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

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.


EA and RAFT Income Guidelines: Update








As many of you know, eligibility for the family shelter system is based on the federal poverty level.  Only families learning less than 115% of the federal poverty level are eligible for shelter. The federal poverty level is reassessed each year. Below are the updated income levels based on the most recent federal data. 


RAFT eligibility is based on Area Median Income and targeted to certain income levels. 

MBHP is currently accepting RAFT referrals only for families whose income is below 30% Area Median Income. 

They are no longer able to accept referrals for families between 30% and 50% AMI. Income Guidelines for RAFT below:


 Thanks to Amy Mullen from MBHP and for this information.

The Good, The Bad, and the Undone

Fiscal Year 2013 has been a rough and tough one, but not without its silver-lined moments of tried and true collaboration. Just when we think all hope is lost, a family, organization or legislator comes through and wakes up the little voice inside of our heads that say “Don’t give up now (and let’s be real, probably not ever)”. This Fiscal Year, we have come together as a community and turned that little voice in to a loud, booming, ongoing message that represents OUR VOICE.

When bombarded with families at our doors because the shelter door was not open, we brought over 9 hours of that voice to Gardner Auditorium. When we were told to “Shhh”, we banded together and chanted…really, really loud. We made phone calls, set up meetings, and wrote emails to our legislators to show them how many people are not just going to wholeheartedly fight the good fight, but not stop until it is won.

So let’s just stop and take a minute to say…..#winning! And thank you to all of the families, providers, community members, organizations and legislators who are driving the efforts to make the changes necessary to strengthen our state in FY14.

Here is an overview of the changes made by the senate who, most certainly, worked their magic.

THE GOOD….No, actually, the GREAT:
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program: Remember when we all decided our ask for MRVP was going to be 60M? We didn’t want to go big OR go home, we knew we needed to go big TO go home. Well, the senate agreed; they proposed $57.5M and added language to add on surplus from this year….bringing us to just about 60M. This speaks volumes for our collective advocacy, years of making the case and an increased understanding of the need for more permanent affordable housing. In addition the language was changed to 50% of AMI instead of the 200% of the federal poverty level- another win.

There is also a $1.16M carve out for supportive housing for families and language mandating DHCD to develop a plan to prioritize HomeBASE families with disabilities for access to the vouchers.

Back to THE GOOD:

Emergency Assistance- Funding for EA shelter was proposed at $90.4M, a cut of $1M from the House, but still sufficient to cover 12 month contracts for shelters.

HomeBASE– HomeBASE families with disabilities will be prioritized for new MRVP’s; HB families will be able to access RAFT, DHCD may issue waiver for the 32month rule.

MRVP: Just kidding, no bad, but don’t want to miss an opportunity to say: WINNING!
EA: The Shelter Contract language was not included in the senate’s budget. Despite being able to cover the 12 month contracts with the proposed $90.4M, DHCD expressed concerns about being able to uphold them unless the $1M is restored. In addition, motel funding was decreased from $9M to $6M. Sadly, there were no changes to the categorical eligibility criteria.
HomeBASE: There was no increase in funding and no reversal of the time limit reduction…womp womp.


As the senate budget was released last week, there were a lot of emotions to control. We wanted to celebrate the MRVP win, but it didn’t quite feel right; some things still needed to be hashed out and understood, while other things needed to be amended…and fast.
We at HFF want to acknowledge, thank and hug the following champions within the senate for not wasting a minute in continuing to fight the good fight through sound, realistic and compassionate policy:

Senator Jamie Eldridge, also winner of The Big Cookie Award, is sponsoring two amendments to HomeBASE:
• Amendment 281: Subsidized Housing Preference and Rental Assistance
Co-sponsored by Messrs. Eldridge, Donnelly, Rush, Kennedy and Michael O. Moore
This amendment would restore the homelessness preference for state-funded public housing resources for families participating in the HomeBASE rental assistance program. By restoring this preference, some families may be able to transition into permanent affordable housing when their HomeBASE subsidies expire.

• Amendment 282: HomeBASE Rental Assistance
Co-Sponsored by Messrs. Eldridge, Rush, Donnelly, Kennedy and Wolf and Ms. Jehlen and Mr. Joyce and Ms. Chang-Diaz and Messrs. Brownsberger and Michael O. Moore
This amendment has been redrafted and now clarifies that families exiting the rental assistance program can access HomeBASE household assistance funds and Residential Assistance to Families in Transition (RAFT). It also adds language so that families transitioning off of HomeBASE can access shelter if they are unable to stabilize their housing through the other options. It does not and will not include extending the program to 36 months.

Senator Kenneth Donnelly is sponsoring two amendments to EA:
• Amendment 247: Family Homelessness Prevention:
Co-sponsored by Mr. Donnelly and Ms. Spilka
This amendment will build upon Senate Ways and Means’ plan to provide temporary accommodations to families experiencing homelessness. The amendment focuses on those families being turned away from the Emergency Assistance program because they have not yet stayed in a place not meant for human habitation.

• Amendment 309: Maintaining Access to Emergency Shelter for Certain Homeless Families
This amendment will require the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to presumptively place families into the Emergency Assistance (EA) family shelter program if they provide credible proof that they otherwise would be forced to stay in place not meant for human habitation and that they otherwise would meet the EA eligibility criteria.

Senator Anthony Petruccelli is sponsoring an amendment to EA:
• Amendment 240: Emergency Assistance Shelter Providers
This amendment will help stabilize the core service of shelter provision by establishing a single 12 month contract with shelter vendors, as well as provide greater transparency around motel spending. The current practice of multiyear contracts is a distraction and limits opportunities for monitoring, building
efficiencies, and is an unnecessary burden on shelter and DHCD staff. The language in this amendment regarding the contracts will be consistent with the language proposed by the House.

Senator Bruce Tarr is sponsoring an amendment to EA:
• Amendment 261: DHCD Shelters Contracts
This amendment will ensure the stability and effectiveness of shelters through requiring an initial contract from DHCD for no less than 6 months and have the funding in place.

Senator Katherine Clark is sponsoring an amendment to support Community Action Programs:
• Amendment 295: Community Action Homelessness Prevention Program
Co-sponsored by Ms. Clark and Mr. Wolf
This amendment acts to restore homelessness prevention services through the community action programs.

So again, huge thank you to the champions within the senate who understand the importance of staying tuned and staying active to work together to make the system better.

And an equally huge thank you to the families, shelters, community members and agencies that continuously strive for the good, shun the bad and don’t stop until the work is DONE.