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

Massachusetts is home to the county’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!

Get Ready, Get Set, Go Advocate!!

Summary of Key Line Items and Amendments Relative to Housing and Homelessness

Yesterday, the House Committee on Ways and Means released their FY2017 Budget Proposal. Representatives have until mid-day tomorrow, Friday 4/15, to file amendments.

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024)

The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funds MRVP at $100 million, which includes carry over funding unspent in FY2016.  However, this funding level is not sufficient to cover the cost of new vouchers and needed program fixes.

Amendment #52 filed by Representative Paul Donato: increases funding for MRVP to $120 million. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Sean Garballey: aligns MRVP mobile voucher rent cap with current HUD FMRs, allows for a data management system and requires DHCD to begin issuing new vouchers. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact John Rosenberry in Rep. Garballey’s office.  

 

Emergency Assistance (EA, family shelter, line item 7004-0101)

The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funded EA at $155.1 million and made no changes to eligibility for the program.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Marjorie Decker: allows access to shelter for families who are at imminent risk of staying places not meant for human habitation.  To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact Tim Mahoney in Rep. Decker’s office.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Danielle Gregoire: requires DHCD to report certain data tracking points to the Legislature, including basic demographics of families experiencing homelessness and reasons that families are denied access to shelter. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives, or their staff, should contact Jennifer Mercadante in Rep. Gregoire’s office

Amendment #66 filed by Representative Adrian Madaro: continues funding for Homes for Families to provide technical assistance. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.

HomeBASE (line item 7004-0108)

The HWM FY2017 budget proposal funds HomeBASE at $31.9 million, a slight increase over current funding. It also opens access to a limited amount of funding to families experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in domestic violence or treatment facilities.

Amendment to be filed by Representative Christine Barber: This amendment builds off of the pilot program proposed in the budget to make HomeBASE available to income-eligible families in domestic violence and substance abuse programs. The amendment also allows families to renew HomeBASE in order to avoid evictions, loss of housing stability, or the need to re-enter shelter, and the amendment continues forward funding of the program to the nonprofit organizations that administer HomeBASE on behalf of the state. To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or the their staff can sign on using the LAWS system.

 

Other Amendments:

Earned Income Tax Credit Amendments Sponsored By Representative Decker

  • To increase the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 23% to 50% of the federal credit
  • To allow victims of DV to be eligible for the credit and direct the Department of Revenue to increase EITC outreach.

To co-sponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff should contact Tim Mahoney in Representative Decker’s office

Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) Work Study Amendment sponsored by Representative Sannicandro
This amendment provides $2.35 million to fund paid work study for families on TAFDC at community colleges and to pay for staff to help these students succeed in college.

To cosponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Becca Miller at Rebecca.Miller@mahouse.gov or 722-2013 by noon on Friday

Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (DWD 7002-1074) Amendment sponsored by Representative Wagner
This amendment to provide $4 million to support sector orientated workforce training that reflects best practices in workforce development including collaborations between employers, education programs and community based organizations.

To cosponsor this amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Rory O’Hanlon at Rory.O’Hanlon@mahouse.gov or 722-2370

TAFDC Job Search Amendment sponsored by Representative Cabral               

This amendment requires proof of job search 60 days from application in order to be eligible for benefits.

To cosponsor amendment, representatives or their staff can contact Al Medeiros at Alves.Medeiros@mahouse.gov or 722-2017

Please stay tuned for more analysis and amendment information over the next two weeks.

In the meantime, we encourage you to follow along on the State’s Budget Page, read MLRI’s full budget analysis, and review the chart below with funding in key line items.

Click on the Picture to Enlarge

hwmBudget

LH

 

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

House Debate Week: You can’t always get what you want, but….

As our prior blog post illustrates, we wanted a lot from the House budget debates relative to housing:

We supported our amendment sponsors the best we could from outside of the ropes in front of the House Chambers (no matter how far the ropes are expanded!).  We gave them information and talking points, educated and encouraged other legislators to join them in the closed door discussions, and relied on you- our HFF community- to rally your legislators.

Unfortunately, none of our priority amendments for housing were passed. But as the Rolling Stones say, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

Chart with adopted

But thankfully, the House Budget proposes things that we need:

  • A significant increase to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
  • A rejection of the Governor’s proposal to further restrict shelter eligibility
  • More funding for prevention, diversion and re-housing through RAFT and HomeBASE
  • And an increased cap to the HomeBASE benefit

For more details on the House budget relative to HOUSING, check out CHAPA’s summary.

The House Budget proposes the Emergency Assistance Line item be funded at $155,058,948, which is about a $15M increase from the appropriated amount for this fiscal year and about $40M less than the total spending on shelters and motels in FY15 including supplemental funding.  Earmarks were added to the line item for playspaces and to provide additional services to families in certain motels. The line item received a bump of $180,000 to cover the cost of those additions.

The House Budget provides a strong proposal for addressing the family homelessness crisis in fiscal year 2016, and will help us to focus on maintaining and fine tuning the line items in the Senate.

Do you want to stay involved and take more action? No problem, here are a few ways:

1. We invite you to listen to this song to remind you of our MRVP ask.  We hope it inspires you to call your Senator and remind them of the need for HOUSING SOLUTIONS TO THE HOMELESSNESS CRISIS! We are very pleased with the $90.1M proposed by the House, but more $ = more vouchers! #MRVP100!

2. Stay tuned for more information about the House Budget relative to our other priority areas and for action you can take to address the shelter and HomeBASE access issues in the Senate.

3. You can also say thank you to:

  • Speaker DeLeo; Chairman Dempsey of Ways and Means; Chairman Honan of the Housing Committee; and Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing with a simple call or email saying “Thank you for the protections and investments for homeless families in the House Budget”
  • Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge for sponsoring and fighting for important amendments related to shelter, HomeBASE, welfare benefits, and EITC….and for giving an impassioned speech about her own history in public housing, the role of Government and the need for housing for all families of the Commonwealth
  • Representative Barber and Representative Gregoire for sponsoring the HomeBASE access and EA reporting amendments, respectively
  • and your representative if they signed on to the amendments that you care about

Finally, we leave you with this- a video taken at the State House.  No filming is allowed from the House Gallery where we watch the debates and the votes are taken, but thankfully this video was made of the evacuation of the State House on Wednesday morning to give you a sense of the fun and energy that is House Debate Week!

video credit: Mike Deehan from MASSter List

Thank you for all YOU do to end homelessness!

Onward….

LH

The Senate Budget Debates: Day 1 is done (re: family homelessness)

As we have posted, the Senate Ways and Means budget was released last Wednesday at noon.  Senators had until Friday at 3pm to submit amendments.  A total of 948 were filed.  The Senate caucused on Tuesday, meaning they met behind closed doors and sorted through the amendments and made their cases. Unlike the House, Senate Amendments are listed by category on mass.gov and when the debates begin, they read them one by one.  You can follow along by watching on-line, tracking the amendment list….and get some tidbits from twitter by following #massbudget (or doing these things all at once if you can figure that out!)

Many of the amendments are announced by number and declared to be determined by the “yay’s or nay’s”…to which there is no response, or discussion, and the President says, “Yays have it” or “Nays have it” and moves on to the next.  The Minority Leader (Senator Bruce Tarr) sometimes questions the amendment and asks the lead sponsor to clarify the intent, and other times the lead sponsor requests (or has been requested) to speak on the merits of the amendment.  A roll call vote can be requested, at which time all Senators vote, majority wins and votes are recorded.

The debates started slow…at the dinner recess, they were at, or around, #120.  But then the Senate President took over when the session resumed….gavel in hand, head down, decisive and efficient… and suddenly they reached the Housing Amendments (ECO…for Economic Development). The session recessed before 10pm after going through 400 amendments.

So this is what happened:

No roll calls were requested.

Other items were held and will be discussed later in the debates.  Often these items need further discussion or were determined to be a “nay” and the sponsor(s) pulls it from the Nay Pile for further advocacy.  These items include:

Still on the list, and in the queue for tomorrow is the EA funding amendment and MRVP amendment, which has been re-drafted to exclude the prioritization of households with extremely low incomes (below 30% AMI) and inserting “ the department shall also develop a system of voucher distribution which prioritizes criteria related to need, ability to benefit, and ability to maintain sustainable housing;

There are also a few other homelessness related amendments remining- earmarks, the HCEC’s, Secure Jobs, housing authorities, HomeBASE reporting and equal treatment for families in motels (compared to non-EA families).

There will undoubtedly be some interesting discussion and debates. Stay tuned….or better yet, be there.

LH

Why we are supporting an expansion to shelter…

We’ve said it before and we will say it again. Massachusetts is facing the biggest family homelessness crisis in the history of the Commonwealth. The family shelter system was procured in 2009 for 2,023 families and is now serving over 4,500. The motel census reached a high in December of 2013 with over 2,240 families.  Today (May 20, 2014), that number is 1,876.  The reduction of families in motels can be attributed to four primary factors:

  • the issuance of MRVP housing vouchers; 500 MRVP vouchers were targeted to the longest term shelter stayers during Fy14. While this number is almost insignificant when compared to the number of families in the system, the exits provided enough movement to restructure scattered site units to house more families and provided housing assistance to families with barriers;
  • the expansion of contracted shelter units; an additional 650 shelter units have been added on this fiscal year.  Providers and DHCD worked together to add capacity that would ensure a higher level of service to families;
  • the dedication, hard work and partnerships between parents, providers and policy makers; better communication and more collaboration between all stakeholders, and an unyielding dedication to ending homelessness, has resulted in policy changes, new program models, transitioning over 5,000 families off of HomeBASE;
  • and use flexible use of the HomeBASE resource- including the increase in the per-family spending cap. Waivers to the 12 month bar and an increase in the HomeBASE stipend amount has resulted in an increase in exits from shelter and motels

There is a shared concern about the over reliance on motels as a response to the homelessness crisis.  Long term motel stays are inhumane– the short and long term impacts on children and their families is unjustifiable…especially in a nation- and a state- as wealthy as the United States and the Commonwealth. We know, and the media has highlighted (again and again), the breadth of concerns- impacts on mental and physical health and development; serious safety risks; fiscal impacts on the state, cities and towns; logistical impossibilities; lack of services, and the list goes on. Even the good motels- healthy conditions, near transportation, community support, access to food and/or cooking facilities, a baseline of services- are only acceptable living situations for so long. Everyone, I think, agrees that motels are not the solution to homelessness.  And undoubtedly, everyone agrees that we do not want children living on the streets of the Commonwealth– so just shutting motels down is not a solution, or even an option.

The solution is housingThe solution is education and jobs. The solution is access to meaningful services. The solution is prevention. The solution is a comprehensive and individualized response to housing emergencies and a range of housing alternatives to meet the needs of sub-populations of low income households. Simple, right? The problem is that we don’t have all of these things (yet).

The Senate proposed a significant investment in MRVP.  Our collective advocacy has made a difference and the program is taking a step towards restoration (remember it was once funded at over $120M!) However, even if all the vouchers were targeted to homeless families, it would not be enough.

NewVouchers Vs Homelessness

 *based on FY13 DHCD caseload data and projected number of vouchers
 proposed in the Senate Ways and Means Budget

But to make matters more complicated, the Senate language precludes the targeting of mobile MRVP directly to families in the EA program and proposes wait-lists be used or established (families in the EA program on the wait-lists will be eligible, assuming they meet other eligibility standards and project based vouchers are not limited by the budget language). So while the investment will help to address the HOUSING CRISIS– the fact that we do not have enough affordable housing to meet the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth- it will not make a significant impact in our HOMELESSNESS CRISIS.

The increased cap and flexibility in HomeBASE is provides resources for some families- but the gap in wages and rent remains too vast for it to be a long term answer for most; and the social/familial networks of many families in the system simply are not there or are not resourced enough to provide even short term solutions.  Even prevention is temporary without significant and sustainable increases in income or access to a subsidy.

We want to continue to build on the momentum and reduce reliance on motels.  Even if the system can’t shut them all down, the length of stay must be shorter. The problem is that we don’t have enough of the solutions, and turning our backs is not- and could never be- an option.

We are not changing our name…we will never be “Shelters for Families”.  We believe in ending homelessness and we believe in HOMES FOR FAMILIES- not just as our name, but as a human right. And we believe that together, with more advocacy, more community support, with more of the family voice demanding what they NEED, and more holding of Government officials accountable through voting and civic engagement- we will get there. But, we also believe in doing better for families…and until we get enough of the solutions, we need more shelter units. A reasonable number. This is why we support the Lovely amendment, #412 and think you should too.

Please consider contacting your State Senator and ask that they support this amendment.

And click here to see the other amendments we are supporting

LH