Nilaya Montalvo, HFF Deputy Director, honored with the 2018 Community Engagement Award from CHAPA.

On December 4th 2018, Nilaya stood before approximately 1,200 leaders in the housing industry to accept  the 2018 Community Engagement Award from the Citizen’s Housing and Planning Association (aka CHAPA). The award was presented by Sr. Margaret Leonard, the legendary former director of Project Hope and one of the founders of Homes for Families, and by Libby Hayes, who has worked in partnership with Nilaya at HFF for over a decade. Upon accepting the award, Nilaya shared brief remarks:

I cannot thank you enough, especially since so many of you have worked alongside me on so much of the work that I am being recognized for! Mami, Cari, Jessy – thank you

What I have done is not extraordinary,

I know this because every time I meet a family who is struggling to beat back oppression…struggling to shelter their children from the elements…… from systems, from injustice….. I am reminded exactly what extraordinary is.

I want to wholeheartedly appreciate the recognition for my work, while at the same time I want to share this recognition with all of the, moms, dads , grandmothers custodial guardians that swim against the tide in an effort to protect and stabilize their families

I want to share this recognition all of the children who are faced with constant change and uncertainty that is brought on by simply being poor or housing unstable.  I wake up with them in my heart, the astronomical cost of housing is not their cross to bear and yet here we are.

In my tradition, to show support or solidarity with anyone who is oppressed, marginalized or in need, is not extraordinary but necessary for society as a whole. We understand that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Thank you and lets continue to take care of each other.

In the words of a member of the HFF Consumer Advocacy Team,

“Nilaya – Thank you for being the light and force we need in this world to be reminded of our own power and voices.  Your love for the truth is the epitome of a revolutionary!”

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Hunger and Homelessness Awareness at this Month’s Community Meeting

For November’s Community Meeting we came together to learn about and discuss how to oppose the Trump Administration’s proposed rule regarding immigrants and public charge, including its chilling impact on families’ desire to access important food and nutrition programs. Representatives from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute gave an informative presentation. We also learned about the food, nutrition, shelter and stabilization-related services at Action for Community Based Development (ABCD).

We would like to share some of the poignant quotes from our meeting:

“It’s a blatant scare tactic, preventing people to go [access supports] they can get, such as housing.”

“I fear working at a shelter and people not wanting to apply for SNAP and other services because of the fear which creates more food scarcity.”

“With our state laws, if [families] apply for EA and they cannot get housing, what will be their pathway [out of shelter]; what would be next for those families?”

“If a family is not applying for SNAP, where is the money for the food going to be coming from? It’ll have to come from the shelter, food pantries, etc.”

“Families/people come in late [for a new placement], it’s dark out, they have no transportation. We have been working on keeping regular stalk of meals (mostly frozen) that will be brought to intake for the families. Providing them with welcome bags that include market basket vouchers”

There is a lot of concern, fear, and anger about how access to food, shelter and permanent housing would be impacted by the proposed federal rule. The fear that families are feeling is already having an impact. For more on the “chilling effect”, please see this recent report from Mass Budget. For details on the proposed regulation and how to take action, please see our previous blog post: Support Immigrants and What We Stand for as a Nation! And for more on ABCD’s services, please go here.

The main message for families: stay on benefits! Nothing can be used against any families as far as benefits they are receiving until 60 days after the rule becomes law (if we don’t stop it first).

We will continue to fight, with you, for improved access to food, nutrition and shelter for all. We thank our community of engaged providers and families, and urge you to submit public comment by December 10th. Please see our previous blog post for more, but for quick links, public comments can be submitted via Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition’s micro-site (MIRA is part of the larger Protect Immigrant Families coalition that is taking the lead on this charge and are a great resource as well). You can also submit comment directly through the federal government’s website. Thank you to our presenters for this month’s community meeting!

-Liz and Team HFF

Domestic Violence Awareness: Recap of this month’s community meeting

We share this post as domestic violence awareness month comes to a close; however our commitment to ending domestic violence, honoring victims and standing in solidarity with survivor continues

October is domestic violence (DV) awareness month, and we were joined by local DV organization HarborCOV to discuss safety planning and challenges for survivors of DV in the current climate (e.g. immigration).

Key Points from the Discussion

  • Participants shared feeling that state agencies and institutions don’t recognize abuse that is not physically violent in the way they need to (e.g. high standards of evidence like restraining orders).
    • In the EA system, decisions are made for people in DV situations – these decisions can be fast, ill-considered and lead to a bigger mess afterwards.
    • A lot of long-term state contractors toe the line, doing things in the interest of DHCD over families.
  • Housing and a safe place to go can make a real difference in survivors’ ability to leave abusive situations.

The Meeting
Jasmine Pérez-Pimentel, Director of Programs and Services, and Uma Venkatraman of HarborCOV shared first about HarborCOV’s approach to DV as a social justice issue and working for creative solutions for survivors. They emphasized the importance of a fully supportive approach working with survivors, without ever judging.

The group brainstormed what DV is and can look like, to highlight the many ways abuse can take place outside of physical violence. Threatening self-harm, attacking self-esteem, isolation, and manipulation are examples of the many different ways abuse can look. DV happens in patterns/repeated acts, represented in the cycle of violence –  different kinds of abuse (e.g. emotional, physical violence) all can go through the cycle of violence:

Cycle-of-Violence

Image from delaware.gov

Safety Planning

  • Give power to the survivor & know their priorities for safety
  • Keep parents with children (DCF)
  • Understand shelter is often not an option for survivors
  • In EA, sometimes couples with abusers are in shelter together
    • Separate case managers for each person in a couple is something some providers are doing to build trusting relationships and to be able to really know families to be able to advocate for them.
    • Sometimes it can be difficult to tell who is the abuser and who is being abused.

Immigration

  • Two options to know about for people with different immigration statuses:
    • VOWA – self-petition option
    • UVISA – option for some victims of crimes, including DV
  • EA providers in the room were adamant about more trainings for staff around ICE and the current climate.
    • One important tip HarborCOV offered: look into options around marking certain spaces as private, there is potential to limit ICE’s access to these spaces.
  • Evictions because of DV are illegal in MA, but people with undocumented status are at risk of being exploited in this way.

Additional Resources

Support Immigrants and What We Stand For As a Nation

Homes for families opposes any and all attacks on the undocumented and their children. We believe that housing, food and healthcare are human rights. Status and citizenship should not be weaponized and used to deny children & families access to what they need to survive.

 

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that, if it becomes law, will make it more difficult for many immigrants to obtain a green card or to enter the United States.  The proposal is a contradiction to what we are supposed to stand for as a nation, as inscribed on the statue of liberty. Instead of being a place where liberty and freedom rings true for us all, this proposal is inciting fear among immigrant families, and would undermine the health and stability of valuable members of our Commonwealth.

The new rule expands the definition of “public charge,” giving the Department of Homeland Security more means by which to reject a green card application or application for admission to the country. The proposal would make income a more heavily weighted factor, where an income level below the 125% federal poverty level is heavily weighted as a negative factor while income that is 250% of the federal poverty level is a positive factor in public charge determinations. The list of what can subject an immigrant to a public charge process would be expanded and include federally funded public housing and Section 8 housing programs (state and local housing programs are not included). The other benefits that would be subject to public charge are cash assistance programs, SNAP, non emergency Medicaid, any benefit for long term institutional care, and subsidies under Medicaid part D.

The new rule would define public charge as anyone who is likely to become primarily dependent on government in the future. Individuals would be assessed retrospectively when determining whether they are a public charge. If the proposed changes become law, people could not be assessed retrospectively until 60 days have passed from date the law takes effect.

There are a lot of pieces to this proposal. For details regarding which immigrants would be affected and the full list of which benefits would be considered when determining public charge please go to the Protecting Immigrant Families website. You can also learn more about what “public charge” is here.

The proposal would make it more difficult for legal immigrants and their families to live safe, healthy lives. The income aspect of the proposed rule disproportionately affects black and brown immigrant people from obtaining visas and green cards, making this a racist, discriminatory policy that we will not stand for.

JOIN US IN FIGHTING BACK!

HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION:

  1. Spread the message that nothing has changed yet and if the proposal becomes law, it will take 60 days to go into effect.
  2. Spread the message that families should stay on benefits or enroll in benefits until/if the proposal becomes law. No benefits families have used can be scrutinized under the policy until after the 60 days pass, should this become law.
  3. Fight back by submitting public comment before December 10th. Prepare to submit comments in opposition to the proposal before Dec. 10th. Unique comments that describe why the rule would be a problem from your perspective are best. MIRA is tracking and submitting comments for folks as part of the larger PIF (Protect Immigrant Families) campaign working on this, so here is a link to their google document for submitting public comment. Comments can be made anonymously.

We hope you will take part in preventing this proposal from becoming law. Every one of our voices can make a difference.

Liz and Team HFF

References

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)

 

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; 

visuals_VDay2018-02

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

visuals_VDay2018-03

visuals_VDay2018-04

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;