Maria Mossaides, the Child Advocate of Massachusetts, shared what the quasi-public Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) does to serve children in the Commonwealth. She described some of the challenges that OCA faces in ensuring children receive all the services they need, as well as opportunities for better cross-agency collaboration.
Keith Chappelle, Policy Analyst from Children’s Health Watch(CHW), shared some of the research that CHW has done showing how homelessness affects young children.
Research shows homelessness is the “tip of the iceberg.” Food insecurity and energy insecurity often accompany housing insecurity—all of which seriously affect families and children.
What issues for children experiencing homelessness stuck out to families and providers at the meeting?
Immigration + TPS
EA rules and regulations regarding parenting
No services, lack of supports while in transition
Instability, different impacts by age / development
Bureaucratic delays (i.e. for transportation)
Play space limitations
Responsibilities that are not age appropriate, secondary trauma
Behavioral / mental health counseling, for children and family as a group
Healthcare, especially consistency of services; immunizations, primary care
Undocumented immigrants not qualifying for daycare vouchers
Policies requiring job / employment prior to qualifying for daycare vouchers
Inconsistency across systems and regions for head start / early education
Understanding availability / accessibility of resources
Emotional / psychological well-being
Lack of services for pre-teens & teens
How can cross-agency collaboration on children’s health, services and education be improved?
Reminder: there is no February Community Meeting—Cookie Day is Wednesday, Feb. 7th!
Join us for the next Community Meeting on March 14th, 11am to 1pm in the first floor conference room at 14 Beacon Street, Boston MA— all are welcome!
We are excited to release our Scattered Site Brief, a report presenting promising practices and policy recommendations around this Emergency Shelter Assistance (EA) model. We created the brief in partnership with EA providers. It includes family voice and a variety of types of data from providers. Note there is a tool in the Appendix meant to facilitate provider assessment of their practices in relation to recommendations in the report.
We welcome reactions, comments and feedback on the brief, as well as experiences and ideas from families and staff relative to the scattered sites.
Families, providers, partners, and beloved members of the community… now more than ever, you are in our hearts.
In these challenging times we may find it nearly impossible to feel hopeful or inspired.
We may doubt whether or not we belong, we may even wonder if there is still good in this world.
It is in these moments that we must remind each other; it is in these moments that we must be the good that we wish to see… and it is in these moments that we can find inspiration in our ability to be resilient, in our ability to lift others despite our feeling down and out, and in our ability to insist on joy and unity.
At our last monthly Consumer Advocacy Meeting (C.A.T. meeting) our family consumer advocates took time to send light, love and hope out to the larger community.
The messages in these photographs are of letters / messages of hope to :
Our Undocumented brothers and sisters in the community
The world / global community
Anyone who is wondering if there is hope for us
This isn’t the first time we will be faced with struggle and it’s so important to understand that good things have come of past struggles… people have continued to smile, love one another and ultimately move humanity forward. Let us be the world we want to see, let us lift each other, let us inspire each other.
If you can say or do something kind for someone else … it may be just what they need & it’s certainly what the world needs.
Light and love from the Homes for Families, Consumer Advocacy Team
Data collected: In Massachusetts there have been 27 districts that have received sub-grant funding through the McKinney Vento Homeless Education Grant in the past two school years; their data-reporting is included in the following charts. In addition, roughly 97% of school districts without sub-grants reported for the 2016-2017 data, compared to roughly 93% reporting for the 2015-2016 data.
The following data includes students from Pre-K to 12th grade:
(Check the ‘Sources’ links at the end of this post for the full DESE data set tables.)
Of the 21,112 homeless children and youth reported for the 2016-2017 school year, their primary nighttime residence at the time of their initial identification varied:
For the 2016-2017 school year in Massachusetts public schools:
The statewide total of homeless children and youth has leveled off since the previous school year, but still is over 8,000 students higher than in 2009-2010
More students are doubling-up than are in shelters
While less students are in hotels / motels, the numbers of those who are in shelters, doubled-up, and unaccompanied have increased
Some districts are experiencing very large increases
By grade level, counts of homeless students are…
down to 1,694 among Kindergarteners (from 1,917 in 2015-2016)
down to 1,809 among 1st-graders (from 2,020 in 2015-2016)
up to 1,417 among 8th-graders (from 1,320 in 2015-2016)
down to 1,873 among 9th-graders (from 1,962 in 2015-2016)
up to 1,329 among 11th-graders (from 1,127 in 2015-2016)
The increases in students experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts must be met with actions for more funding and for further collaborative interagency efforts, both for reconciling socioeconomic inequities and to collect and share better data on current challenges around and solutions to student and family homelessness.
-McMillan Ilderton Gaither
MSW Public Policy Intern, Homes for Families / Salem State University
The members of our Consumer Advocacy Team consist of advocates and activists against violence. The members of this group consist of survivors and allies; this group knows how damaging the impact of violence is on children, families, individuals and communities. We also know that there is power in healing, there is resilience in the spirit, there is something of immense strength and courage to be said for each and every survivor.
For Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2017 – and every day of the year – our Consumer Advocacy Team takes a stand against violence by denouncing abuse and the normalization of abusive behaviors and rhetoric while standing for safety, hope, and promise of a better tomorrow.
This is practiced by:
raising community consciousness about DV and how its impacts are wide spread and longstanding hurting not just the survivor but entire communities
creating spaces for safe, candid, often difficult conversations (sometimes sharing personal experiences) about safety, trade-offs , policies & practices that can help / hurt others on as they are faced with violence, abuse , unsafe circumstances or relationships
The Consumer Advocacy Team, worked together on this last poem as a group to share with others. In this poem, they share a message about what it means when we normalize abuse as well as what it means to find hope in each new day.
When you normalize abuse
You become an abuser and life is never the same again
But one soul can make a difference for another
Today is now and yesterday is a memory
Live for now and thrive to survive
Revive your soul daily,
Lean on the strength of the mountains
And the sureness of the sun
Meditate, breath, love, create
At our last Homes for Families’ Community Meeting we came together to focus on back-to-school issues. This included a comprehensive presentation from Sarah Slautterback from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on school based supports for homeless students and their families along with the rights and strengths of students experiencing homelessness.
All students who are experiencing homelessness and attending a public school in Massachusetts have certain rights. Homelessness is defined more broadly by DESE as compared to the definition used by the Department of Housing and Community Development when determining Emergency Shelter eligibility. DESE utilizes the definition under the federal McKinney Vento law, which defines anyone who lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing as homeless including those that are doubling up due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason.
The right to school selection and to remain in the student’s school of origin: Towards this end, the school must provide transportation to the school of origin (up to an hour away). Students have the right to this transportation through the end of the year during which they are housed, even if this means multiple years of transporting to their school of origin. If a parent does not agree with a school district’s assessment on where the student should attend school, the parent can appeal. Generally the parent’s decision is the final decision unless the Commissioner of DESE decides otherwise. No attorney is needed, but parents can certainly seek an attorney if they wish.
The right to immediate enrollment: If a student does want to enroll in a new school system, the only thing the school can require is emergency contact information. This emergency contact information cannot be shared without a parent’s consent. HFF tip: Ensure this sharing of information does not happen for a student you are working with, as typically this is published as directory information.
The right to participate in all activities and programs, including summer school: Such as alternative education, ESL, Title I, field trips, and gifted and talented programs.
Categorical eligibility for free meals being served: A few districts are doing dinner in addition to breakfast and lunch. Some are also packing backpacks on Friday afternoons with food for the weekend. Students experiencing homelessness have automatic access to all meals being served or food being provided.
Unaccompanied homeless youth can enroll with or without a guardian, have independent status for financial aid, and can apply to colleges and access career and college counseling.
Schools supplies including uniforms and basic school supplies must be provided by the school.
Undocumented students have all the rights of other homeless students; they cannot be asked for documentation information. All undocumented youth have the right to access any public education. If homeless, they can share that they are homeless and will be provided with the same access as any other homeless student. There has to be a court order or consent of a parent to release personal records that may include notes on the students’ immigration status.
The Role of the Homeless Education Liaisons
Every school district in Massachusetts (and across the country) has at least one homeless education liaison. Some larger districts have liaisons in every building. DESE encourages at least a contact person in each school building of every district.
Homeless Education Liaisons must:
Be able to identify homeless students in their school/district;
Make sure homeless families know what their rights are;
Make sure that students are accessing programs and that referrals to community resources are being made for mental health, dental, and medical services, etc. DESE strongly encourages liaisons to stay abreast of what is being offered within the community;
Engage families, including helping to inform parents about how to get involved in their children’s school;
Facilitate disputes around enrollment (and if a liaison has challenges with this, someone from the DESE compliance office will step in and facilitate the process with superintendents); and
Train staff in districts: Sarah has always offered to go in and offer trainings, but homeless education liaisons should also be able to do this on their own now.
For more information, check out this flyer. Please contact DESE at: 731-338-3700 with questions and for technical assistance for a family or student experiencing homelessness.
Trauma and Student Resiliency
We also discussed how trauma intersects with the challenges students and families face and how to build on strengths. Our group named domestic violence, walking to school while navigating gang territory, bullying, and periods of absenteeism as only a few examples of the added layers of potential trauma faced by students experiencing homelessness. The role of support systems, spirituality, and becoming involved in after school activities, especially those that can build on students’ interests and talents like art, sports, and theater, can be tools for enabling students and their parents to find community supports.
Join us in putting these important resources and supports in Massachusetts to work by ensuring that you or families you work with know who the liaisons in schools near you are and that you are in dialogue with liaisons regarding the needs of students and families in your community. Let’s ensure that the rights of all students experiencing homelessness are fulfilled and all supports maximized, promoting young people’s and families’ innate strengths and resiliency.
Liz Peck, Director of Operations and Member Engagement
Massachusetts is home to the country’s only statewide shelter system with a legal mandate to provide immediate shelter to all families who meet the strict eligibility criteria. TheEmergency Assistance (EA) shelter program is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development funded by state dollars and includes 52 distinct non-profit shelter providers. Homes for Familiesis dedicated to learning from the experiences and perspectives of families overcoming homelessness and family shelter community. As a part of that work, we embarked on a three year research project funded by the Oak Foundation. The research intended to look at the role and components of assessment, the range of shelter programs in Massachusetts, the experiences of families in EA shelters, and national trends and research to inform the next steps address homelessness in the Commonwealth.
Our research took place from 2014 to 2017. During this period, there were increases to the level of services in motels; an expansion of contracted shelter beds, the development of the co-shelter model; the restructuring and expansion of diversion practices; and increases to the benefit level of the HomeBASE program, and an increase in prevention funding and investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program. According to statistics from the Department of Housing and Community Development from January 2014 through June 2017:
the average daily caseload during this time period was reduced from 4,458 to 3,545, a decline of 20%
the motel caseload declined by 98% from 2,098 families to 46
the number of contracted shelter beds increased from 2,018 units in September 2013 to 3,682 in June of 2017, a total of 1,644 units were added, an increase of 82%
the diversion rate increased from 5% to 21%
9,140 families in shelters and motels were re-housed with the HomeBASE resource
15,484 families received prevention assistance through the RAFT program
Over 1,700 families in shelters and motels were re-housed with vouchers through the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
As the numbers and graph clearly indicate this was a period of tremendous progress in addressing family homelessness, especially when family homelessness in other high cost cities continues to rise (e.g. New York City, Washington, DC). At the same time the system is still serving more than double the number of families since before the Great Recession, about half of the families that apply for shelter do not meet the eligibility criteria, and thousands more families are facing housing instability. It is imperative that the system continues to evolve to address the structural causes and individual instances of homelessness.
Our research provides a pathway forward through a series of 4 reports. Each paper examines the ongoing crisis of family homelessness through a distinct lens; however, there are clear themes shared across the series. Common themes across the four papers include:
Structural Gaps: We must address the structural issues that have created this crisis, namely the shortage of housing and the widening gap between wages and rent. We know that housing is the foundation to stability and services and opportunities can create a pathway to success.
Children: There must be a greater focus on children. The safety and developmental needs of children must be an integral and core component of all policies, programs, and systems addressing the needs of families without homes.
Assessment: There must be an improved focus on conducting comprehensive, family-centered, and trauma-informed assessments. The pathway to stability and improved well-being for parents and their children begins with a solid assessment. Strengths must be identified and risks assessed, and reliable and valid measures used to effectively target service resources.
Data: Evidence based solutions are driven by data; data is key to driving policy decisions. To craft and implement policies that will make a real difference in the lives of families experiencing homelessness, it must be accurate, reflect their voices, and capture the full range of their experiences- from shelter through stabilization. In research, practice, or policy, family input and data are required for effective outcomes.
The first paper in the series was released in March of 2015.Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Practitioners and Policymakers takes a step back to look at what is meant by the term “assessment” and walks through tips and strategies for a meaningful assessment process. The paper highlights the critical need to include children in the assessment process and the imperative to use the data to steer policy decisions.
The second paper was released in June 2015, The Family Shelter System in Massachusetts: A snapshot of program models, service needs, promising practices, and challenges gives a general overview of the shelter programs across Massachusetts, with sections on system and family demographics, needs identified by providers and promising practices. This paper makes both programmatic and systemic recommendations, including issues around safety and program flexibility, a stronger focus on data and assessment, addressing generational poverty, cliff effects, and increasing coordination with community resources.
We are pleased to release the final two papers:
The third in the series, Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts: The Case for Family Centered Care highlights key data from a survey we administered with families in the Emergency Assistance (EA) program. The survey was developed with the guidance of the Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT), a group of parents who have experienced homelessness and severe housing instability and that are full partners in our work. Using a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach, a total of 117 parents were surveyed in the Springfield and Boston areas in motels, congregate scattered sites, and co-shelters. This paper provides a glimpse into families’ experiences within the shelter system and other systems of care and makes the case for family centered care as a model to best align family needs with service delivery. Click here the summary of the data.
The final and fourth paper in the series, Evidence Based Stabilization:A Solution to Reduce Family Homelessness inMassachusettsreviews national research about families experiencing homelessness and evidence based practices across the country. The paper concludes by recommending an assessment and evidence based stabilization model be implemented across the Commonwealth.
We would like to that the authors and researchers, Dr. Carmela J. DeCandia of Artemis Associates LLC and Marvin So, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Department of Housing and Community Development and shelter providers for their assistance in this project; and the staff, interns, and consultants who provided great support and leadership. We give special thanks to the Consumer Advocacy Team, and to all the families that participated in the survey and ongoing work of Homes for Families.
We look forward to our continued work to ensure the voices and viewpoints of families and shelter providers are heard and understood. We must couple those efforts with data to drive positive systems change and solutions. We welcome your reactions, ideas and feedback.