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

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Recap: Conversation with DCF at the June Community Meeting

The Department of Children and Families (DCF)

This month Homes for Families hosted a Community Meeting where families, providers, senior staff from DCF and other members of the community came together for a conversation. About 35 people attended the meeting and much of the time was used for Q&A with DCF staff.

Thank you to the DCF staff who came to present and engage in conversation with members of the community, including a great presentation by Amy Mullen regarding DCF housing services and Health & Safety Assessments for families applying for shelter.

Amy Mullen, Director of Housing Services

Rebecca Brink, Assistant Commissioner’

The conversation/Q&A at the meeting touched on the broad nature of DCF’s work and what that looks like for families and children experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Below are some of the key concerns that came out of the discussion:

 

Health & Safety Assessments (EA Eligibility)
More than 60% of families applying for EA shelter cite Health & Safety as a reason for homelessness. DCF conducts Health & Safety Assessments to determine whether the family/children are at risk, and provide this information to DHCD for their EA eligibility determination.

Between July and March of FY ’18, DCF conducted 2,137 Health & Safety Assessments for families applying for shelter.

blog post graphic 1 june CM-01

51A’s

  • There was debate about how private 51A’s are, to what extent they “follow” families, and what the impacts for families are. It is unclear where 51A’s may show up on a person’s record, for how long, and to whom. Concerns were raised about the longstanding impacts 51A’s may have on families’ lives in areas such as housing, restrictions from becoming a foster parent, etc.
  • Significant discussion around how families can ask for support, and the realities they may face when doing so. Folks brought up that there is no clear option for families to ask for supports that DCF may be able to offer without having a case opened. DCF stated that when a family calls “on themselves,” if a risk is perceived, the worker will file a 51A.
  • Some shelter providers who attended voiced concerns about a new wave of pressure to file 51A’s even when the conditions do not warrant it, especially when the issue has to do with shelter rule violations.

In February of 2018, a point in time count revealed there were 973 families in EA shelter who had open cases with DCF. There was a total of 3,592 families in EA at the time. 

 

Race, class, poverty & DCF

  • Both DCF and attendees agreed that race, class & poverty play a significant role in who is targeted for involvement with DCF.
  • Many attendees were very concerned about situations where a family has fully completed every aspect of their family reunification plan, but is struggling to secure a stable place to live. The impact of race and class on housing create barriers to family reunification that specifically target people of color and extremely low-income families.
  • Attendees stated that the Department has a responsibility to explicitly address the role of racism and classism in their work with families; i.e. how housing instability and other realities that result from institutional and interpersonal racism and/or classism unjustly targets families for scrutiny and a very real threat of family separation.

 

Mental Health
Questions were raised around how mental health is approached/perceived by DCF and what that means for heads of household who live with any kind of mental/emotional health issue.

 

Family reunification & the inaccessibility of programs like RAFT/HomeBASE
What happens when stable housing is the only thing standing in the way of family reunification?
More than one community member at the meeting voiced serious concerns around the lack of accessibility to programs like RAFT and HomeBASE for families who may not at that moment be in custody of their children — an unstable housing situation may be the only thing preventing a family from reunification with their children. The conversation focused on taking steps to create a process where families can access housing assistance when that can lead to family reunification.

 

Do you have questions, comments, or have a lot to say about DCF’s role in families’ lives and in shelter? Join Homes for Families at Visioning Day 2018 on Tuesday, August 14th in Worcester, MA.  

Vday2018_SaveTheDate

 

Authored by I.W. & N.M., June 25th, 2018

Recap: May Community Meeting (Gentrification & Displacement)

Gentrification & Displacement

Big shout-out to everyone who came and helped fill up the room this month for our Community Meeting talking about gentrification, displacement, and the work being done in response.

Presentations and discussion with local organizers/advocates:

City Life/Vida Urbana
clvu.org

Boston Tenant Coalition
bostontenant.org

Chinese Progressive Association
cpaboston.org

Homes for Families considered it important to host a discussion around gentrification & displacement because of how related the topics are to the issues of housing and homelessness. These issues matter for the families that we serve and partner with; they affect families at the front and back door of shelter; and they affect families with and without subsidies.

Themes & ideas that came to light in the discussion:

  • On anti-displacement organizing:
    • Protecting families from displacement impacts the larger community and it is the moral thing to do.
    • Informing tenants of legal rights is important, but often legal rights are not enough.
    • Being there at the right moment can mean saving somebody’s home.
      • So many people in so many communities are facing the same thing:
        “Because we don’t speak, they get away with it.”

    • City Life/Vida Urbana shared examples of successful organizing to keep people in their homes and their communities in the face of gentrification/displacement pressures.
  • Rent regulation was a recurring theme:
    • With such widespread recognition of the housing affordability crisis, why is there no serious discussion of rent regulation?
  • People spoke on the importance of uniting people around the commonalities that exist between people’s different situations.
  • Incremental policies/policy changes at the City of Boston level, and the state, are being advocated for to minimize the impact of gentrification and displacement
    • The City’s Office of Housing Stability
    • Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)
    • Short-term rental regulations (e.g. Air BnB, happening at City & State levels)
    • Jim Brooks Stabilization Act
  • Emphasizing community/consumer leadership and involvement in policy initiatives, such as small group discussions as public testimony around AFFH.
  • Local policy action can influence/put pressure on other localities and the state to take similar actions.
  • “[Anti-displacement] isn’t about concentrating poverty — it’s about building community.”

 

Questions? Comments? Let us know on twitter, facebook, or email us at iwhitney@homesforfamilies.org

 

REMINDER——-

CHANGE OF LOCATION: The June meeting with DCF will be at ABCD, Cass Room, 3rd Floor, 178 Tremont St.

 

Authored by I.W., May 10th, 2018

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.

Putting Survey Data Into Practice: Part 4, Demographics

“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!

Demographics

Important points from the survey results (page numbers correspond to the full report):

PSDIP_part4

We wanted to hear from families! What would be some of the best approaches to recognize and address the needs of families who identify as LGBT? The HFF Consumer Advocacy Team (CATs) shared their reflections, summarized here:

Are we doing enough to support the LGBT population?

  • As a community, there is not enough being done to support the LGBT population of families experiencing homelessness. 
  • There is a lack of understanding in what needs to be done to better support LGBT families, and the compounded challenges they may face.
  • More training around supporting LGBT families and removing judgement are important steps in the right direction.

 

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

Recap: April Community Meeting (w/DTA)

Families, EA providers, and community members, and staff from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) came together last week  to discuss potential changes to TAFDC. 

The increased asset limit (to $5,000) was the only change to TAFDC included in the House Ways and Means FY19 budget proposal. 

Amendments have been filed for other proposed changes, see a full analysis by MLRI here (updated April 12th). 

In March DTA’s Commissioner McCue delivered his FY19 budget testimony. 

John Stella, Director of Economic Assistance & Megan Nicholls, Assistant Director of Family Assistance from the Department of Transitional Assistance presented proposed changes to TAFDC, and engaged in an in depth Q&A with more than 25 community members who attended.

After DTA’s presentation and Q&A, we heard comments and concerns around the potential changes to TAFDC and the work of DTA more broadly. Here are some of the points that were made:

  • Communication remains a challenge and barrier – program participants are not able to access information specific to their case, and the issue of accessibility is a concern for many in discussions around new/modified programs.
  • As of yet families have not vetted TAFDC proposals – DTA plans to incorporate this, but it is not clear to what extent family input will affect these proposed changes or future proposals.
  • Early and consistent communication with DHCD on proposed changes is important, for example adjusting DHCD program requirements to keep them in line with improved asset limits.
  • The relationship between the cost to families (time and resources) and administrative costs – limiting burdensome verification measures when implementing new or modified policies may reduce these costs both for families and for DTA.
  • Targeting reforms to more work-ready, non-exempt families is important. However, it is vital that changes are made to reflect the needs of all families.
  • Learn to Earn: there are diverse stakeholders in different fields who could inform, assess, and anticipate issues prior to changes being made; these stakeholders should be brought to the table early to take advantage of their expertise.
  • Reiterated support for the proposed asset limit increase to $5,000 (included in HWM) as a step in the right direction.

join-the-conversation

 

Join us for the next Community Meeting on May 9th, 11am to 1pm in the first floor conference room at 14 Beacon Street, Boston MA— we will be discussing gentrification/displacement in the context of stabilization for families leaving shelter.

Putting Survey Data Into Practice: Part 3, Community Connections

“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!

Community Connections

Important points from the survey results (page numbers correspond to the full report):

  • Families in congregate shelter were less likely to feel shelter staff helped them become aware of community resources (p. 18)

 

PSDIP_Comm-Connect.png

We wanted to hear from families! What would be some of the best approaches to support and facilitate community connections for families experiencing homelessness? The HFF Consumer Advocacy Team (CATs) shared their reflections, summarized here:

How can organizations support well-connected relationships between families and community resources?

  • Keep in contact with families.
  • Maintain awareness of existing, new, and changing community resources and share this information with families.
  • Actively work to engage families in a community that may not be their own, recognizing and supporting the challenges that come with being in a neighborhood other than one’s own. 
  • Understanding families’ needs on a personal level and maintaining contact for as long as necessary to support community connections. 

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