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!

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

Housing Choice Vouchers data says:

 

 

 

 

Choose Housing!

If you know Homes for Families at all, you know that we advocate for improved policies using the voice of current and former homeless families.  

You know that a very big part of our job is to listen to the experiences, insight and concerns of these families, and those who work closest to them, in order to advocate for what will best support families, providers, and the community. 

And you know that again and again- we advocate for an increase to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program.  

It is what low-income families need to have access to affordable housing, it is what providers need to assist families in overcoming homelessness and it is what the community needs to support happy, full-bellied, warm, educated, stable children.  

As Alison Bromley of FamilyAid Boston so awesomely states, “MRVP allows children of today a chance to become productive members of society. Don’t we want that?”

Well, don’t we?

MRVP is one way Massachusetts ensures access to permanent housing– and therefore stability, security and increased likelihood of success.  

But the burden of America’s wage, employment and housing cost issues should not (and do not) fall solely on Massachusetts.  The federal government has a program called “Housing Choice Vouchers”, commonly known as Section 8, which is similar to MRVP in that it subsidizes housing costs for those who can not pay them on their own.  The difference lies in who is doing the subsidizing.  For MRVP it is the state government.  For HCV, it is the federal government. In both, local agencies are charged with administering them. 

So what happens when HVC’s are administered? The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities created this super clear infographic.

See for yourself:

ImageImage#mindblown 

and because we love hashtags- #ChooseHousing

 

Cookie Day Re-Cap

“MRVP vouchers are fundamental to ensuring that the people of the Commonwealth have access to safe and affordable housing, especially in this difficult economic climate,”… “Housing stability is critical to the welfare of our individuals and families and I am thankful to Homes for Families for organizing this event every year.” – Chairman Honan on Cookie Day

On February 13, 2013, Homes for Families brought cookies to the state house- lots, and lots of cookies.  Why? Because it was HFF’s annual Cookie Day- a day for legislators, families, and other agencies interested in ending family homelessness to come together in support of the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP).

HFF brought more than just cookies; they brought fact, they brought passion and they brought the intersection of reality and policy to the center of focus.  And by bringing this, they took the conversation back.

Spare Change News,  Wicked Local Medford and the Sudbury Patch covered Cookie Day, and it is a most accurate description of the details of the day, but here is a quick recap:

Cookie Day is HFF’s annual event, sponsored by Representative Honan, where the ask for MRVP is released.  They put the number, this year $60 million, on house shaped cookies and deliver them to each Representative and Senator with the help of families and other organizations.

Libby Hayes opened up the day by welcoming and thanking legislators, families and everyone in attendance, because without the unwavering support of each, #ourvoice would not be heard.  #ourvoice is Homes for Families’ 2013 campaign to battle unaffordable housing, unproductive conversations and the year of the snake.  She explained why the ask for MRVP is “high” and did so by using fact:

FACT: In no state in the country is a full time minimum wage job sufficient to afford the high cost of rent

FACT: In order to afford the cost of rent in MA, a family must earn AT LEAST $48,000 per year.

FACT: The average income of families in shelter is about $8,000 per year

FACT: There are currently over 3,500 families in shelter, including 1,500 in motels

FACT: There are over 6,000 families in HomeBASE rental subsidies that are scheduled to expire in FY14 and 15- a year before the original commitment of 3 years

And here is another fact: At one time, our state’s housing voucher program was funded at $120 million-double our ask…and this was at a time when spending on homelessness was a fraction of what it is today…and at a time when the gap between wages and rent was not so extreme….

Solutions become a lot more apparent and realistic when you speak in fact instead of rhetoric, something we will not waiver on as FY14 approaches.

Representative Honan addressed the crowd and spoke on the importance of MRVP and encouraged families to speak with their Reps and Senators after the event.  Another chance to use #ourvoice? We’ll take it!

We heard from Gabrielle Vacheresse who spoke of her experience in shelter, a woman who knows the true impact of programs like MRVP.  We heard from Matilde Liz Gonzales who is a mother working a full-time job, a mother who is currently in a motel because her fulltime job does not provide her with the wages necessary to afford an apartment without assistance.

Each year, HFF awards a giant cookie to a champion of social justice, who has a history of fighting for vulnerable families and their state-realized right to housing, or at least not living on the streets.  This year, the cookie/award was presented to Senator Jamie Eldridge for his advocacy of low-income and homeless families

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Diane Sullivan, HFF’s Policy Director, ended the event by putting on lip gloss and lotion, two of the things that were the topic of conversation at the end of the last fiscal year, and two of the things that held us back from having productive conversations about how to truly support the Commonwealth’s parents and children in achieving, or continuing, self-sufficiency.

For a more in-depth look at the day, definitely read the articles by Spare ChangeWicked Local and the Patch, if anyone can do that day justice, it is them.

Homes for Families would like to thank those who came out to Cookie Day and those who make #ourvoice loud, clear, and possible.

ImageImageImageImage

#ourvoice- the new *it* thing.

For the remainder of this blog post, I will refer to #ourvoice as *it*.

Why?… Because *it* is so in right now.

The theme of last year’s Visioning Day was Changing the Conversation.  If you are wondering what conversation needs to be changed, then that must mean you missed a great speech made by HFF’s very own Diane Sullivan at Cookie Day.  But don’t worry; there will be plenty of pictures, video footage, and hopefully blog comments from those who attended to fill you in on what was truly a great day of advocacy and fact.  What happened today at the State House (or as Representative Gloria Fox always reminds us- Our House) was nothing short of amazing, and absolutely a result of the conversations had at Visioning Day.

Visioning Day is the time for all of those who have a vested interest in ending family homelessness- families, providers, students, advocates, public authorities and many more- to come together to talk solutions.  This year, we decided it was time to stop following the lead of those using conversations as a means for distractions instead of solutions.  This year, we realized that the conversations being had about vulnerable families were not being had with vulnerable families.  This year, we took the conversation back.

This year’s Visioning Day report is *it*.

*It* includes recommendations to the Administration; recommendations that come from families who have experienced homelessness, providers who understand the repercussions of a constantly changing system, and public officials who want to see that things stop changing and start improving. The recommendations come from those who are closest to the issues, because to them, those issues are not simply issues, but their personal experiences day in and day out.  *It* includes descriptions of the breakout groups and the conversations held among them.  *It* includes who attended Visioning Day, and the evaluations that came from them, good or bad, because at Homes for Families we hold the truth above anything else.  And that is what drives our conversations and what makes them so meaningful : the truth, and the people who speak it.

This year’s Visioning Day report is *it*.  The words on those pages are not just words, but #OURVOICE.  The time has come for conversations to be had- not about us, but with us.  Those conversations need to be true, they need to be realistic, and they need to be clear. They need to be *it*, they need to be #ourvoice.

Click Here for a copy of the Visioning Day 2012 Report, and comment below so everyone knows *it*.

After you read *it*, we ask you to share- not only the report- but your thoughts on our blog or Twitter. We encourage the use of the hashtag #ourvoice to guide the conversation so that we stop being the conversation, continue to take part in the conversation and start owning the conversation

Share your success stories, epiphanies, solutions, ideas, and any other words you have…just be sure to use *it*.  Without *it*, progress will not be possible.

#ourvoice