: Evidence based solutions are driven by data; data is key to driving policy decisions. To craft and implement policies that will make a real difference in the lives of families experiencing homelessness, it must be accurate, reflect their voices, and capture the full range of their experiences- from shelter through stabilization.  In research, practice, or policy, family input and data are required for effective outcomes.

The first paper in the series was released in March of 2015. Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Practitioners and Policymakers takes a step back to look at what is meant by the term “assessment” and walks through tips and strategies for a meaningful assessment process. The paper highlights the critical need to include children in the assessment process and the imperative to use the data to steer policy decisions.

The second paper was released in June 2015, The Family Shelter System in Massachusetts: A snapshot of program models, service needs, promising practices, and challenges  gives a general overview of the shelter programs across Massachusetts, with sections on system and family demographics, needs identified by providers and promising practices. This paper makes both programmatic and systemic recommendations, including issues around safety and program flexibility, a stronger focus on data and assessment, addressing generational poverty, cliff effects, and increasing coordination with community resources.


We are pleased to release the final two papers:

The third in the series, Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts: The Case for Family Centered Care highlights key data from a survey we administered with families in the Emergency Assistance (EA) program.  The survey was developed with the guidance of the Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT), a group of parents who have experienced homelessness and severe housing instability and that are full partners in our work.  Using a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach, a total of 117 parents were surveyed in the Springfield and Boston areas in motels, congregate scattered sites, and co-shelters. This paper provides a glimpse into families’ experiences within the shelter system and other systems of care and makes the case for family centered care as a model to best align family needs with service delivery. Click here the summary of the data.

The final and fourth paper in the series, Evidence Based Stabilization: A Solution to Reduce Family Homelessness in Massachusetts reviews national research about families experiencing homelessness and evidence based practices across the country.  The paper concludes by recommending an assessment and evidence based stabilization model be implemented across the Commonwealth. 


 

We would like to that the authors and researchers, Dr. Carmela J. DeCandia of Artemis Associates LLC and Marvin So, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Department of Housing and Community Development and shelter providers for their assistance in this project; and the staff, interns, and consultants who provided great support and leadership. We give special thanks to the Consumer Advocacy Team, and to all the families that participated in the survey and ongoing work of Homes for Families.

We look forward to our continued work to ensure the voices and viewpoints of families and shelter providers are heard and understood. We must couple those efforts with data to drive positive systems change and solutions. We welcome your reactions, ideas and feedback.

LH

You Don’t Have to be Fearless to be Brave

As Visioning Day neared, we recognized that we had a huge responsibility  to recognize and name the harsh realities, fears and concerns in this tumultuous climate faced by our families and providers as they work to build from the ground up.  We named these fears concerns and realities:

We are going to name some things here and now. The purpose is not to bring your spirits down but to Acknowledge & recognize the fears & concerns being carried by the all of us, by our friends and families, by the people and communities most vulnerable with the new heightened sense of pro rich /anti poor sentiment and political climate. History has taught us that simply looking away, will not make anything especially anything oppressive simply go away and so we have decided to try to be brave like you and name some of these fears and concerns .

To be quite honest, HFF does not have the answers for some of these serious fears, necessary questions that have surfaced this year, but we hear you and that matters because we carry with us…. your voice , your views, your lens….. at every table we join as we ask questions , provide answers and seek solutions

Here are some of the concerns we heard over the past year:

  • Displacement, rent hikes, gentrification seem to be happening at a faster pace than ever and communities that used to be affordable are changing quickly and becoming unrecognizable. For those who may be familiar with the effects but not the term, gentrification is when your neighborhood changes before your eyes, you can no longer afford to live there and you suddenly become the stranger in a strange place that you used to call home.
  • There are lots of concerns about what Federal cuts to housing coupled with gentrification and the privatization of public housing will mean for those who are already experiencing homelessness or housing instability
  • There are lots of notable concerns around the conservative direction in which Congress seems to leaning. Are the people in Congress, that understand the threats to housing, able to fight hard enough to prevent housing from slipping through the cracks?
  • Families recently describe the current climate under this administration as unmistakably pro-rich
  • We have heard that existing tenants in housing programs and subsidized units, are already seeing changes to the way housing authorities and property management companies , recertify, screen for income and carryout policies describing this new process as even more microscopic and screen out than prior years.
  • There are questions about implementation and honoring of tenants rights.
  • At a time when hate & discrimination are extremely visible and in some cases seemingly permissible, will tenants soon be faced with federal and local laws that seek to protect or fail to address landlords who discriminate against low income families, large families, undocumented families, people of color, LGBTQ communities.
  • How will fed cuts eventually trickle down to impact local and state responses to homelessness?
  • Will the length of stay in shelter shoot up (further) with the cuts to housing that already is too little to meet the demands of the population?
  • The opioid crisis is a threat to housing and family stability – how are these 2 things being addressed as such.
  • Providers and families expressed concerns and anxiety tied to the reliance on short term subsidies (Home base) being the primary tool that we have to respond to such a massive housing stability crisis that requires longer term solutions.
  • Providers have not been shy in expressing their shared concern with families faced with issues tied directly to immigration status.
  • There have been concerns about what families and providers describe as in increase to the number of families being separated by DCF.

Providers are working alongside families in this same uncertain climate, with many of the very same concerns and feelings of being overwhelmed while trying to do what’s best.

None of you are alone; none of you are wrong for feeling this way and all of you are strong for pushing forward anyway.

You don’t have to be fearless to be brave especially in times like these.  In fact our concerns and conversations about our fears will keep us on target, united and relentless as we fight with a sense of urgency for what is right.

As I mentioned this is heavy stuff, not neatly packaged or processed but know this

We hear you and we carry with us your voice, your views, your lens.

We also knew that despite the challenges and barriers, our spirits are resilient and we are pushed forward by the beliefs that we hold onto, hope and possibilities offered to us by tomorrow. We named that as well:

Your good intentions brought you here today; look to someone else and repeat after me, “Thank you for being a part of this special day”

No one here today is alone, look to each other and repeat after me, “I am with you”

If you have ever been shut down, turned away, or silenced – we see you and we hear you, repeat after me, “My voice is valuable and my opinion matters”

Some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I radiate love, peace, and happiness.”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I know that we will make a difference together”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I have your back, let’s do this”

– Nilaya Montalvo, Director of Leadership & Community Building

#WayBackWednesday, when we honored leadership at #VisioningDay 2016

On the eve of #VisioningDay 2017, we are looking back to last year’s event where we honored long time Policy Director, Diane Sullivan, with an Inspiring Leadership Award.  As Diane transitioned to new endeavors, she joined us to raise her voice at the Homes for Families podium and accept the award.  Her remarks, as always were passionate and inspirational, and also capture what is HFF , Visioning Day, and the movement to end homelessness.

To get everyone in #VisioningDay spirit, we are sharing her remarks today:

Thank you the Homes for Families Board, the Consumer Advocate Team and of course the incredible HFF staff . I am truly humbled. So, I’ll accept this on your behalf, Homes for Families, because you inspire leadership in so many ways. From the battles to the scars, the sweat and the tears, the jokes and the cheers. Homes for Families, you’ve inspired it all.

More than a decade ago, a sudden job loss, along with the rising costs of housing, utilities, child care, food…I became homeless with my family. Of course that’s the 2 second summary of a much broader and painful story, but after 2.5 months living in a hotel, we were transferred to a local shelter where I was first introduced to HFF.

I sat among other parents experiencing homelessness, shelter providers, community members and elected officials. Parents shared their stories of how they became homeless – and their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. And the work they were putting in to get there. And there, something started to make sense to me – that absolutely none of this makes sense to me. And I was inspired – inspired to pose a question to the elected officials who sat before us.

How do you justify spending so much money warehousing children in hotels and motels rather than investing in homelessness prevention and affordable housing options for them? I wasn’t expecting a response. Because there simply is no answer.There is no justification – because homelessness is not just.

Later that year, I began working as an eviction prevention specialist in Boston. I guess I figured that if I couldn’t save my own children from the hardships of homelessness, perhaps I could help others avoid the trauma. I began attending various HFF events – legislative breakfasts, community meetings, and of course, Visioning Days of years past. I quickly learned that Homes for Families provided a safe space for me, and parents like me, to share our stories, air our grievances while encouraging us to engage in open dialogue, focused on solutions. And I was inspired.

I later joined the Board and eventually the staff of Homes for Families, all of this about 10 years ago. That’s a long time. That’s a long battle. And I’m still inspired. I know we’re not there yet. I know many of you here today woke up in a state regulated shelter bed because despite the hundreds of millions the state spends on housing and homelessness programs every year, we didn’t reach you in time.

I also happen to know that the hundreds of millions dollars being spent each year on housing and homelessness programs represents a mere 1% of our state’s 39 billion dollar operating budget. A budget that is a statement of our very own priorities. One percent. We elect our state representatives and senators and our Governor into office. So, guess what? Ultimately, our state budget is a statement of our priorities.

Here’s my theory folks – want to cut down on healthcare spending? Invest in affordable housing so that we can rid ourselves of the physical and mental trauma caused by homelessness and the avoidable costs associated with their treatment. Or the further cost to humanity when they are not? Want to cut down on education costs for children who lack the housing stability that supports their success in school? Invest in affordable housing. Want to cut down on hunger so that families are not being forced every month to choose between paying their rent and feeding their children? Invest in housing.

Want to invest in jobs and economic development? Invest in housing. Want to invest in communities? Invest in housing. Want to invest in people? Invest in housing. Invest in affordable housing, so that we all, regardless our income brackets, have access to the very foundation that supports healthy families and thriving communities across this Commonwealth. And I know that you have the power to make your elected officials hear you too. You have the power to inspire them beyond that 1%.

Despite how uninspiring this world can seem at times, I hope that your involvement here today inspires you to turn your visions into action. And along your journey, I encourage you – to the best of your ability, to please look to yourself and each other for inspiration. It may be tough to see sometimes, but trust me, your strength and perseverance is inspiring to many into action here today and for days to come.

You do have the power to change this. You are the coalition. You are the movement! You ARE the inspiration. Thank you Homes for Families!

And thank you to Diane! We look forward to honoring our 2017 Inspiring Leaders and remain grateful for all Diane brought and continues to bring to the movement to end homelessness.

LH