The wrap up as we envisioned it.

Our community certainly knows that things don’t always work out as planned. Visioning Day 2019 ended abruptly and a little sooner than we envisioned. We are grateful that the fire alarm was not indicating a real emergency, that everyone was safe…and that we still received stacks of input forms, ballots, and evaluations.

This is a quick summary of what we missed:

  • A report back of the participant feedback and questions for DHCD (we will work on compiling this information to share out)
  • A final question to the representatives from the Department of Children and Families and Early Education and share about their take on hope and responsibility
  • A quick overview of next steps:
    • Stay engaged on social media (twitter and facebook)
    • Look out for the 2019 Visioning Day Report
    • Invite us for shelter visit; join us at a meeting (Community Meetings are the second Wednesday of each month from 11am-1pm at our office)
    • Advocate!!! Right now our advocacy focus is to the Governor’s office and his cabinet and Federal Government
    • Advocate!!! Much of our advocacy will be focused on the State Legislature starting in January
    • We encourage you to act local! Attend local hearings, meetings, protests…
    • Share your ideas, frustrations, successes with us and share information from us with your networks


And then, HFF Deputy Director, Nilaya, was going to give closing remarks and turn it over to Jonathan Burke, the Afro Cuban Cultural Arts Educator who facilitated the Reclaiming our Time: Dance, Joy, and Resistance breakout group.  Instead, Jonathan led some dancing and clapping on the sidewalk to close us out.

Below is an exert from Nilaya’s planned remarks:

I wonder if Visioning Day provided some space in our minds and hearts for hope and possibilities.

I wonder if after seeing the size of the crowd the room made it clear that none of us are on this journey alone.

I wonder if the conversations you participated in rejuvenated your spirit even just a little bit.

I wonder if you left feeling feel a renewed sense of strength and purpose.

HOPE  is necessary, hope feeds our spirits and allows for us to continue in a forward motion.

Hope is essential, that said hope alone will not house families.

We need to act, we need to see ourselves as part what  is necessary to bring about change.

We have a responsibility to shift society until the needs of all of the people in our communities have their needs met and are stable and safe.

We have a responsibility to act.

We have a responsibility to show up for each other.

We have a responsibility to show up for each child and family.

We have a responsibility speak truth to power because silence is complicit.

We have a responsibility to educate our communities the fact that homeless families is not OK, and should never have been normalized in the first place.

We have a responsibility to recognize the humanity in each other & collectively insist and demand the right of each family to have a place to call home.

Thank you for joining us; for giving us hope. And thank you for your continued engagement and taking responsibility with us to achieve justice and homes for all. 

– Team HFF

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!



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; 


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



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. 


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.”

You Don’t Have to be Fearless to be Brave

As Visioning Day neared, we recognized that we had a huge responsibility  to recognize and name the harsh realities, fears and concerns in this tumultuous climate faced by our families and providers as they work to build from the ground up.  We named these fears concerns and realities:

We are going to name some things here and now. The purpose is not to bring your spirits down but to Acknowledge & recognize the fears & concerns being carried by the all of us, by our friends and families, by the people and communities most vulnerable with the new heightened sense of pro rich /anti poor sentiment and political climate. History has taught us that simply looking away, will not make anything especially anything oppressive simply go away and so we have decided to try to be brave like you and name some of these fears and concerns .

To be quite honest, HFF does not have the answers for some of these serious fears, necessary questions that have surfaced this year, but we hear you and that matters because we carry with us…. your voice , your views, your lens….. at every table we join as we ask questions , provide answers and seek solutions

Here are some of the concerns we heard over the past year:

  • Displacement, rent hikes, gentrification seem to be happening at a faster pace than ever and communities that used to be affordable are changing quickly and becoming unrecognizable. For those who may be familiar with the effects but not the term, gentrification is when your neighborhood changes before your eyes, you can no longer afford to live there and you suddenly become the stranger in a strange place that you used to call home.
  • There are lots of concerns about what Federal cuts to housing coupled with gentrification and the privatization of public housing will mean for those who are already experiencing homelessness or housing instability
  • There are lots of notable concerns around the conservative direction in which Congress seems to leaning. Are the people in Congress, that understand the threats to housing, able to fight hard enough to prevent housing from slipping through the cracks?
  • Families recently describe the current climate under this administration as unmistakably pro-rich
  • We have heard that existing tenants in housing programs and subsidized units, are already seeing changes to the way housing authorities and property management companies , recertify, screen for income and carryout policies describing this new process as even more microscopic and screen out than prior years.
  • There are questions about implementation and honoring of tenants rights.
  • At a time when hate & discrimination are extremely visible and in some cases seemingly permissible, will tenants soon be faced with federal and local laws that seek to protect or fail to address landlords who discriminate against low income families, large families, undocumented families, people of color, LGBTQ communities.
  • How will fed cuts eventually trickle down to impact local and state responses to homelessness?
  • Will the length of stay in shelter shoot up (further) with the cuts to housing that already is too little to meet the demands of the population?
  • The opioid crisis is a threat to housing and family stability – how are these 2 things being addressed as such.
  • Providers and families expressed concerns and anxiety tied to the reliance on short term subsidies (Home base) being the primary tool that we have to respond to such a massive housing stability crisis that requires longer term solutions.
  • Providers have not been shy in expressing their shared concern with families faced with issues tied directly to immigration status.
  • There have been concerns about what families and providers describe as in increase to the number of families being separated by DCF.

Providers are working alongside families in this same uncertain climate, with many of the very same concerns and feelings of being overwhelmed while trying to do what’s best.

None of you are alone; none of you are wrong for feeling this way and all of you are strong for pushing forward anyway.

You don’t have to be fearless to be brave especially in times like these.  In fact our concerns and conversations about our fears will keep us on target, united and relentless as we fight with a sense of urgency for what is right.

As I mentioned this is heavy stuff, not neatly packaged or processed but know this

We hear you and we carry with us your voice, your views, your lens.

We also knew that despite the challenges and barriers, our spirits are resilient and we are pushed forward by the beliefs that we hold onto, hope and possibilities offered to us by tomorrow. We named that as well:

Your good intentions brought you here today; look to someone else and repeat after me, “Thank you for being a part of this special day”

No one here today is alone, look to each other and repeat after me, “I am with you”

If you have ever been shut down, turned away, or silenced – we see you and we hear you, repeat after me, “My voice is valuable and my opinion matters”

Some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I radiate love, peace, and happiness.”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I know that we will make a difference together”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I have your back, let’s do this”

– Nilaya Montalvo, Director of Leadership & Community Building

#WayBackWednesday, when we honored leadership at #VisioningDay 2016

On the eve of #VisioningDay 2017, we are looking back to last year’s event where we honored long time Policy Director, Diane Sullivan, with an Inspiring Leadership Award.  As Diane transitioned to new endeavors, she joined us to raise her voice at the Homes for Families podium and accept the award.  Her remarks, as always were passionate and inspirational, and also capture what is HFF , Visioning Day, and the movement to end homelessness.

To get everyone in #VisioningDay spirit, we are sharing her remarks today:

Thank you the Homes for Families Board, the Consumer Advocate Team and of course the incredible HFF staff . I am truly humbled. So, I’ll accept this on your behalf, Homes for Families, because you inspire leadership in so many ways. From the battles to the scars, the sweat and the tears, the jokes and the cheers. Homes for Families, you’ve inspired it all.

More than a decade ago, a sudden job loss, along with the rising costs of housing, utilities, child care, food…I became homeless with my family. Of course that’s the 2 second summary of a much broader and painful story, but after 2.5 months living in a hotel, we were transferred to a local shelter where I was first introduced to HFF.

I sat among other parents experiencing homelessness, shelter providers, community members and elected officials. Parents shared their stories of how they became homeless – and their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. And the work they were putting in to get there. And there, something started to make sense to me – that absolutely none of this makes sense to me. And I was inspired – inspired to pose a question to the elected officials who sat before us.

How do you justify spending so much money warehousing children in hotels and motels rather than investing in homelessness prevention and affordable housing options for them? I wasn’t expecting a response. Because there simply is no answer.There is no justification – because homelessness is not just.

Later that year, I began working as an eviction prevention specialist in Boston. I guess I figured that if I couldn’t save my own children from the hardships of homelessness, perhaps I could help others avoid the trauma. I began attending various HFF events – legislative breakfasts, community meetings, and of course, Visioning Days of years past. I quickly learned that Homes for Families provided a safe space for me, and parents like me, to share our stories, air our grievances while encouraging us to engage in open dialogue, focused on solutions. And I was inspired.

I later joined the Board and eventually the staff of Homes for Families, all of this about 10 years ago. That’s a long time. That’s a long battle. And I’m still inspired. I know we’re not there yet. I know many of you here today woke up in a state regulated shelter bed because despite the hundreds of millions the state spends on housing and homelessness programs every year, we didn’t reach you in time.

I also happen to know that the hundreds of millions dollars being spent each year on housing and homelessness programs represents a mere 1% of our state’s 39 billion dollar operating budget. A budget that is a statement of our very own priorities. One percent. We elect our state representatives and senators and our Governor into office. So, guess what? Ultimately, our state budget is a statement of our priorities.

Here’s my theory folks – want to cut down on healthcare spending? Invest in affordable housing so that we can rid ourselves of the physical and mental trauma caused by homelessness and the avoidable costs associated with their treatment. Or the further cost to humanity when they are not? Want to cut down on education costs for children who lack the housing stability that supports their success in school? Invest in affordable housing. Want to cut down on hunger so that families are not being forced every month to choose between paying their rent and feeding their children? Invest in housing.

Want to invest in jobs and economic development? Invest in housing. Want to invest in communities? Invest in housing. Want to invest in people? Invest in housing. Invest in affordable housing, so that we all, regardless our income brackets, have access to the very foundation that supports healthy families and thriving communities across this Commonwealth. And I know that you have the power to make your elected officials hear you too. You have the power to inspire them beyond that 1%.

Despite how uninspiring this world can seem at times, I hope that your involvement here today inspires you to turn your visions into action. And along your journey, I encourage you – to the best of your ability, to please look to yourself and each other for inspiration. It may be tough to see sometimes, but trust me, your strength and perseverance is inspiring to many into action here today and for days to come.

You do have the power to change this. You are the coalition. You are the movement! You ARE the inspiration. Thank you Homes for Families!

And thank you to Diane! We look forward to honoring our 2017 Inspiring Leaders and remain grateful for all Diane brought and continues to bring to the movement to end homelessness.


Visioning Day This Thursday!

We are busy gearing up for Visioning Day 2017 this Thursday August 10th! We are excited for this yearly event when we, in collaboration with key partners, bring together families experiencing homelessness, family shelter service providers, and policymakers to share resources, reflect, and articulate our collective vision for the coming year. In anticipation of the big day, here are descriptions of each breakout group. We ask attendees to select one break out group that they will participate in.

Visioning Day 2017 Breakout Group Descriptions

# 1 Self Care through Poetry and Storytelling

Presenter: Alex Charalambides-Founder, Managing Director, Mass LEAP

Summary:  This workshop will allow participants to explore the idea of sharing in a way that heals as they speak their truth. Storytelling is an effective way to share and work through experiences and trauma. While written testimony and unified messaging are powerful tools we can use to raise awareness and change policies and practices, this approach doesn’t emphasize the self care component. Homes for Families recognizes that raising awareness can mean reliving the triggers and challenges of surviving homelessness and displacement, and we wanted to offer a space for healing in your own words.

#2 Child Wellness

Presenters:  Dr. Megan Sandel, Boston Medical Center; Sarah Slautterback, MA Department of Education; Ileen Henderson, Bright Spaces/Bright Horizons

Translation will be provided in this breakout.

Summary:  The primary concern of any parent is the well being of their children.  Housing instability and homelessness can have impact on a child’s health, as well as their educational performance and behavioral and emotional well being.  We also know that with the right supports, access to services, and strong relationships, children who have experienced homelessness and instability are able to thrive and succeed on par or beyond that of their peers. This group will discuss systems and initiatives that already exist to support and respond to the needs of children facing homelessness and work together to identify how the various systems and community can do more to support parents and children to minimize the impacts of homelessness.

#3: Immigration

Presenters:  Jessica Chicco, DOVE Inc.; Ellen VanScoyoc, Central West Justice Center; and Collin Mickle, Community Action Committee of Cape Cod & Islands, Inc.

Translation will be provided in this breakout.

Summary: The group will include attorneys who each offer a different lens on addressing immigration challenges as they relate to homelessness and intersection issues. On the panel are presenters from a range of agencies including legal aid, community action, and domestic violence. We recognize the unique challenges that families with undocumented immigrants or members of different immigration statuses face. Through this breakout we aim to increase our collective knowledge of resources and supports for families and providers to address these challenges. The break out will include brief presentations by our panel, followed by discussion. We will share best practices and practical tools and tips around accessing housing and important related supports for families with members of varied immigration statuses, especially those who are undocumented.

#4: Landlords

Presenters: Danielle Lariviere, Central MA Housing Alliance; Tom Plihcik, New Lease for Homeless Families; Luis Arzola and Jose Cruz, Center for Human Development

Summary:  Landlords are a key stakeholder in our collective ability to manage and end homelessness.  We need good landlords for scattered site shelter units; for HomeBASE tenancies, for subsidies and for market rent, and to work with tenants and programs instead of evicting. As rents increase and the rental stock declines, landlord relationships are that much more critical. Short term subsidies, like HomeBASE, and state rental assistance policies can be hard for both tenants and landlords to manage. This group will talk about tenants’ rights, increasing access and partnerships with big property management companies, engaging community based landlords, and ways to support families and landlords to build positive trusting relationships.

#4: Workforce Development and Cliff Effect

Facilitators: Molly Richard and Julia Tripp, Center for Social Innovation; Marija Bingulac, Center for Social Policy & the On Solid Ground Coalition; Anne Bureau, Community Connections in Worcester; and Meagan Pedemonti , Way Finders

Summary:  Each year at Visioning Day, participants raise their voices for education, employment and training, and better jobs.  Homes for Families’ recent survey showed that 65% of families in shelter have work experience but primarily in jobs with lower wages and no benefits.  As parents increase incomes, there are policies that cut or lessen benefits, so that even though incomes increase, families end up further behind – we call this the cliff effect.  This group will talk about advocacy efforts and practices to lessen the cliff effect and support families to become economically stable as well as about trends in workforce development and training programs.

Liz and Team HFF

Of the 1,307 Amendments….

Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives proposed 1,307 Amendments to the House Ways and Means Budget Proposal. Today, the House is beginning their budget debate to determine which amendments will be adopted as part of the final House Budget proposal.  We invite you to explore the lists of priority amendments, and encourage you to continue to educate your Representatives on issues of housing and homelessness so that they can be active leaders in the debates. Click here for information on the process and how to navigate the full amendment lists and contact your Representatives. 

We pulled out a list of Amendments relative to the core principles identified in our 2015 Visioning Day report:

click on the picture to enlarge
click on the picture to enlarge

And here is a list of key Amendments that we are monitoring during the debate process; note that the amendment number and Representative names are hyperlinks:

Program # Sponsor Title Notes
MRVP 52 Paul J. Donato MRVP Funding
MRVP 1018 Sean Garballey Massachusetts Rental Voucher Technical Amendment Policy, data, administrative
MRVP 446 Bradley H. Jones, Jr. MRVP Voucher Management System Data
EA 754 Marjorie C. Decker to protect children experiencing homelessness Program Access
EA 1100 Danielle W. Gregoire Emergency Assistance Data and Reporting Technical Amendment Data
EA 66 Adrian Madaro Homes for Families HFF Technical Assistance Contract
HomeBASE 1102 Christine P. Barber HomeBASE Expansion, Renewal, & Forward Funding Funding, program expansion
Public Housing 1149 Russell E. Holmes Housing Authority Improvements Funding
Housing Court 15 Jay R. Kaufman Housing Court Expansion Program Expansion
Housing Court 18 Jay R. Kaufman Statewide Housing Court Program Expansion
Housing Court 1180 Chris Walsh To Fund the Expansion of the Housing Court Program Expansion
Child Care 1103 John W. Scibak Early Education and School Age Rate Reserve Funding
Child Care 878 Stephan Hay Early Childhood Education Workforce Payrate Funding
Child Care 1209 Jay D. Livingstone Early Education Quality Improvement Funding
SNAP/MassHealth 1041 Jay D. Livingstone Common Application Portal/SNAP Gap Amendment Technology
New Commission 1037 Gloria L. Fox Economic Mobility and Stability Program Commission/Study
EITC 747 Marjorie C. Decker increasing the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 23% to 50% of the federal credit Funding
EITC 751 Marjorie C. Decker granting victims of domestic violence and abandoned spouses access to the EITC, and EITC outreach Program Expansion
TAFDC 756 Marjorie C. Decker updating state disability standard Program protections
TAFDC 896 Antonio F. D. Cabral TAFDC Job Search Program protections
TAFDC 1152 Paul McMurtry Caring for Family Members with Disabilities Program protections

We thank all of the amendment sponsors and co-sponsors and the Committee on Ways and Means for their thoughtfulness in drafting the budget proposal. We hope that these amendments will be considered as part of our collective effort to reduce homelessness and promote housing stability and economic mobility in the Commonwealth.


Happy New (Fiscal) Year!

We usually ask you to look at the numbers- the number of families in the system, the number that marks MRVP funding…the numbers that make up the Massachusetts family shelter system.

But today- we are going to ask you to look at the pattern of these numbers. And then we are going to ask for your help.

EA Shelter Entries Recent
Data from DHCD

Non-profit organizations like Homes for Families see an increase in donations at the end of the year. Logically, people donate because the weather reminds us how tragic it is for families to sleep in places other than a home, it is the season for giving, and for other reasons that make sense to those donating. And that support is always appreciated. 

However, while organizations see a spike in donations- and even a spike in concern for the issue- during these winter months, the family shelter system sees a spike in families utilizing the EA system during the summer months. We have theories about why this is, of course: Landlords are more flexible during those unbearably cold winter months, relatives or friends that let families sleep in their house don’t want to interrupt the child’s school year, and funding for prevention programs is often depleted by the end of the fiscal year.

So instead of looking at the numbers, this time we ask you to look at the patterns. The graph above highlights families accepted in to EA during Fiscal Year 2014 and the majority of Fiscal Year 2015. The graph below shows that this spike is consistent over time.

EA Shelter Entries
Data from DTA

So as school ends and summer begins, we ask you to consider supporting Homes for Families at this critical time.

But this donation is not just a regular donation; all proceeds will go directly towards our biggest event of the year- Visioning Day.

Visioning Day is a one of a kind event that convenes families overcoming homelessness, shelter providers, and community members to reflect on the previous fiscal year and strategize for the new fiscal year.  And with more families utilizing the system when Visioning Day is held, it is incredibly important that we provide the opportunity to raise their voice to end family homelessness.

Visioning Day is a free event, it has to be. In fact, we give transportation stipends and free childcare to families and others in need of financial assistance to make sure there are no barriers to keep anyone from coming.

This year, we are providing the community with the opportunity to support this event. As you know, HFF relies on the voices of families to guide our advocacy agenda- and Visioning Day is where it all begins. Without that voice, we cannot stay true to our mission to ensure that families have a seat at the policy making table.

You have the chance to catalyze a unique event that ensures that HFF hears from our community- an event that ensures that all families have a say in ending homelessness. With your help, we can make that true. We ask that you make a donation to HFF, with 100% of the money raised going to Visioning Day costs.

Click here to make a donation through our Go Fund Me account.

Checks can be mailed to:

Homes for Families

14 Beacon St, Suite 615

Boston, MA 02130

Thank you in advance for supporting HFF and the mission to end family homelessness.

Visioning Day: Raising the Stakes

Homes for Families is excited to announce Visioning Day 2015!


We will be sharing more information as it comes, and encourage you to share this save the date.

But wait- there’s more!

 In efforts to ensure that all families have the opportunity to raise their voice to end family homelessness, Jane Banks, of the Center for Human Development, has put forth a challenge to all shelter providers in Massachusetts! Read her email below for details:

Hi everyone!

Visioning Day is just around the corner!

As some of you already know, I have a healthy competitive spirit and love a good challenge.

Last year the western region rented two buses to ensure we had as many families that wanted to attend Visioning Day be able to attend. Three of the four providers had families and staff ride together on the buses.


This year I would like to set the bar much higher and challenge all regions to rent 1 bus or 10 buses (or a small van) and BRING THE FAMILIES to the table!

It really isn’t that expensive and I’m pretty sure with all the talented leadership out there, you can figure out how to plan, pay, and motivate the families to participate and, of course get your staff on the buses as well!

We would hate to out perform you all again this year so… Pony up folks… Game on. Let’s see if we can pack the room with families on Visioning Day!!

It would be fabulous for providers from across the entire state to come together with the families we serve as a united force…motel families too!

No pressure! No excuses!!! We can do this!!!! We are of course, the EA Providers! 


As always, Jane makes a great point (with a smile!). EA providers prove every day that they can overcome incredible feats and odds to support support families overcoming homelessness–and this is one more way to support them. We encourage you to coordinate transportation for staff and families. Homes for Families relies on the voices at Visioning Day to guide our efforts, so it is critical that those voices are represented and heard.

To encourage this friendly competition, we created a map with the (5) distinct regions you will be competing with and against.


Feel free to:

  • Contact us with any questions or confusion regarding the contest regions and rules
  • Take a refresher course on Visioning Day by reading this blog post and last year’s report
  • Work together to make a plan on how to show regional solidarity at the event
  • Go back up to Jane’s email and click the Pony Up link. If you have ever clicked on one of our links, you’ll know it is worth it!
  • Consider partnering with us in sponsoring the day. We will be reaching out to individual organizations with opportunities for sponsorship, but feel free to check out and share our Go Fund Me page!

Be on the lookout for more information, we will share the details of the day and the registration page soon!

Thanks for all you do to support families across MA, and for all you do to support HFF!

Visioning Day Report 2014: Networks of Support That Treat ALL People With Dignity and Respect

networks fb pic

As our previous Visioning Day Report blog posts have highlighted, housing is the foundation to ending homelessness. But, we also need coordinated and systemic shifts in policies, programs, procedures and practices to achieve this paradigm.  Solving homelessness cannot be the sole responsibility of any one entity; we must have a societal accountability to ensure safety, justice and opportunity for all children and families of the Commonwealth.  It is through the connectedness- of people to programs; policies to procedures; resources to realities; data to doing; and systems to services- that we can have networks of support that treat all people with dignity and respect.  The specific recommendations for this vision are:

  1. Enhance coordination and implement complementary policies, practices, and procedures between state agencies
  2. Invest in technology upgrades to allow information sharing between shelters and state agencies, comprehensive data collection and reporting, and more transparent and accessible information for families.

Multi system coordination and technology were themes that emerged in each distinct breakout group and have been evident in each of the preceding summaries of our recommendations.  Considering homelessness with a cross agency and holistic lens- be it in policy making or practice- will present more pathways to economic and housing stability.  Using frameworks- such as the Full Frame Approach-will leverage individual social capital, peer support, and partnerships for problem solving.  Cyber networks and technology can allow us to connect and share information and resources in ways that are unprecedented. Policies must not be made based on perception or rhetoric, rather data should drive decision making.

On State Agencies

We have seen positive results from the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, especially in focused subpopulation initiatives and pilot programs. We need to build on this model of interagency collaboration. On a macro level- working across secretariats can glean conflicting policies; impacts of funding and spending across agencies; regulations that create disincentives, barriers and unjust sanctions; eliminate the cliff effect; minimize bureaucracy and duplication; and maximize efficiencies, resources, and effectiveness of state programs.  On a service level- interagency collaboration and coordination can provide opportunities for staff trainings (across state agencies and in housing and homelessness programs), less duplication of services, and more pooling of resources and wisdom.  Specific feedback at Visioning Day included more inclusion and coordination for solving individual and systemic homelessness with- schools, and early education and care programs, health care, the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Children and Families, and education and job training programs.

On Technology

Can we pause from this wonkiness for a moment to recognize that Facebook was invented in Massachusetts? And that we have some of the smartest students and computer technology professionals in the world right here in Boston? Yet, we seem to have such limitations with data systems, a hard to navigate state website, computer systems that can’t talk to each other? We can and must do better.  Maybe Zuckerberg can help?

Imagine going to the doctor’s office and if you had to provide all of your medical history every time you went- to the receptionist, then again with the nurse practitioner, and again with the doctor- and if after the nurse took your vitals, she kept that information and the doctor did it all over again. That is a little bit like what our homelessness and housing system does to families.  It is an inefficient and triggering. While there are confidentially issues to consider, attendees at Visioning day recommended a shared data base- like a Efforts to Outcomes, and a printable or accessible assessment a family could present at intakes to reduce the number of times they have to share their story.

The general sentiment was that we could be doing so much more with technology- to share information, to clarify guidelines, for applications, for centralized lists, to get questions answered, to learn about resources.

So how do we carry this vision forward?

How do we structure government oversight of homelessness and diffuse the urgency to solve the crisis across agencies and communities.  How can we create networks of support for families- in their communities and online.  How can we work collectively to ensure that families facing housing instability are treated with respect and dignity in the media, when they ask for help, and in their journey to stability?


Visioning Day Report 2014: To end homelessness we need housing, education, a living wage job and affordable childcare

We need FB pic

Some see homelessness is often seen as an individual failure, as something that can be avoided if better choices we made. .

We also believe that homelessness is something that can be avoided. We see that it isn’t the families that have failed, but the economy, the society, and the systems that are supposed to support them. However, we see what families go through, how hard they work, yet still struggle to achieve housing stability.  If you have housing, it means that many things are working in your favor.  If you are homeless, it means that many things are not.

The next of the recommendations contained in HFF’s 2014 Visioning Day Report point towards the vision and basic principle that we need housing, education, living wage jobs,  and affordable childcare.

The specific recommendations based on input from our Visioning Day Report are:

  • Create economic opportunities for extremely low income families through education and training programs, increased wages, and asset development.
  • Make deep investments in early childhood education programs, with simplified access and recertification processes.

It is crucial that we address root causes of poverty and continue to bridge systems and silos together in our efforts to end family homelessness.  On the funding priority ballot, Visioning Day participants ranked employment training fourth, education fifth, and education 6th. As for advocacy, participants ranked children’s issues and welfare reform fourth and fifth respectively. The call to address the cliff effect and  for more access to early education and care in the mission to ensure every child has a place to call home is loud and clear.

On affordable housing:

There is a severe lack of affordable housing across the country, and this is especially true in Massachusetts, which is ranked 6 out of 52* in two bedroom apartment affordability at fair market wage. The production of new housing units has slowed, resulting in an increase in housing value and rental prices. According to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card, “Unlike home prices in Greater Boston, apartment rents have continued to rise almost regardless of the state of the economy. With the exception of 2009, asking rents as well as effective rents (taking into discounts such as a rent-free month) have increased every single year since 2003.” Because of the high cost of living, “42,000 families applied for housing assistance from Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development in the last year” and “50,000 very low-income households are on the 5-year waiting list for the federal Section 8 housing voucher program.” Support for programs like Section 8 and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program are critical to close the rent wage gap, along with increasing the development of affordable housing so that all families have the opportunity for permanent housing. See our blog post “Housing is a Basic Human Right” for more information.

On education:

The “Massachusetts Legislature has cut spending for education and training for TAFDC recipients over 85 percent since the beginning of the last decade, from $53M in FY 2001 to $7.7M in FY 2014”.  Extremely low income families are more likely to have attained low education; 16 percent have not completed high school, and 34 percent have only a high school diploma or a GED. Because “the majority of jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage in Massachusetts now require higher education; by 2020, 72 percent of all jobs in the state will require at least some college education”, it is critical that we invest in low-income families to ensure that they have access to education that will enable them to work a living wage job.

On a living wage job:

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent”. “In Massachusetts, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $8.00. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment of $1252, a minimum wage earner must work 120 hours per week, 52 weeks per year”.  In addition, “the estimated average wage for a renter is $17.47. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 55 hours per week, 52 weeks per year.” With statistics like these, it is easy to see that low income workers are left with very little flexibility; they must make deliberate choices regarding how to spend their income, and because of high rents, lack of affordable housing and lower educational attainment and opportunities, it is no surprise that many low income families enter the shelter system.

However, as a state, we should recognize our efforts to improve the situations for low wage workers, and celebrate our successes. Each fight brings us that much closer to equality and a more just society. Paid sick days for low-income wage earners was just passed in the recent election- a huge step towards supporting parents in their efforts to balance work,  family and personal needs. The recent vote to increase the minimum wage reflects that the people of Massachusetts recognize and want to improve the current wage system. Governor Duval Patrick recently signed into a law a policy that will raise the minimum wage to $11/hour by 2017. However, this will not dramatically improve the situation for low income families because it is still not enough to make ends meet with the current stock of available affordable housing.

On affordable childcare:

According to Child Care Aware, “the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in center-based care is $16,430 in Massachusetts”, and for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) that service is $28,606. When “the cost of center-based infant care for a family of three living at the poverty level is 86 percent of their income”, and rent can be over 50 percent of a low income family’s earnings, families are faced with a choice: Do I work, or do I take care of my child? Any family can tell you that there is no right answer. Because of this dichotomy, low income families are required to rely on income eligible child care. Currently, there are 28,000 children between the ages of 0 – 8 on the waitlist for this service, and that number is a severe misrepresentation of the need. To put this into perspective- only 6.7% of children residing in the EA system are on the child care voucher waitlist, when 100% of them qualify.

Attendees at Visioning Day talked about the intersection of these problems, and what drives them.  So many of the benefits we offer are tied to the parent’s ability to work, when they should be tied to ensuring the child’s ability to thrive. There is no dispute when it comes to the importance of early education in a child’s life, and our policies should reflect what we know will make a lasting, permanent difference.

How do we push this agenda forward?

Homelessness is what happens when there is a gap between what a family has and what that family has to pay. It is up to us as a commonwealth to ensure that there are supports and programs available to fill that gap.

What can we do as a community to ensure that our systems are working together and not failing our families?