Back to School & Housing Instability: Recap of September’s Community Meeting

What does back to school mean for families experiencing housing instability/homelessness versus families with stable housing? What is currently being done in communities to support families and school-age children? What needs to be done?

These are the questions that inspired the focus for this month’s Community Meeting. Guest presenters Paulette Mendes and Doris Beechman, Family Partners at Project Hope, shared about their work with Project Hope’s No Child Goes Homeless program.

What is happening now?

There has been a lot of success! Project Hope has housed more than 100 families since 2012 through their No Child Goes Homeless program, and was recently expanded to include an additional three schools. Both families experiencing homelessness and families with unstable housing situations may be able to work with a Family Partner through the program.

Collaboration & Partnerships:

  • Partnerships with six schools in the community
  • The Boston Housing Authority, some set-aside units
  • Collaboration with large property managers

There have been a lot of challenges that families are facing as well:

HomeBASE:

  • The short-term subsidy program was identified as a major contributor to long-term housing instability and families again experiencing homelessness after finding housing. (HomeBASE can provide up to $8,000, recently changed to $10,000, for 12 months to families eligible for or living in Emergency Assistance shelter).
  • Despite the push that housing workers are feeling to use HomeBASE, it is “not going far.” First, last, security deposit and a brokers fee can use up a family’s HomeBASE assistance before they make a rent payment, and are left with a market rate rent bill.

In addition to housing instability, there are some direct effects on school-aged children:

Effects on Children:

Children in families struggling to maintain stable housing, including some with HomeBASE, are bearing a load and making interventions – many with lasting effects. No child should have to take on that burden, especially as it can interfere with their school and emotional well-being in so many ways.

  • For example, seeing more than one family where high-school children have dropped out of school to work to help pay rent – including households with HomeBASE.
  • Children take on stress, especially where parents may not speak English or be adept with technology and children help their parents with housing search, etc.

Homelessness and housing instability can seriously affect a child’s education:

  • A striking number of housing-unstable children cannot read at a basic level. This is an injustice for even one child, but is far too common and especially for kids whose first language is not English.
  • A lot of absences/not making it on time – many people in the room confirmed this for the families they work with (want to know more about how related housing instability and missed school are? Check it out here).
    • Transportation can be a major contributor – BPS only supplies T pass for families 2+ miles away, children close to 2 miles away who do not have the resources for transportation struggle to get to school, especially in the winter.
  • Children with stressful housing situations are being labeled with “behavioral problems” and in turn being forced to miss class.

 

While behavioral problems and transportation issues aren’t always thought of as connected to families’ housing situation, we heard from the community how intertwined these challenges often are with housing instability.

 

What happens next?

Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George will be holding 14 education-based Town Halls across Boston’s neighborhoods. This is an opportunity to weigh in on all of the issues that come with housing instability that are affecting children’s education.

Continuing and building on opportunities for prevention and stabilization work to be done from the schools in the communities where families have relationships and access to people working with the entire family.

Taking a second look at HomeBASE and how it affects families and children: if you encounter families who have taken HomeBASE and continue to experience housing instability, please CONTACT US and share that story and connect us to the family if possible. Email Nilaya at nmontalvo@homesforfamilies.org.

School can and should step up to support children who may not be literate; meet the need for ESOL courses.

Investment in after-school programs to support families and children.

Town Hall Flyer Final (002)

 

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Data Snapshots: as seen at Visioning Day 2018!

At this year’s Visioning Day, the crowd worked at their tables to share reactions to five “data snapshots” having to do with family homelessness in Massachusetts. Each table then worked together to come up with one vision statement to address the issues shown in the data.

Want know more about Visioning Day? Check out last year’s Visioning Day Report.

Below are the five visuals shown at Visioning Day — revisit them if you were there and otherwise, explore them!

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Source: MA Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act Homeless Student Program Data 2016-2017.
Note: “Last year” refers to the 2016-17 school year, the most recent year for which data was available; 

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Note: “the past year” refers to the Year-to-Date numbers for Fiscal Year ’18  available at the time, July 2017 through May 2018. 

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Note: these data represent the number of households receiving eviction judgments. Both the number of households facing eviction filings and the number of children and adults affected by evictions are significantly larger. 

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Wondering what families, providers, and others came up with at their tables?

Here are a few of the vision statements that came out of this activity:

“We have a vision that one day all those in MA have equal access to resources & that no one has to experience homelessness.”

 

“No Discrimination

No Racism

Stop the displacement of families, children and individuals

Housing is a human right”

 

“We imagine a world with enough affordable housing so that all children can grow & thrive in a safe, stable environment without fear of being evicted.”

 

“All families, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, have access to safe & affordable housing.”

 

“We have a vision for every child to feel the security of a safe, permanent home, and the ability, regardless of ethnicity, race, and identity, to feel celebrated for who they are and what they can accomplish.”

 

“We have a vision that all races should have equal access to services such as housing, food, and education.”

Telephonic Intake Discussion: July Community Meeting

Telephonic/Electronic Intake

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.

Concerns/Experiences

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.

Questions

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?

Going Forward

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.

Sign up for our email list to stay updated as the process moves forward.

 

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;

Re-housing for Family Reunification: a promising program launched in Philadelphia

This past June, leadership from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) attended the HFF Community Meeting (read the full blog post for more).

One theme that emerged in the conversation and Q&A was that frequently families complete a family unification plan, but unstable housing can remain the only barrier preventing family reunification. Race, class and poverty are defining factors in who experience unstable housing situations, and also who becomes involved with DCF and the threat of family separation. In February of 2018, one in four families living in the Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance shelter system had an open case with DCF.

A couple weeks after that meeting and discussion with DCF, Next City reported on a recently launched Rapid Re-Housing for Reunification program — the first of its kind in the nation. The program supports families who, if they had a stable housing system, would be reunified with their children in the next six months. Families pay 30% of their income toward rent and the program subsidizes the remaining rent for 12 months, making family reunification possible.

Programs like HomeBASE and RAFT offer short-term housing assistance to families in MA. However, only unified families with custody of their children qualify for these programs¹ — families whose housing situations are preventing family reunification do not. Therefore, Philly’s Rapid Re-housing for Reunification program is distinct in that it places priority on removing housing as a barrier to children reuniting with their families. While Philly’s program is small and in its early stages, the emphasis on the relationship between housing and family reunification has a lot of potential. What could this look like in Massachusetts? Race, class and poverty are integral to families’ experiences of housing instability, and Philly’s re-housing program rejects the notion that housing should prevent family reunification.

Authored by I.W.

¹ Note: With the exception of a fraction of RAFT funding earmarked for individuals

Recap: Conversation with DCF at the June Community Meeting

The Department of Children and Families (DCF)

This month Homes for Families hosted a Community Meeting where families, providers, senior staff from DCF and other members of the community came together for a conversation. About 35 people attended the meeting and much of the time was used for Q&A with DCF staff.

Thank you to the DCF staff who came to present and engage in conversation with members of the community, including a great presentation by Amy Mullen regarding DCF housing services and Health & Safety Assessments for families applying for shelter.

Amy Mullen, Director of Housing Services

Rebecca Brink, Assistant Commissioner’

The conversation/Q&A at the meeting touched on the broad nature of DCF’s work and what that looks like for families and children experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Below are some of the key concerns that came out of the discussion:

 

Health & Safety Assessments (EA Eligibility)
More than 60% of families applying for EA shelter cite Health & Safety as a reason for homelessness. DCF conducts Health & Safety Assessments to determine whether the family/children are at risk, and provide this information to DHCD for their EA eligibility determination.

Between July and March of FY ’18, DCF conducted 2,137 Health & Safety Assessments for families applying for shelter.

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51A’s

  • There was debate about how private 51A’s are, to what extent they “follow” families, and what the impacts for families are. It is unclear where 51A’s may show up on a person’s record, for how long, and to whom. Concerns were raised about the longstanding impacts 51A’s may have on families’ lives in areas such as housing, restrictions from becoming a foster parent, etc.
  • Significant discussion around how families can ask for support, and the realities they may face when doing so. Folks brought up that there is no clear option for families to ask for supports that DCF may be able to offer without having a case opened. DCF stated that when a family calls “on themselves,” if a risk is perceived, the worker will file a 51A.
  • Some shelter providers who attended voiced concerns about a new wave of pressure to file 51A’s even when the conditions do not warrant it, especially when the issue has to do with shelter rule violations.

In February of 2018, a point in time count revealed there were 973 families in EA shelter who had open cases with DCF. There was a total of 3,592 families in EA at the time. 

 

Race, class, poverty & DCF

  • Both DCF and attendees agreed that race, class & poverty play a significant role in who is targeted for involvement with DCF.
  • Many attendees were very concerned about situations where a family has fully completed every aspect of their family reunification plan, but is struggling to secure a stable place to live. The impact of race and class on housing create barriers to family reunification that specifically target people of color and extremely low-income families.
  • Attendees stated that the Department has a responsibility to explicitly address the role of racism and classism in their work with families; i.e. how housing instability and other realities that result from institutional and interpersonal racism and/or classism unjustly targets families for scrutiny and a very real threat of family separation.

 

Mental Health
Questions were raised around how mental health is approached/perceived by DCF and what that means for heads of household who live with any kind of mental/emotional health issue.

 

Family reunification & the inaccessibility of programs like RAFT/HomeBASE
What happens when stable housing is the only thing standing in the way of family reunification?
More than one community member at the meeting voiced serious concerns around the lack of accessibility to programs like RAFT and HomeBASE for families who may not at that moment be in custody of their children — an unstable housing situation may be the only thing preventing a family from reunification with their children. The conversation focused on taking steps to create a process where families can access housing assistance when that can lead to family reunification.

 

Do you have questions, comments, or have a lot to say about DCF’s role in families’ lives and in shelter? Join Homes for Families at Visioning Day 2018 on Tuesday, August 14th in Worcester, MA.  

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Authored by I.W. & N.M., June 25th, 2018

Recap: May Community Meeting (Gentrification & Displacement)

Gentrification & Displacement

Big shout-out to everyone who came and helped fill up the room this month for our Community Meeting talking about gentrification, displacement, and the work being done in response.

Presentations and discussion with local organizers/advocates:

City Life/Vida Urbana
clvu.org

Boston Tenant Coalition
bostontenant.org

Chinese Progressive Association
cpaboston.org

Homes for Families considered it important to host a discussion around gentrification & displacement because of how related the topics are to the issues of housing and homelessness. These issues matter for the families that we serve and partner with; they affect families at the front and back door of shelter; and they affect families with and without subsidies.

Themes & ideas that came to light in the discussion:

  • On anti-displacement organizing:
    • Protecting families from displacement impacts the larger community and it is the moral thing to do.
    • Informing tenants of legal rights is important, but often legal rights are not enough.
    • Being there at the right moment can mean saving somebody’s home.
      • So many people in so many communities are facing the same thing:
        “Because we don’t speak, they get away with it.”

    • City Life/Vida Urbana shared examples of successful organizing to keep people in their homes and their communities in the face of gentrification/displacement pressures.
  • Rent regulation was a recurring theme:
    • With such widespread recognition of the housing affordability crisis, why is there no serious discussion of rent regulation?
  • People spoke on the importance of uniting people around the commonalities that exist between people’s different situations.
  • Incremental policies/policy changes at the City of Boston level, and the state, are being advocated for to minimize the impact of gentrification and displacement
    • The City’s Office of Housing Stability
    • Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)
    • Short-term rental regulations (e.g. Air BnB, happening at City & State levels)
    • Jim Brooks Stabilization Act
  • Emphasizing community/consumer leadership and involvement in policy initiatives, such as small group discussions as public testimony around AFFH.
  • Local policy action can influence/put pressure on other localities and the state to take similar actions.
  • “[Anti-displacement] isn’t about concentrating poverty — it’s about building community.”

 

Questions? Comments? Let us know on twitter, facebook, or email us at iwhitney@homesforfamilies.org

 

REMINDER——-

CHANGE OF LOCATION: The June meeting with DCF will be at ABCD, Cass Room, 3rd Floor, 178 Tremont St.

 

Authored by I.W., May 10th, 2018

Putting Survey Data Into Practice: Part 5, Housing & Homelessness History

“If the providers understand the family’s perspective on things, they
are better able to help, are more sympathetic, and the family’s needs
can be better met.” 

— Homes for Families Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT) Member, 2017

In September of 2017, HFF released a full report on Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts. We are continuing to explore and build off of the survey data used in that report, and one way we are doing this is with this blog series, a continuation of the “Putting Survey Data Into Practice” document released in January. The series incorporates the perspectives of families and providers in relation to key data points, and works towards solutions for families and family-centered care.

Stay tuned every Monday in April at 10am for a new (coffee break) installment of this blog series!

Housing & Homelessness History

Important points from the survey results (page numbers correspond to the full report):

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We wanted to hear from families! What would be some of the best approaches to address trends in housing and homelessness history for families experiencing homelessness? The HFF Consumer Advocacy Team (CATs) shared their reflections, summarized here:

Where do we need to focus our attention to prevent homelessness and better understand multi-generational cycles?

  • Focus on families that are struggling with domestic violence (DV).
  • Improve access to the necessities for housing stability and economic stability (affordable housing; access to jobs; access to child care; education, etc.). 
  • Effective and sustained stabilization services are essential to prevent homelessness, as well as to prevent multi-generational cycles of housing instability and homelessness. This should include supports for emotional and medical stability.
  • Stabilization, stabilization, stabilization!

 

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This post authored by I.W. & N.M.