See Me….the whole, valuable, powerful me.

Today’s blog post, brought to you by Nilaya, our Director of Leadership and Community Building:

There’s an element to becoming homeless that can often make us feel invisible

The shame and rejection from being put out and denied access to systems in our attempts to keep our children safe can make us feel desperate and at the mercy of others – systems, friends, relatives or strangers.

During the process of asking for and obtaining services, parents are forced to repeat that they are homeless time and time again. Inevitably it becomes in large part how they identify.

Often times when I ask parents who they are, they introduce themselves by saying “I’m [name] and I live in a shelter.”  While there should be no shame for families in disclosing current or past homelessness, it is also extremely important to introduce the complete picture of who they are, and particularly the things that make families so powerful.

During the 5th session of the Public Policy Series – participants did an exercise entitled, “See Me.”

The purpose was for parents to create a visual of their titles / roles / attributes /goals / values / passions / strengths and then present it to the group as a form of re-introducing themselves … making their whole, valuable, powerful selves visible.

In that vein, we invite you to see the strong, beautiful, dynamic, caring, advocates that have been meeting weekly over the past couple of months to raise our collective voice for housing, economic and social justice!





Report Release: Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness

Through support of the OAK Foundation, Homes for Families is taking on an initiative that aims to improve the application and placement process for families who need to utilize the Emergency Assistance program.  As part of this project, we will be releasing a series of reports and documents regarding family homelessness, the Emergency Assistance system and the families it serves.  We are pleased to present the first report, Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Practitioners and Policy Makers

A bit of background: Continuums of Care funded by HUD are required to institute a coordinated assessment, but currently there is much variability in the process. The term itself is often applied to tools that function to collect data, to screen for eligibility, to determine a housing intervention, to guide a differential response for service delivery or for clinical interventions.  The topic is gaining momentum as a key component in addressing homelessness here in Massachusetts as well; Governor Baker mentions the term “assessment” as part of his plan and vision for addressing the homelessness crisis in the Commonwealth. 

As a beginning step in our project we pause to ask- what does assessment really mean and how can it be applied to the Massachusetts family shelter system? We turned to Dr. Carmela DeCandia to get some answers, and as a result, this report came to life. We encourage you to read and share it in its entirety, and to encourage this, we highlighted some of the main components below:

The report begins with a thorough introduction on family homelessness in Massachusetts, and why it should be a priority:

In Massachusetts, the rise in homelessness among families and children has been dramatic. According to America’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, in 2010 an estimated 28,683 children were homeless in the Commonwealth; by 2013 that number had grown to 31,516 (Bassuk et al., 2014a).

And continues to get to the crux of the issue at hand:

To achieve its goals and ensure that families’ needs are met, careful consideration must be given to the assessment process. Traditionally, assessment of homeless families has taken a resource driven approach; providers ask only about issues for which services or referrals are available (NAEH, 2015). However, by not screening for known risk factors in homeless families they remain inadequately served and are less likely to attain residential stability. Considering the growing numbers of homeless children across the country, and knowing the impact adverse experiences has on child development, comprehensive assessments are needed to effectively link families with both housing and services.

The report covers the importance of comprehensive assessment,

Assessment lies at the core of the work with homeless families. To provide the best service possible, providers must determine what families need. When done too narrowly, assessments only capture a small piece of a larger puzzle; done too broadly, assessments may not accurately and reliably capture the information needed to guide effective practice.

and it addresses the challenges that come with it:

Assessment can be a challenging process; providing services to a high-risk group with an array of stresses is demanding work for anyone no matter how well trained.

The report reinforces a comprehensive approach,

An effective response to family homelessness requires a shift away from an adult focused, single generation model, to a two generational, family-centered approach that supports resiliency. Reliable screening tools can help providers better identify and target services for all family members. With training, homeless providers can successfully identify and refer families for needed services.

recommends a two-generational approach,

Two generational approaches offer services to help children while simultaneously working with parents to enhance and strengthen parenting skills, build economic self-sufficiency, and address health or mental health needs

And shares how the family-centered approach is unique:

Adults are viewed as parents first; child development is assessed in relation to the parent’s functioning. In families with young children, a mother’s desires and wishes for her family are central and should guide the process. In addition, the developmental status and needs of each child is assessed.

Dr. DeCandia ends with a call for policy change

At this time, political will is needed to move beyond the status quo. Massachusetts is well on its way to taking these bold next steps, and may lead the nation in developing a holistic, family/person centered approach to the assessment of homeless families.

And the reason why we all do what we do:

Doing so holds the promise of helping families achieve housing stability and improved well-being, and preventing adverse outcomes for another generation of homeless children.

About the Author:

Dr. Carmela DeCandia is a licensed clinical psychologist with specialties in trauma, child and adolescent development, program development, and assessment. She worked for more than 10 years at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children as the Vice President of Programs and was most recently the Director of the National Center on Family Homelessness.  She has partnered with Homes for Families in the past as a participant on committees, partner in pilot projects and training programs, in the facilitation of family focus groups, and as an advocate.

For the full report, please click here. Feel free to email for a PDF version or any questions.

Please join us in this important conversation by leaving your feedback below and sharing this information with you network.

The Time Has Come Today…(so what will happen with EA?)

The Time Has Come Today…

..when the 7 day shelter contract extension, from the 21 day contract extension, from the 7 month contract will expire.  This article from the State House News, and heard/posted on public radio, makes is clear that everyone knows we have a serious timing issue:

When Gov. Charlie Baker urged the Legislature to act quickly on his midyear spending bill filed late last month, he likely had this very situation in mind, cautioning that there were agencies and programs with “time-sensitive” funding needs demanding action before the end of March.

 “We need the money that’s in the supp. From our perspective this is a timing issue. The shelters are not going to close. No families are in danger and we’re working diligently with the Legislature to get the money they need,” said Paul McMorrow, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

House budget leaders said Thursday they were aware of “funding timelines” for the emergency assistance family shelter program, but could not comment on whether they would consider separating the shelter funding from the budget bill to get it approved faster.

It seems like an appropriate time, to share Homes for Families’ time lines illustrating the chaotic contract lengths for family shelters:

Here is what this year is looking like so far:


And here is how this year fits in with recent years:


So, what impact does this have on shelter programs you ask?

  • Well, for starters, right now providers can’t be paid. On April 1st, rent will due to landlords that lease apartments and buildings that are used as shelter units
  • When providers can’t be paid, they may have to rely on lines of credit, which they will have to pay back with interest
  • It is extremely burdensome on finance staff to manage funds when programs are not being reimbursed, and to have to amend budgets and do unnecessary paperwork
  • Last minute contract signing is a distraction and can be complicated, especially if shelters are dealing with crises, or if authorized signers are out of the office
  • DHCD contract managers have to manage the signing, resigning, and processing, when they are also responsible for monitoring programs and other assistance to providers
  • Legislators have to deal with the sudden blitz of calls from panicked advocates and shelter providers
  • Feel free to leave a comment about the other impacts that short term contracts have on you and your programs

We are hoping, and asking, that the EA supplemental funding get separated and passed independently.  This will allow the contracts to get issued, and time for the Conference Committee the time to thoughtfully work out the other compromises between the Senate and House Bills.

We have an opportunity to stop this insanity in FY16.  We think it is about time.


Twenty-seven years ago today, a Congressman gave his life for the homeless. What is your congress person doing?

On March 3, 1987 a Congressman risked, and ultimately gave, his life to address homelessness.  

And today, March 3, 2014, we are fighting for the time and attention of the people in the same position. #yikes

Congressmen and women of America, we are looking at you. No one wants or expects you to sacrifice your life in the mission to end homelessness, but we do want and expect you to prioritize and care about the lives of America’s homeless. It’s not much to ask for in comparison. 

Today we honor Representative Stewart McKinney (R- CT) in his efforts to address homelessness in America.  Twenty-seven years ago today, advocates, politicians, and communities joined together near Capitol Hill to bring awareness to the newly formed social issue of homelessness. Before the 1980’s, homelessness existed, but due to simultaneous rising unemployment, increased costs of living, deinstitutionalization, cuts to affordable housing programs and the rolling back of safety net programs…homelessness was no longer an individual experience, but an epidemic.

Yet there was no federal funding to address it. 

That is, until Rep McKinney stepped in-  Originally known as the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act, fifteen programs were created to change the fact that there was no national order or plan to put an end to homelessness; these programs provided a range of services including emergency shelter, transitional housing job training, health care, education support and some permanent housing. Despite the fact that President Reagan was running an Austerity Agenda, advocates, communities and legislators came together to ensure enough attention was brought to this act to get it approved by both parties. 

Twenty-seven years ago today, The National Coalition for the Homeless and Community for Creative Non-Violence led advocacy efforts to bring attention to the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act, which was up for a vote on the House floor. Twenty-seven years ago today, these change agents brought you the “Great American Sleep-Out”, where people gathered to sleep in solidarity with the homeless.  


And because of it the act was passed with bi-partisan support, and then signed by President Reagan although he publicly displayed a “lack of enthusiasm” (apologies for the jab, but it’s hard to let the chance slip by when talking homeless history) .

But what isn’t so well known is that two months later, Rep McKinney, passed away from AIDS-related pneumonia, likely related to The Great American Sleep Out.  Despite his doctor’s recommendation to not put his health and life at risk, MicKinney insisted.  

After his passing, the Act was renamed the McKinney-Vento Act, and we still rely on it as it is the only national legislation that addresses homelessness.  Yes.  THE ONLY national law that protects and supports a population of over a million and a half people

Twenty-seven years ago today, a Congressman gave his life for the homeless.  What is your congress person doing? 

Homeless and Housing Advocacy Week: Day 3!

ImagePlease Click HERE to join us in signing the Petition to Direct Inclusionary Development Funds and City Land to Meet Boston’s Housing Needs, started by our neighbors, friends and partners at the Boston Tenant Coalition.

Take it a step further and contact your own representative, senator, mayor or other local leader to express your support of devoting housing resources to low-income citizens in your very own neighborhood. Even if you don’t live in Boston, your voice makes a difference!

wa’Supp with that? Or…How it All Stacks Up

Additional perspective on the the Governor’s FY15 Budget Proposal

In FY14, as in previous years, the Department of Housing and Community Development has had to depend on supplemental funding to fulfill their mandate to provide shelter for all families that meet the eligibility criteria. There are distinct shelter and motel line items in the State Budget; the family shelter line was funded at about $90M, while motels were underfunded at $6M, which only covered about two months of motel bills.  Additional funding was required this year for the shelter line, as well as the motel line, as part of a collective effort to move families from motels to congregate shelter- by adding 650 units of contracted shelter space. One supplemental budget was passed by the Legislature in the Fall- approximately $13M for motels, and the other request is currently pending (approx $12M for motels and $32M for shelter).  The graph below shows the spending levels through the appropriated and supplemental budgets.  By my math, based on an average motel census number of 2,000 per night, additional motel funding may be needed by the end of the fiscal year.  


The Governor’s budget proposes to fund Emergency Assistance at $179.3M ($167.3 for shelters and $12M for motels)  at the start of the fiscal year.  This will allow DHCD to continue to shift capacity from motels to shelters, give programs 12 month contracts,  provide an increased level of services and opportunities to families, be more strategic and efficient, and avoid the scramble for supplemental funding.  With the current economic challenges, strains of the housing market and lack of federal resources, the need for shelter is projected to remain at a historic high in the Commonwealth and across the nation….so a realistic budget for the program is a responsible proposal.

The funding amount in the House 2 budget represents an overall increase in funding to the EA line items, above the supplemented budgets. This amount may be consistent with the actual FY14 expenditures if there is no decline in the motel census, but it is also due to the higher program cost of shelter versus motels.  The motel line item covers only the actual room, and does not include any case management, housing search, and other program related expenses. Housing search services for families in motels is paid for, and administered, through the HomeBASE line item. The graph below compares the FY14 budget and the Governor’s proposal for FY15:




Oh, I know what you are thinking….how does this compare to the money proposed for housing- and specifically MRVP….am I right?  As our previous posts have mentioned, the Governor proposes to level fund the Mass Rental Voucher Program, but below is a graph of the total spending level of the program compared to the shelter/motel spending. Please note, unlike the EA program that providers shelter to children and their parent(s), MRVP also provides subsidies to elderly and disabled households.  Therefore the actual MRVP spending on households with children is even less than the graph depicts:


The bottom line: we need more funding for HOUSING.  We propose using the cost saving incurred from the premature ending of HomeBASE rental assistance to be invested in the MRVP program. This would be a big, $30M step towards restoring the program, which was once funded at over $120M.

Join us on Monday, February 24 at 10:30am at the Grand Staircase in the State House for MRVP COOKIE DAY!

Together, we can use Our Voice to advocate for Housing Solutions to Homelessness!


A reminder

Homelessness and the motel crisis is in the news this week, sparked by this article in the Herald.  The rising motel number was also mentioned on the NPR stations this morning and WBZ radio are working on a story, probably to be aired this afternoon.  During the interview, I was taken aback by the reporter telling me that his other sources explained that there are families in motels that have alternative housing and do not really need shelter.  Here is a reminder from a mother, posted as a comment on this blog a while back, about what it is like to enter the shelter system and live in a motel.  Families need housing and support and not more judgement and skepticism.

Why on Earth would anyone declare themselves homeless, over a petty argument, falling out, etc? Do you know how embarrassing it is to go to DHCD/DTA and apply for shelter? Do you know how humiliating it is to lug trash bags of you and your children’s belongings into the brick building on the corner on Dudley street, and the onlookers knowing exactly why? Do you know what it is to have someone judge you, to see if you are “needy” enough for their “help”? Do you know what it is to be hungry at night, but you cannot cook because you cannot fit more than 5 items of food, or even 1 single gallon of milk, in your tiny motel “fridge”? Do you know what it is to survive off of school food, hot pockets and the occasional Mc Donalds when money permits? Do you know what it is so be considered lazy, selfish, self-centered, uneducated, incompetent… because you became a homeless PARENT? Do you know what it is for your innocent toddler to pray to God every single night for a home? Do you know what it is to be INVISIBLE!?

I don’t think you’ve had a real chat with any homeless person, especially a mother. Because if you did, you would know that we do not declare ourselves homeless to take up the “tax payers” money. Nobody wants this life!!!

-signed Homeless Mother and College Student