Graphics by Brianna Gaddy
Graphics by Brianna Gaddy
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:
There have been a lot of challenges that families are facing as well:
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.
Homelessness and housing instability can seriously affect a child’s education:
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 email@example.com.
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.
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
The Senate Ways and Means Budget was released on Tuesday afternoon. The budget proposal, entitled INVESTING FOR A RESILIENT COMMONWEALTH, begins with a message from Chairwoman Karen Spilka about resiliency:
Resilience is most often defined as the ability to achieve a good outcome in the face of adversity. Resilience can—and must—be built on a community-by-community and statewide basis, but there is no more important place to plant the seed of resilience than within our children. Strong, resilient children will grow up to be active contributors to a productive and thriving Commonwealth.
The Executive Summary gives an overview of the allocations by category with some of the reasoning of the committee:
Stable, safe housing is critical for family wellbeing and the physical, emotional and educational success of children. In line with the mission of the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget invests $441M in low income and homelessness programs to help connect individuals, families and vulnerable populations with housing and supportive services, key foundations for resilience at all ages.
And notes regarding specific investments or initiatives:
As recommended by the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget requires the Executive Offices of Housing and Economic Development, Health and Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development and Education to enter into a memorandum of understanding to identify cross-agency solutions to the challenges faced by low income Massachusetts residents at risk of homelessness.
Program funding is listed, by line item, in the allocation section. Below are the key programs impacting families experiencing homelessness, listed with the proposed funding level, language, and key amendments. We will compile a full list of relative amendments when they are filed.
SWM Proposed Funding Amount: $100,083,891
SWM Proposed Language: Adds reporting language and elimination of some technical changes related to program administration
Amendment: Housing Chair Linda Dorcena Forry’s amendment #779 proposed to increase funding to $120 million and make important adjustments to the program, including: establishing the Fair Market Rent (FMR) Cap at the current FMR; establishing a data management system; and mandating rapid voucher distribution. Click here for our MRVP Action Alert. Let your Senator know it is #779!
SWM Proposed Funding: $155,058,948
SWM Proposed Language: Includes language that families at imminent risk of homelessness would be eligible for shelter; increases advance notice language from 60 to 90 days; reduces reporting requirements
Amendment: Senator Jason Lewis’s Amendment #669 will increase reporting requirements to include the reasons why families are determined not eligible for EA and basic demographic information
SWM Proposed Funding: $31,943,664
SWM Proposed Language: Includes increased access to families in domestic violence and substance abuse family sober living programs
Amendment: Senator Sonia Chang Diaz’s amendment #426 will increase funding to $39,200,000; remove the funding cap for the expansion to domestic violence and substance abuse program residents and clarify eligibility for participants in those programs; and add language for voucher renewal
For more information on selected programs related to benefits, child welfare, housing and homelessness from Mass Law Reform Institute, click here
For a full analysis from Mass Budget and Policy Center, click here
Thank you to our partners in the advocacy community for this great work!
For tips of navigating the list of amendments, refer back to our blog post on the House Amendments; the Senate Amendments are a bit easier to navigate as they are listed by category.
And thank you, yes YOU, for your advocacy on these key issues!
Yesterday, the House Committee on Ways and Means released their FY2017 Budget Proposal. Representatives have until mid-day tomorrow, Friday 4/15, to file amendments.
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024)
The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funds MRVP at $100 million, which includes carry over funding unspent in FY2016. However, this funding level is not sufficient to cover the cost of new vouchers and needed program fixes.
Amendment #52 filed by Representative Paul Donato: increases funding for MRVP to $120 million. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.
Amendment to be filed by Representative Sean Garballey: aligns MRVP mobile voucher rent cap with current HUD FMRs, allows for a data management system and requires DHCD to begin issuing new vouchers. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact John Rosenberry in Rep. Garballey’s office.
Emergency Assistance (EA, family shelter, line item 7004-0101)
The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funded EA at $155.1 million and made no changes to eligibility for the program.
Amendment to be filed by Representative Marjorie Decker: allows access to shelter for families who are at imminent risk of staying places not meant for human habitation. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact Tim Mahoney in Rep. Decker’s office.
Amendment to be filed by Representative Danielle Gregoire: requires DHCD to report certain data tracking points to the Legislature, including basic demographics of families experiencing homelessness and reasons that families are denied access to shelter. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact Jennifer Mercadante in Rep. Gregoire’s office.
Amendment #66 filed by Representative Adrian Madaro: continues funding for Homes for Families to provide technical assistance. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.
HomeBASE (line item 7004-0108)
The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funds HomeBASE at $31.9 million, a slight increase over current funding. It also opens access to a limited amount of funding to families experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in domestic violence or treatment facilities.
Amendment to be filed by Representative Christine Barber: This amendment builds off of the pilot program proposed in the budget to make HomeBASE available to income-eligible families in domestic violence and substance abuse programs. The amendment also allows families to renew HomeBASE in order to avoid evictions, loss of housing stability, or the need to re-enter shelter, and the amendment continues forward funding of the program to the nonprofit organizations that administer HomeBASE on behalf of the state. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.
Earned Income Tax Credit Amendments Sponsored By Representative Decker
To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff should contact Tim Mahoney in Representative Decker’s office
Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) Work Study Amendment sponsored by Representative Sannicandro
This amendment provides $2.35 million to fund paid work study for families on TAFDC at community colleges and to pay for staff to help these students succeed in college.
To cosponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Becca Miller at Rebecca.Miller@mahouse.gov or 722-2013 by noon on Friday
Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (DWD 7002-1074) Amendment sponsored by Representative Wagner
This amendment to provide $4 million to support sector orientated workforce training that reflects best practices in workforce development including collaborations between employers, education programs and community based organizations.
To cosponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Rory O’Hanlon at Rory.O’Hanlon@mahouse.gov or 722-2370
TAFDC Job Search Amendment sponsored by Representative Cabral
This amendment requires proof of job search 60 days from application in order to be eligible for benefits.
To cosponsor amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Al Medeiros at Alves.Medeiros@mahouse.gov or 722-2017
Click on the Picture to Enlarge
Yesterday, the MA Legislative FY2016 Conference Committee released its final budget recommendations.
We have provided an analysis of our primary and secondary priorities.
Here it is in word form:
Governor Baker now has 10 days to take action by signing the budget into law, vetoing the entire budget or vetoing line items within the budget.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the significant restoration of funding to the MA Rental Voucher Program which would be funded at $91 million in FY2016. This will maintain the current number of vouchers in use and will allow for the release of approximately 800 new vouchers. Along with members of the Housing Solutions Campaign, we will be meeting with folks from DHCD next week to discuss and make recommendations for a distribution plan for these new vouchers. Click here to view a recent letter sent to DHCD Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay highlighting these recommendations.
Also of note, eligibility for Emergency Assistance (EA, family shelter) remains the same. HomeBASE funding was increased to $31.2 million, allowing for families to access up to $8,000 to assist with moving out of shelter. While funding for TAFDC was decreased due to a decline in the caseload, the clothing allowance was increased to $200 per child.
And here is the analysis in chart form:
We again want to take the opportunity to thank you all for your incredible advocacy work. Whether it is attending HFF meetings, coming to one of our advocacy events, or making calls and visits to your legislators, it is your work that continues to educate legislators on the importance of investing in policies and programs that support homeless and at-risk families. Please take a moment to celebrate these victories – we sure have!
Your advocacy work to date has us well positioned to see some significant funding increases and positive changes to programs that have a direct impact on families overcoming homelessness in the upcoming fiscal year.
But our work is not done yet.
We are submitting our recommendations to the legislature, and we need you to call your own Senator and Representative and ask that they support those recommendations.
Below are two charts- our primary priorities and our secondary priorities.
Please review and share with your legislators, your friends, your neighbors, and anyone else who has an interest and/or stake in ending family homelessness in Massachusetts:
We ask that you contact your Representative and Senator to thank them for prioritizing issues of family homelessness, and share with them our primary priorities, and any others that you may have.
Below is a sample script:
“Hi, my name is ____________________, and I live/work at ________________________. First, I would like to thank the Representative/Senator for his/her work to prioritize the issue of family homelessness in the FY2016 budget. To ensure best outcomes for children and families facing housing instability, I ask that he/she make certain recommendations to the members of the assigned conference committee:
Fund MRVP (line item 7004-9024) at the House recommendation of $90.1 million,
Fund EA (line item 7004-0101) at the House recommendation of $155.1 million while adopting the Senate version of language recommendations that allows access to shelter to otherwise eligible families prior to their having to stay in a place unfit for human habitation,
Fund HomeBASE (line item 7004-0108) at the House recommendation of $31.3 million while adopting the Senate version of the language that would reduce the bar from 24 to 18 months on access to the program for families who have been previously terminated and,
Fund the Homelessness Prevention and Stabilization Trust Fund at the House recommended $11.5 million
We ask that you share this information, and that you provide the supports needed to make our collective efforts to influence the final budget a success. As always, we will keep you posted on how much impact you have. Once again, thank you for your advocacy and support.
Step 4 of the Budget Process is led by the Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. Chairwoman Karen Spilka, of Ashland/MetroWest, is in her first term in that role. Chairwoman Spilka has been a leader on issues relative to human services and homelessness since becoming a Representative in 2001 and Senator in 2005. Her Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget proposal is reflective of her strong track record on complicated issues.
First, the Message from the Chair is titled, Lifting All Families, and begins with a line from the Massachusetts Constitution, “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people…” She goes on to say,
Lifting the Safety Net (Emergency Assistance 7004-0101):
provided further, however, that a family who has no other feasible accommodation on the date of application for assistance and who would otherwise spend the night in a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including but not limited to a car, park, abandoned building, medical facility, bus or train station, airport or camping ground, shall be eligible for assistance;
Lifting the constraints on housing assistance – Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (7004-9026) and HomeBASE (7004-0108):
Other items of note:
We have a small window to continue to read the fine print, outside sections, and determine what amendments may be needed to lift this proposal to an even stronger final Senate Budget. Subsequently, we will look for lead sponsors to file any needed amendments, then we will need your help in contacting Senators from across the Commonwealth to co-sponsor the amendments and be active in the debate. The debates will begin next week.
Team HFF is blitzing the MA State House asking our State Representatives to support certain amendments to the House Ways & Means budget that was filed this week. We have analyzed the funding recommendations and language, and are giving it our all to ensure the legislature is aware and informed of the programs and policies that work to end family homelessness.
And we need your help –RIGHT NOW! Amendments need to be filed today, and your representative needs to hear from you before 12pm.
Please take a moment to call your state representative. It is incredibly important that they hear from their constituents as they work towards creating the budget that determines how we approach family homelessness as a state.
To help, we created a sample script for you to use during this phone call:
“Hi. My name is and I live/work in . I am calling as a constituent to say I support the House’s recommendation to fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program- or MRVP- at $91 million.
I would also like to ask that the representative support several amendments that will also work to support families to avoid or transition out of homelessness:
As always, if you have any questions, please call us at 617.227.4188. If you are uncertain how to contact your representative, visit www.wheredoivotema.com .
We also want to acknowledge and thank our leaders for recommending $91 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) and for their overall commitment to ending family homelessness in the Commonwealth.
Thank you for your support and for your efforts as we work together to finally put an end to family homelessness in Massachusetts. Our voice in this process is necessary and working- and that is because of you! We will keep you posted throughout the process, and please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our blog for ongoing updates.
Viewpoints from Around the State: Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts
by Libby Hayes, featured in the Provider, a monthly newsletter from the Provider’s Council that highlights some of the biggest issues in the human services sector.
According to the 2014 report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, the number of homeless children increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013; there were increases in the number of homeless children in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The report also states that 1 in 30 children in America are without a home.
Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education identified 15,812 homeless students last year. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a 94 percent increase in the number homeless families in the Commonwealth from 2007-2014. The state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) program is currently providing shelter to approximately 4,460 families each night. We were battling the issue of homelessness before the recession hit. That issue is now an epidemic. An epidemic that can – and must – be solved.
Despite the daunting statistics above, the number of families in motels has been reduced from a high of 2,200 families in December of 2013, to fewer than 1,400 in March of 2015. This reduction is a result of a combination of efforts, including an expansion of the number of family shelter units. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the EA shelter providers have worked to implement more efficient and specialized program models such as co-sheltering, a shelter for single fathers and enhanced services for domestic violence and substance abuse.
Next, a pilot program was launched in July of 2014, placing EA providers in the five busiest shelter intake offices. The providers meet individually with eligible families, to explore resources and opportunities outside of the shelter system. According to DHCD data, the statewide rate of families “diverted” from shelter in January 2015 was 21 percent, a significant increase from the 5 percent diversion rate in FY ’14. At the same time, DHCD reports the total number of exits from the EA system has increased from a year-to-date total of 2,955 in January of 2014 to 3,696 year-to-date total in January of 2015.
The HomeBASE program has been a critical resource in these achievements. Investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Leading the Way Home Vouchers through the Boston Housing Authority, access to private developments through the New Lease Program, and augmented staffing in motels have all contributed the increase in the number of families exiting the shelter system. Building on these efforts will further reduce the reliance on motels and better support families to overcome homelessness.
The recently released On Solid Ground report outlines the economic context of the family homelessness epidemic – specifically exploring the issues of wage stagnation, a decline in housing production, disinvestments in family supports and fragmented public policies and programs. On Solid Ground calls for more coordination and accountability across all state agencies to better align policies and maximize resources and effectiveness.
Historically, homelessness has been looked at in one of two ways: through a human service lens or through a housing lens. We now recognize that we must look at housing as the foundation, and at human services, child care, education, labor and workforce, and health care as the materials needed to construct a future without homelessness. Resources are needed, and coordinating a holistic response requires leadership and vigilant tracking of data to evaluate progress.
Governor Baker has made family homelessness a priority issue for his administration. His FY ’16 budget proposal includes $20 million for a new End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund to be administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), but has also proposed further restrictions to shelter eligibility. Further restrictions are simply not tenable; already about half of the families that apply for shelter are determined ineligible; more than 600 families entered the shelter system in FY ’14 after staying in places not meant for human habitation. These are children. Blanket categorizing and excluding subpopulations of homeless families has never proven successful in the Commonwealth’s 30-year battle against family homelessness, especially compared to successful prevention and diversion models.
Thoughtful distribution of the Reserve Fund will be needed to avoid making the system more convoluted and confusing to families in crisis. While flexible funding has proven to be a useful tool to manage homelessness more cost effectively, it cannot solve an epidemic caused by larger systemic issues: a shortage of affordable housing and wage stagnation at our lowest income levels. But a focus on housing, children and providing the necessary opportunities and resources will do more than manage homelessness – it will end it.
-Libby Hayes, Executive Director of Homes for Families