Putting Survey Data Into Practice: Part 1 Health and Wellness

“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.

Health & Wellness

Important points from the survey results:

  • Mental health is captured as a contributing cause of homelessness
  • A high percentage of parents reported their health and stress got worse after entering shelter.

Slide 8_REFACT

We wanted to hear from families! What would be some of the best approaches to address families’ health and wellness needs while experiencing homelessness? The HFF  Consumer Advocacy Team (CATs) shared their reflections, summarized here:

How can programs move toward addressing clinical needs?

  • Assessments—identify mental health needs and provide early support before homelessness, or challenges following homelessness, occur.
  • Front-door assessments are an opportunity to identify whether or not mental health may have been a contributing cause to a family’s displacement, and providing supports early on if they are necessary. 
  • Provide childcare to families—some are unable to receive proper care without it.

How can serving mental and emotional health needs be built into practice?

  • Recognize the different practical needs that families face compared to individuals—families should not have to choose between their health and their children. 
  • Trauma-informed care, a better understanding of the health issues associated with families being displaced; providers should have easy access to training, resources, and connections to health centers. 

How can we create a system that allows for greater flexibility and more specialization of services?

  • Find support early on, and do so through intake assessments to avoid making assumptions about a family’s specific needs. 
  • Staff training in specialty areas that address the different challenges families may face (domestic violence, substance abuse, etc.). 

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


MRVP Cookie Day 2018

Once again Homes for Families & partners rocked the house in the name of MRVP (Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program). The spirit of advocacy filled the air and halls of the Massachusetts State House as families, providers, and advocates raised awareness and demanded housing.


Representation from across the state from more than 200 folks with a shared message made MRVP Cookie Day an event that unified everyone who was participating. More than 100 attendees hand-delivered messages to their legislators for increased funding for MRVP. This day of action is one that has a history of significant positive impact and could potentially, once again, have an important impact on this year’s state budget by way of increased investments to MRVP.

Chairman Honan and Chairman Boncore, co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Housing and co-sponsors of Cookie Day, began the day by emphasizing the importance of MRVP and the power of families’ stories for affecting change.

“There’s no one here who knows the significance of MRVP more than the families who use it.”

-Chairman Honan

“There’s nothing that means more to me than the individual stories of families who have been helped by MRVP.”

-Chairman Boncore

We were joined by Commissioner Bharel from the Department of Public Health, who spoke about the relationship between housing and health, making a clear case for stable housing as the foundation to healthy communities families and children.

“The power of place, where we access what we need for how we live, matters so much.”

-Commissioner Bharel, MD, MPH


We heard from families who spoke to both the need for housing and the overwhelmingly positive impact that being housed provides.

The first family shared a powerful picture of what it means to be a survivor of domestic violence, trying to run with absolutely no where to go because housing is inaccessible and unaffordable, what that instability has done to her family and how an MRVP voucher could move her and her children from a place of trauma and devastation to a place of safety, security, and wellness.

“As for me I don’t know what I’m going to do…getting completely housing stable or becoming homeless again mean two drastically different things for my family. I cannot handle the thought of the three of us bouncing around or being in shelter.”


The second family was an inspiration to us all as she shared her message of hope after housing. Meshell’s recent move into permanent housing meant that her son, who suffers from a list of chronic conditions, finally has a space that is customized to his health needs and the type of round-the-clock care that he needs. In her update Meshell shared that, as a result of her new living conditions, her son is showing major improvements to his development. Meshell also shared how now that she is housed, she will be able to return to school in the fall to pursue a psychology degree.

“I can actually set aside time to work on myself. My main areas of focus now that housing is all set are education, financial stability, and self care…but, I also feel that it is really important to recognize that thousands of families have been shut out of this same kind of opportunity because they cannot access a housing subsidy.”


The Big Cookie, which Homes for Families has given for nearly a decade with the purpose of recognizing partners & elected officials who have shown themselves to be champions in their commitment to ending family homelessness, was awarded to Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay for her efforts and gains in the work to end family homelessness across the state.


A big thank you to everyone who attended Cookie Day, including:

More than 50 parents and children

More than 80 shelter provider staff

14 State Senators and Reps or their staff

Our speakers:

            Rep. Kevin Honan

            Sen. Joe Boncore

            Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH



            Outgoing Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay

Resource fair contributors:

            Casa Myrna

            Children’s Health Watch / Witness to Hunger

            Jane Doe Inc.



Promising Practices for Addressing A Fear Inducing Federal Policy Climate

Image result for immigration photoAt Homes for Families we look to families and the provider community to name the problems that perpetuate family homelessness and work with us to identify the solutions. Over the past year, family shelters in Massachusetts have been confronted with responding to a fear-inducing federal policy climate that is a continual threat to the families they serve, and the livelihoods of many of their staff as well. This is especially the case among immigrant families or families with members of varied immigrant statuses. In response to this challenge, we created a tool with promising practices and tips on how to respond to the federal climate we are operating within with a focus on immigrant populations.

Addressing Fears Amidst An Anti-Immigrant and Harmful Federal Policy Climate: Tips and Ideas for Family Shelter Practice

We hope providers find this tool insightful, as it showcases some of the innovative practices happening across the state currently. We welcome families to share their insights and providers to share other practices we have yet to capture!


Director of Operations and Member Engagement

January Community Meeting

Families, EA providers, and community members came together this month to talk about children’s issues:


One fifth of families who participated in the Family Survey had children with NO regular access to a primary care provider (PCP).

More than half of these children had no PCP at all.

Source: HFF Family Survey, see full report here

Maria Mossaides, the Child Advocate of Massachusettsshared what the quasi-public Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) does to serve children in the Commonwealth. She described some of the challenges that OCA faces in ensuring children receive all the services they need, as well as opportunities for better cross-agency collaboration.

Keith Chappelle, Policy Analyst from Children’s Health Watch (CHW), shared some of the research that CHW has done showing how homelessness affects young children.

Research shows homelessness is the “tip of the iceberg.” Food insecurity and energy insecurity often accompany housing insecurity—all of which seriously affect families and children. 

What issues for children experiencing homelessness stuck out to families and providers at the meeting?

  • Switching schools
  •  Immigration + TPS
  •  EA rules and regulations regarding parenting
  •  No services, lack of supports while in transition
  •  Instability, different impacts by age / development
  •  Bureaucratic delays (i.e. for transportation)
  •  Play space limitations
  •  Responsibilities that are not age appropriate, secondary trauma
  •  Behavioral / mental health counseling, for children and family as a group
  •  Healthcare, especially consistency of services; immunizations, primary care
  •  Undocumented immigrants not qualifying for daycare vouchers
  •  Policies requiring job / employment prior to qualifying for daycare vouchers
  •  Inconsistency across systems and regions for head start / early education
  •  Understanding availability / accessibility of resources
  •  Emotional / psychological well-being
  •  Lack of services for pre-teens & teens

How can cross-agency collaboration on children’s health, services and education be improved? 







Reminder: there is no February Community Meeting—Cookie Day is Wednesday, Feb. 7th!

Join us for the next Community Meeting on March 14th, 11am to 1pm in the first floor conference room at 14 Beacon Street, Boston MA— all are welcome! 

Family Shelter Scattered Site Report

We are excited to release our Scattered Site Brief, a report presenting promising practices and policy recommendations around this Emergency Shelter Assistance (EA) model. We created the brief in partnership with EA providers. It includes family voice and a variety of types of data from providers. Note there is a tool in the Appendix meant to facilitate provider assessment of their practices in relation to recommendations in the report.

We welcome reactions, comments and feedback on the brief, as well as experiences and ideas from families and staff relative to the scattered sites.

Click here to link to the report.

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 


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:


(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:


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


  • 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:




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