5/15-5/19 What is happening Under the Golden Dome…

….relative to housing and homelessness?

 

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means will release their budget proposal on Tuesday, May 16th. The deadline to file any amendments to the SWM proposal is Thursday and debates will begin the following Tuesday, May 23rd.  Debates will wrap up in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

The budget proposal release is not the only action and activity taking place at the State House next week, click here for the full schedule of hearings and events for the month of May. 

There are three committee hearings on Monday – the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets; the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. Both the House and Senate will be in “informal session”.

Monday will be a good day to call your Senator’s office and let them know what you hope they will prioritize in the Senate Budget Debates.  Click here look up your State Senator and below is a sample script:

“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in the Senator’s district in _(your town)__. I am calling because I am concerned about (housing, homelessness, transportation, jobs, education…be specific) and I am asking that the Senator prioritizes these issues during the upcoming budget debates.

And it will also be a good day to write testimony in support of or against any of the bills that are being considered in the week ahead. Verbal testimony should be 3 minutes or less. Written testimony can be submitted to the committee.

Tuesday is the big day! Not only will the budget be released, but there are 12 hearings scheduled!! The Joint Committee on Housing is hosting an Oversight Hearing  (oversight hearings generally include invited panelists from State or Quasi agencies or other experts in the field and the public is open to listen). Other hearings focus on bills, many of which touch on the issue of family homelessness, and are open to the public to listen and/or give testimony:

Wednesday there is one hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Transportation. Wednesday will be a key day for confirming sponsors for Amendments to the Senate Ways and Means Proposal and Thursday will be the deadline. Now is the time to sign up for our action alerts if you have not already.

Did you know that Massachusetts often near the top of the list for the number of bills filed; but is close to the bottom of the list of the number of bills passed. This slightly outdated article lists us as passing only 5% of all bills. However, hearings give us all a chance to be heard; to make our case, to elevate an issue, to interact with those that make decisions impacting our lives, to support legislators fighting the good fight, and to call out injustices of bad bills.

For more on Legislative and Budget advocacy, click here for a recent webinar (slides or full presentation with audio) we did with our colleagues on the On Solid Ground Coalition.

LH

Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

Viewpoints from Around the State: Taking Aim at Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts 

by Libby Hayes, featured in the Provider, a monthly newsletter from the Provider’s Council that highlights some of the biggest issues in the human services sector.

According to the 2014 report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, the number of homeless children increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013; there were increases in the number of homeless children in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The report also states that 1 in 30 children in America are without a home.

Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education identified 15,812 homeless students last year. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a 94 percent increase in the number homeless families in the Commonwealth from 2007-2014. The state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) program is currently providing shelter to approximately 4,460 families each night. We were battling the issue of homelessness before the recession hit. That issue is now an epidemic. An epidemic that can – and must – be solved.

Despite the daunting statistics above, the number of families in motels has been reduced from a high of 2,200 families in December of 2013, to fewer than 1,400 in March of 2015. This reduction is a result of a combination of efforts, including an expansion of the number of family shelter units. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the EA shelter providers have worked to implement more efficient and specialized program models such as co-sheltering, a shelter for single fathers and enhanced services for domestic violence and substance abuse.

 Next, a pilot program was launched in July of 2014, placing EA providers in the five busiest shelter intake offices. The providers meet individually with eligible families, to explore resources and opportunities outside of the shelter system. According to DHCD data, the statewide rate of families “diverted” from shelter in January 2015 was 21 percent, a significant increase from the 5 percent diversion rate in FY ’14. At the same time, DHCD reports the total number of exits from the EA system has increased from a year-to-date total of 2,955 in January of 2014 to 3,696 year-to-date total in January of 2015.

The HomeBASE program has been a critical resource in these achievements. Investments in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, Leading the Way Home Vouchers through the Boston Housing Authority, access to private developments through the New Lease Program, and augmented staffing in motels have all contributed the increase in the number of families exiting the shelter system. Building on these efforts will further reduce the reliance on motels and better support families to overcome homelessness.

The recently released On Solid Ground report outlines the economic context of the family homelessness epidemic – specifically exploring the issues of wage stagnation, a decline in housing production, disinvestments in family supports and fragmented public policies and programs. On Solid Ground calls for more coordination and accountability across all state agencies to better align policies and maximize resources and effectiveness.

Historically, homelessness has been looked at in one of two ways: through a human service lens or through a housing lens. We now recognize that we must look at housing as the foundation, and at human services, child care, education, labor and workforce, and health care as the materials needed to construct a future without homelessness. Resources are needed, and coordinating a holistic response requires leadership and vigilant tracking of data to evaluate progress.

Governor Baker has made family homelessness a priority issue for his administration. His FY ’16 budget proposal includes $20 million for a new End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund to be administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), but has also proposed further restrictions to shelter eligibility. Further restrictions are simply not tenable; already about half of the families that apply for shelter are determined ineligible; more than 600 families entered the shelter system in FY ’14 after staying in places not meant for human habitation. These are children. Blanket categorizing and excluding subpopulations of homeless families has never proven successful in the Commonwealth’s 30-year battle against family homelessness, especially compared to successful prevention and diversion models.

 Thoughtful distribution of the Reserve Fund will be needed to avoid making the system more convoluted and confusing to families in crisis. While flexible funding has proven to be a useful tool to manage homelessness more cost effectively, it cannot solve an epidemic caused by larger systemic issues: a shortage of affordable housing and wage stagnation at our lowest income levels. But a focus on housing, children and providing the necessary opportunities and resources will do more than manage homelessness – it will end it.

-Libby Hayes, Executive Director of Homes for Families

Providers Council