Meeting Scarcity with Abundance, in Community

Hunger and homelessness are interlinked and the experience of both can lead to higher risk of family separation, being held back at school, experiencing higher health risks such as asthma, and developmental delays. National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an annual program to bring attention to these important issues.

Across the Commonwealth over 90,000 children live in neighborhoods where over 30% of residents have incomes below the poverty line. This means a household of four is using their income of about $25,570 a year to pay for the cost of housing, utilities, food, childcare, transportation, and more. These basic necessities are often put in competition with one another, as housing prices continue to rise.

This year, Homes for Families will be participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week during the week of November 16th to the 24th. We will be sharing important information on hunger and homelessness nationally and in the Commonwealth.

We are witness to the ways in which families experiencing housing instability and food scarcity meet these challenges with resourcefulness and resiliency, creating abundance in the face of scarcity. There are many examples of how family shelters, and community partners in Massachusetts do this with families as well. At our November Community Meeting we had a dialogue about just this and key themes emerged around the importance of autonomy, control and choice for families. Here are some of the examples of where scarcity in housing and food stability is met with abundance, followed by some opportunities to learn and improve when it comes to the family shelter setting.

Promoting Abundance in Community Done Well:

  • Donations when aligned with what families want: E.G. Asking for size, need, and following up to ensure need is met
  • Gift cards
  • Gift cards for teens and tweens specifically – gives control and autonomy for families to choose
  • Taking parent wishes, making it beautifully wrapped
  • Case manager collecting from families what is wanted
  • Asking families what food they want for the holidays and if they want to help prepare

Opportunities for Improvement/Lessons Learned:

  • The way staff receives donations- make sure it is family-centric and empathetic
  • Families to have increased involvement with which foods are available for greater cultural variety, for general variety in what is served- pantries to reach out to charities for support in meeting need for fresh foods, and a variety of foods.
  • Understand the impact of staff having toys visible- families will ask about specific toys; the impact of when families know what other families have received
  • Vetting sources of donations
  • Working on effectively managing and getting gifts out: The process, being understaffed, having few vehicles. Where could vehicle/driving donations be made by services like Uber/Lyft?
  • Giving throughout the year, and shelters using gifts as incentives.

Whether it’s through a communal meal, being surrounded by loved ones, or a warm welcome , when we find abundance through the support of community, so much more is possible.

-Team HFF

FY19 Data Info-graphics and musings with #MAHomelessness Data

We are patiently awaiting for the Emergency Assistance 4th Quarter Report to be posted on the DHCD website. That report will have the un-duplicated totals for the 2019 fiscal year, July 1, 2018 through June 30th, 2019.  In the meantime, we have been analyzing the June monthly report, which is currently posted online. The June report has the year end totals, but does not have un-duplicated numbers – this means a family that applies for EA shelter multiple times is counted as many times as they submitted an application. Once the quarterly report comes out, we will share more numbers and info-graphics…and in the meantime, we present the following:

 

Fig. 1: Applications and Placements

Please note, that this is the un-duplicated number. And for comparison – 8,145 applications were processed in FY2018, with 4,895 families entering the EA system. Over, 7,000 applications and 4,000 new entries per year is a very overwhelming number, especially when we stop to consider the humans and children those numbers represent.  At the peak crisis, in FY2014 -13,115 applications were processed and 6,562 families entered the system.

 

Fig. 2: Applications and Placement by Region

Data often inspires more questions than answers; there is a lot to consider here, including front door practices and regional differences. These rates have varied over time, but without knowing the reasons families are deemed ineligible, it makes it hard to understand trends, develop prevention strategies, and understand how to address unmet needs.

 

Fig. 3: Reasons for Homelessness – Evictions

The most common reasons for homelessness, per DHCD reports and how the data is collected, remain irregular housing at 41% of FY19 entries, and actively fleeing domestic violence at and staying in places not meant for human habitation – each at 16%. The reports parse out the Eviction categories, so the total percent (14%) or number of families (471) entering EA shelter as a direct result of eviction is easily overlooked.  This data does inspire solutions and helps makes the case for some of the initiatives before the legislature and municipalities. These include more funding for Eviction Prevention programs, including RAFT and TPP;  new initiatives like Right to Council and revisiting old ideas, like Rent Control and new imperatives like combating tenant blacklisting (read more here and here).

 

Fig. 4: Shelter Exits

A total of 3,090 households exited the EA shelter system in FY2019, this includes  – 445 households that “abandoned shelter”, 364 families that found other feasible alternative housing without any financial assistance, and 290 families on a Temporary Shelter Interruption. A total of 2,036 household exited shelter with the help of HomeBASE and/or another subsidy or financial assistance.  Only 674 households exited the system with a “permanent” subsidy. With the gap between wages and rent, exacerbated by the growth of the low wage job market and steep rises to tent, and the number of families entering homelessness each year, the number of subsidies must increase if we are to continue to make progress addressing homelessness in MA.

Graphics by Brianna Gaddy

 

 

 

DHCD posted an RFI for EA to inform the RFR. Wait…what???

Imagine a world without acronyms.  Let’s take some pause to explain what that means and give some history and context.

Translation: The Department of Housing and Community Development has posted a Request for Information relative to the Emergency Assistance Program to inform the Request for Responses, which is a bid or application for a contract and funding.

We should start with the question, “What is a re-procurement?” The answer, “to procure something again” is not exactly helpful, so turning we turned to Google:

procurementprocure

In this context, it is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, specifically the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), is seeking to obtain shelter units for families experiencing homelessness, to meet the state’s legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of children. Because the state currently has contracts with nonprofit agencies to provide shelter, this is a re-procurement.  It is an opportunity to re-contract – potentially funding new programs and ending contracts with others, to adjust portfolio size and program models; to make financial adjustments; and to introduce new program components, outcome measurements, and expectations.

The Request for Information (RFI) is a key component to the “especially with care or effort” part of the definition. This is when the purchaser (DHCD) takes the time to understand the needs and nuances of the system and the people it serves through a formal written series of questions. Potential bidders (shelters) and the broader community have an opportunity to respond the the questions. Responding to the RFI is not mandatory; respondents are not required to answer all of the questions. Responses must be made through the state’s bid solicitation system (CommBuys) and are considered public information.

Q: What is being re-procured?

The Emergency Assistance (EA) Program, commonly referred to as Family Shelter. This program currently contracts about $170 Million per year across about 50 programs to serve approximately 3,700 households per night.

Q: What are the steps of the re-procurement?

rfr steps

Q: When was the last re-procurement and what changes were made? 

The last procurement process took place in 2008 and the new contracts were implemented in 2009.  As part of the last re-procurement:

  • The Housing Assistance Program, which was responsible for prevention and housing search, was dismantled and agencies were given the flexibility to bring housing search into programs or contract with an outside agency.
  • Stabilization was added as a responsibility of EA programs, again through direct programming and staffing or subcontracts.  Prior to the 2009-2019 contracts, stabilization was not a requirement. Some programs had outside funding and independent programs, but many did not.
  • There were a few programs that were eliminated, a few new programs added.  The overall shelter stock shifted – reducing the number of congregate shelters and adding more scattered site units. Rates, staffing patterns and program sizes also shifted.

Q: What was the context then and what has happened since? 

  • Around the time of the 2009 Procurement, a Commission to End Homelessness released a 5 year plan that included broader systems change efforts and investments, primarily in prevention pilots.  The vision was that investment in prevention would lead to a decrease in homelessness, and the money saved from the reduced need for shelter would be reinvested in housing.
  • The recession and housing crisis hit soon thereafter, and homelessness across the nation and in MA skyrocketed.
  • Since the 2009 Procurement, there have been many policy changes and shifts including:
    • Transferring the EA and individual shelter system oversight from the Department of Transitional Assistance to DHCD
    • The HomeBASE program was launched, revamped, revamped, and revamped
    • More restrictive eligibility criteria was implemented
    • The number of EA shelter units expanded by approximately 1,700 units, including the implementation of the co-shelter model
    • Diversion by EA providers was implemented in the local offices, including pilots for prevention
    • There have also been shelter contract funding cuts and re-negotiations
    • Over the ten year period, the nightly census of families in shelter increased from about 1,700 families to a high of 4,800 (with 2,400 in motels) and has plateaued to about 3,700 families (with 32 in motels)

So, while a procurement is certainly a time of change, it does not preclude other changes after implementation.

Q: What changes are anticipated in this procurement? 

That is for all of us to influence,  and for DHCD and the Baker/Polito Administration to decide. Here is the statement from the RFI cover letter with DHCD’s vision:

DHCD envisions an EA system that prevents families from becoming homeless, safely shelters families for whom homelessness is unavoidable, works to quickly find stable and sustainable housing for families in shelter, supports families in their transition into the community, and connects families with the services and supports they need. Consistent with a Housing First approach, DHCD believes that families can best address their needs when they are in their own homes.

The document asks specific questions in the following areas:

  1. Respondent’s Background Information
  2. Prevention and Diversion
  3. System Connections for Families in Shelter
    • Mental Health and Other Disabilities
    • Employment
    • Length of Stay
  4. Portfolio Mix and Size
  5. Housing
  6. Post-Shelter Stabilization
  7. Data and Finance
  8. Other

The RFI can be accessed here. Homes for Families will be looking to our community to inform our response and encourage agencies and individuals to submit responses as well.

 

LH

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

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)

 

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

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):

PSDIP_part5-inline.png

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.