REPORTS RELEASED! Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts & Evidence Based Stabilization

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. The Emergency 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 Families is 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

 

http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/hs/ea/eamonthlyreport.pdf

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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 in Massachusetts reviews 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.

LH

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Following the Amendments on malegislature.gov

The House Committee on Ways and Means released their budget proposal on Monday, April 10th, a change from the typical Wednesday release to accommodate for Good Friday. Representatives had until 5pm on Thursday to add amendments to the $40.3Billion spending proposal.  Amendments can add additional funding and change line item language. Amendments must be filed by at least one representative, and others can add their name as co-sponsors after the amendment has been filed.  Historically, representatives co-sponsored an amendment by signing their names next to the corresponding number in a book in the clerk’s office with a quill pen.

Advocates and others would have to go to the clerk’s office at the State House and ask to see “the book” to see who had signed on. Now, legislators can use the “quill” feature on an online system that we can all track. Technology makes the process much more transparent.

The Massachusetts Legislature’s website had a bit of a face lift since last budget season. This blog post gives an overview of how to navigate the website so that you can read the various amendments, see what amendments your representative filed, and check to see if your State Representative is supporting the Budget Amendments that are important to you.

Step 1. Go to https://malegislature.gov/

Step 2. Go to the House Debate Page

Step 3. Use the Filter

When you enter your search terms, don’t forget to click the “filter” icon; use the “clear filter” feature to start a new search.  

Search Tips

  • If you don’t know who your State Representative is, click here
  • Housing programs all are listed with line item number 7004-
  • Line items we follow are: MRVP (7004-9024); Emergency Shelter (7004-0101); and HomeBASE (7004-0108)
  • Key words include: homeless, housing, voucher…

Step 4: Find your Amendment(s)

Step 5: Review the Amendment

Amendment #780 is an example of a funding amendment; striking the budget amount of $100M for MRVP and inserting $120M.

Click here to read the “technical amendment” #382 that was filed on MRVP 

Step 6: Take Action

If your Representative is signed on: say thank you!

If your Representative is not signed on: ask him/her to consider co-sponsoring.

You can call, email, use social media, visit the State House, attend an event.

Feel free to contact us with any questions or for more information.  For a sample script and a list of the amendments we are watching, click here

Stay tuned for more information; we will do our best to keep the blog updated as the budget process continues.  Representatives have up until the debates begin to co-sponsor and get educated about the amendments.

The debates begin on Monday, April 24th!

We raised #OurVoice for more housing!

We gave testimony in front of the Joint Committee on Housing.  Here is what we said:

September 29, 2015

Good morning and thank you Chairwoman Dorcena-Forry and Chairman Honan and members of the Committee.  My name is Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families.   I am here today to testify in support of House Bill 1111: An Act Relative to Housing Production sponsored by Chairman Honan.

First I would like to thank the Chairman, this committee and the legislature for your commitment to restoring the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and for maintaining the safety net for families that are victims of our housing market’s impossibilities.  MRVP is one of the most critical tools to address the housing affordability crisis in the Commonwealth.  However, MRVP alone cannot solve it.  We simply do not have enough units to house the people of the Commonwealth.  This bill aims to change that.

As the Pope so clearly articulated last week, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” 

Yet, here we are –  with:

We recently released a report synthesizing information from surveys taken by family shelter providers.  The number one barrier to re identified was the lack of affordable housing. Each summer Homes for Families hosts an event which convenes families from shelters and motels from across the state, to discuss solutions to homelessness. This year, like each year before, participant recognize housing as the number one solution.

According to Enterprise Community Partners and Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies. The number of U.S. households that spend at least half their income on rent—the “severely cost-burdened,”—could increase 25 percent over the next decade.  Last week, the Boston Foundation’s 2015 indicator’s report shared that more than 85 percent of the positions added to the Boston economy since 2009 pay less than $38,000 a year – a big gap from the over $60,000 per year needed for a family to be housing and economically stable.

Rent continues to outpace wages at a rapid rate.  Rent increases are also outpacing voucher limits.  We often hear legislators say that their number one constituent call is related to housing.  In my office, we have had an increase in calls from families with vouchers in hand that cannot find an apartment that meets the qualifications. 

Here is our reality in the Commonwealth:  right now we have a housing crisis caused by a lack of housing stock and a vast gap between wages and rent.  Recent reports show that dynamics will only get worse. As a result, our homelessness crisis will only increase.  The housing stability forecast for the lowest income families – and children – in the Commonwealth is grim.

But there is good news – we know the path we are on, we are aware of the dynamics at play, and we have the collective ability to turn towards solutions.  Housing Solutions.  We know housing construction has a multiplier effect on the economy.  We know stable housing leads to better health outcomes, and leads families on a path to economic mobility. And we know that there is resistance to building and multifamily housing….but there is also resistance to motels.

Housing is the foundation. – for families, for stability, and for a thriving Commonwealth – and to ending our family homelessness crisis.  We need the physical housing structures – and for families to have either the subsidies and/or wages to achieve housing stability.  Massachusetts has a choice – to continue to manage the crisis or to start solving the dynamics that have caused it. This bill is the foundation for solution. This bill provides the tools to build the housing we need.

We agree with Pope Francis, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” and hope this committee reports favorably on the Act Relative to Housing Production.

LH

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.  

SuppGraphs

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:

GovProposalStacks

Questions?

Reactions?

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:

H2SheltvMRVP

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!

LH