Your input requested: A survey on Network trainings

The Network Steering Committee is now in the process of creating its work plan for the coming year. We are reviewing the trainings we offered last year and we would love to have your input as well. Your feedback will help inform decision making around the Network’s budget and related goals.

Please complete this training survey by Wednesday, July 3. Thank you!

Action Alert! Still time to weigh in on FY20 budget for housing and homelessness priorities

Please see this alert below from the MA Coalition for the Homeless:

With July 1st just around the corner, the Legislature is working to finalize the FY’20 state budget before the new fiscal year launches.

We want to make sure the budget that emerges is as strong as possible on homelessness, housing, and benefits issues. Please join the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless today in asking your State Representative and State Senator to support key items in the fiscal year 2020 Conference Committee budget so as to prevent and end homelessness among families, unaccompanied youth, and adults.
Since June 5th, the three House and three Senate members who make up the FY’20 Budget Conference Committee have been meeting to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. The conferees are Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, Senate Ways and Means Vice Chair Cindy Friedman, Senate Ways and Means Ranking Minority Member Viriato (Vinny) deMacedo, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, House Ways and Means Vice Chair Denise Garlick, and House Ways and Means Ranking Minority Member Todd Smola.

Thank you to everyone who already has signed and shared our latest one-minute online action in support of the Coalition’s FY’20 budget priorities for the Conference Committee stage of the budget process. If you haven’t participated yet, there still is time to sign the online letter and to then share the link with family, friends, and colleagues. The actions will be sent to your State Senator and Representative, asking them actively to weigh in in support of the deepest investments and most helpful budget language possible. If you prefer printing and mailing the letter, a downloadable PDF version is here.

The action highlights our requests for:
• Senate-proposed language for the Emergency Assistance family shelter program to ensure that children and families do not have to stay in places not meant for human habitation before accessing shelter, and Senate-proposed funding level of $178.7 million, which is $13 million more than the House-proposed level (EA, line item 7004-0101). We are grateful that both the House and Senate budgets would allow families to retain shelter benefits while increasing their incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines (before the existing grace period would begin).
• Senate-proposed funding of $5 million for housing and wraparound services for unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness (line item 4000-0007), which is $1.7 million more than the House-proposed level
• Senate-proposed funding of $21 million for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition homelessness prevention program (RAFT, line item 7004-9316), which is $1 million more than the House-proposed level
• House-proposed direct funding of $110 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024), which is $6 million more than the Senate-proposed direct appropriation, and Senate-proposed language that would update the allowable monthly rent levels to match current fair market rents for mobile subsidies issued or renewed on or after August 1st and that would carry over $6,000,000 in unspent FY’19 funds

Here is our Conference Committee page and updated FY’20 budget chart, with our analysis of key line items related to homelessness, housing, and benefits, including our Conference Committee requests in columns O and P.

Yesterday’s release of the 2019 Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition underscores the urgency of our work.Massachusetts is now ranked as the third least affordable state in the nation for renters, leaving far too many of our community members experiencing homelessness and housing instability. We must do all we can to secure state funds for homelessness prevention, long-term housing, wraparound services, and income supports. Please take action today with us.

We are in the homestretch now. Thanks for your collaboration!  

Network Letter in Support of Amherst Affordable Housing Development

The Valley Community Development Corporation is proposing to develop 28 supportive studio units of affordable housing in Amherst. Unfortunately, some residents of the neighborhood are organizing intensely in opposition. Below is the text of a letter the Network sent to the Amherst Town Council, FYI.

The Town of Amherst is hosting a COMMUNITY FORUM: Monday, June 24, 6 pm Town Hall, Amherst.  This will be an open discussion.  The Amherst Affordable Housing Coalition encourages all to attend: “Even if you do not plan to speak, your presence alone will be important.  Wear your “I Support Affordable Housing’ button.”

If your organization would like to weigh in with positive neighborhood experiences around affordable housing developments, please do so!  Email (this email address reaches the entire council).

The Network’s letter in support:

Dear Amherst Town Council:

I am writing on behalf of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness (“Network”) in support of the Valley CDC’s proposal to develop 28 supportive studio apartment units at 132 Northampton Road. 

The Network, which includes hundreds of partners from every sector across the four Western Counties, creates collaborative solutions to prevent and end homelessness through a Housing First approach.  Our Leadership Council reflects the broad-based support of the Network’s mission.

As I’m sure you are aware, Massachusetts faces a significant  affordable housing crisis, and Amherst is no exception. Based on a recently released report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, we know that for every 100 extremely low income households in Massachusetts there are only 48.6 units available. In Amherst the gap is even larger, with only 42 units available for every 100 extremely low income individuals. 

We are extremely fortunate to have Valley CDC in our community, leading the way in the local response to this affordable housing crisis. This particular proposal is extremely sound, reflecting evidence-based best practices: well-designed housing units with available support services in a location that is accessible to public transportation and employment. It also provides affordable housing for those individuals earning between approximately $25,000-$49,000/year, providing homes for those with a mix of incomes and experiences.   

What an exciting opportunity!  Data from across the region and the country tells us these developments work.  While we can have compassion for the fear of change, even for the fear of difference, it is our collective duty to push forward with housing policy that brings us closer to the healthy communities we all seek and reflects the values of inclusivity and opportunity that are true to the Amherst community.

The Network and its many partners stand at the ready to assist in making this development a success for residents and neighbors alike. Please let me know how we can help.
Thanks so much for your leadership and commitment.

Pamela Schwartz, Director
Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness

The Network at Work: Providers and Legislators Gather in Partnership to End Homelessness

Yesterday, on June 10, 2019, close to 200 people gathered at Holyoke Community College for the Network’s 3rd annual Housing/Homelessness Resource Fair. Over 75 providers from across the four Western counties, along with state agencies, offered information and over 100 other providers arrived to collect it.

The morning kicked off with a brief program welcoming over a dozen state legislators and mayoral offices. HCC President Christina Royal provided the first welcome, then Representative Aaron Vega of Holyoke, then MA Department of Housing and Community Development Assistant Undersecretary Jane Banks and finally Network Director Pamela Schwartz introduced each legislator.

Pictured from left to right in the photo below: Rep. Aaron Vega, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Rep. Jose Tosado, Rep. Dan Carey (second row), Senator Anne Gobi, HCC President Christina Royal (second row), Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, Senator Jo Comerford, Rep. Natalie Blais and Rep. Mindy Domb, along with aides from the offices of Rep. Paul Mark (Adrienne Nunez), Senator Adam Hinds (Jon Gould, not pictured) and Senator Jim Welch ( Jennifer Hayes, not pictured).

We thanked our legislative delegation for their tremendous commitment to policies and funding priorities that will prevent and end homelessness. We demonstrated the impact of those funding priorities with some of the outcomes of the region’s work projected here.

We also called out the Network’s commitment to address racial inequity in ending homelessness, noting the 3-part training series (led by national trainer Marc Dones) that has just come to a close. We know that with the significant over-representation of African-American and Latinx populations among people experiencing homelessness in our region (and across the nation), we have serious transformational system work to do and we are underway. This commitment of time, energy and resources to this challenge will continue next year and beyond.

Thanks to an incredible Network of committed people and organizations for an energizing and resource-filled morning. Onward we go!

Network’s FY20 Conference Committee Budget Requests and Advocacy

The FY20 State Budge is now in the hands of the Conference Committee – 3 State Representatives and 3 Senators – as they work out the differences between the House and Senate proposed budgets. Each year the Conference Committee is made up of the Chairs, Vice Chairs, and ranking minority members from the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. (see contact information below.)

The Network has submitted its requests to the Conference Committee for their consideration. You can see them here.

Now is the time to email the Conference Committee members to urge their support of these priorities. When you do, please copy your own Rep and Senator so they can register your support, which will further their own advocacy from within on Beacon Hill.

The Conference Committee members are:
Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, (617) 722-1114,
Senator Cindy F. Friedman, (617) 722-1432,
Senator Viriato M. deMacedo, (617) 722-1330,
Representative Aaron Michlewitz, (617) 722-2990,
Representative Denise C. Garlick, (617) 722-2380,
Representative Todd M. Smola, (617) 722-2100,

When the Conference Committee finishes its work, it will send its budget to the Governor. In Massachusetts, the Governor has line-item veto power, so the Governor can (and likely will) veto certain parts of the budget without having to veto the entire bill. The legislature can (and likely will) override the Governor’s vetos. And—if all goes like previous years—the Governor will sign the final budget around the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

So we still have several more points along this process to ensure our voices on housing and homelessness priorities is heard. Thanks for being part of it!

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Committee Meeting Minutes – 6/5/19

In attendance: Jamila Bradley, Aaronson consulting, Emily English, Gandara Center, Lisa Goldsmith, DIAL/SELF, Rosemary Fiedler, HCC, Rebecca Muller, Grant Works, Lizzy Ortiz, Mercy Medical, Jeff Olivet, Jo consulting, Mena Regan, CHD, Phil Ringwood, DIAL/SELF, Justine Sabbs, Holyoke Housing Pamela Schwartz, Network, Elorie Stevens, DCF

DCF/DYS etc training feedback (5/23 training of state agency staff on youth services): Elorie provided the group feedback summary information.  Overall, the feedback was excellent; people found the information very useful, especially appreciated the take-aways that summarized available resources and contact info; also especially appreciated hearing from youth directly and would suggest more of that in the future.  
We agreed we will continue this collaboration and discuss further around how to provide a follow-up training next year. 

Hampden County Foster Care Project Update:  Gerry provided a report on next steps with the outside team supporting the work to partner with the foster care system to prevent youth homelessness. The current broad-strokes plan is to convene a group of 15 people, at least half of whom have experienced foster care (some of whom have also experienced homelessness), along with state agency leaders and providers for an intensive weekend of work over the summer, followed up by 2 1/2 day sessions. Gerry has reached out to Linn Torto of MA ICCH as well as other state agencies for their involvement.  They are very receptive.   It was suggested to include foster parents in the group.  Gerry will keep us posted as these meetings unfold.

Youth Needs Assessment Discussion:Jeff Olivet and Jamila Bradley, both of whom are part of the team working with both CoC’s on their EOHHS-funded youth needs assessment, attended to provide us with initial findings.  The full report will be released at the end of June.
Some feedback from the young adult focus groups included: shelters for adults are not safe places for young people; DCF case managers can be very helpful getting them connected to services; the best resource is each other.

Young adults were very receptive to the concept of partnering with adults; they do believe that most people care for them and have a lot of tools to offer.  They perceive themselves as being able to handle a lot of change quickly.  They are afraid of being overlooked.  They want to be able to develop new skills and ways of doing things and do not want to be seen as dangerous (they experience a lot of negative bias). They experience a lot of landlord discrimination based on a number of factors, e.g., limited employment history, no credit, CORI, etc. 

They would like adults to be better trained around racism, classism, gender bias.  

They expressed interest in dorm living concept and were excited by the idea of converting abandoned spaces into living spaces with multiple functions.  The conversation underscored the priority on a flexible continuum of housing options.   

Hospitals and health care systems are two areas that need strengthening in partnerships. School liaisons are another area as they are seeing a large number of homeless students.  
There was a general recognition of a lack of resources for young people ages 15-16. 

Reasons for homelessness:Hampden County: more to do with overcrowding – deep, multi-generational povertyThree County: more to do with family dysfunctionBut across the board, there was general finding of youth WANTING to leave

Hampden County LGBTQ – a finding of lower than average numbers which suggests a hidden population.

Berkshire County: lack of access to psychiatry and general mental health services.

The phenomenon of “calling Jake” or “calling Bobby” – while personal relationships are key for young people working with providers, the system is NOT a system when providers must rely on a particular individual to access services (i.e., calling Jake).  This is overwhelmingly the case in Berkshire County where there is such a severe shortage of resources. 

The Point in Time count grossly undercounts the number of homeless youth (see national studies on 1 in 10 18-25 year olds experience homelessness over the course of the year; 1 in 30 for 12-17 year old). There is so much invisible homelessness – couch surfing, stigma, etc.
The annual count is the “floor” – the national number is the “ceiling” – and our actual number is somewhere in between. 

College outreach – a very high rate of homelessness among college students, as much as 10%. There was discussion of getting all community colleges connected to each other (3 county had a good meeting with GCC and UMass).  We want to explore expanding the pilot on housing at state universities into this region.

What’s next in FY20: Hampden County has raised money to support ongoing planning work (and the CoC will contribute as well).  Will expand work to colleges, hospitals, general system-building.  

Next meeting: Reaching out to Katy Abel, the state liaison on the college pilot project, to have her attend our July meeting to learn more.  
Scheduled next meetings: July 17 – CONFIRMED  with Katy Abel and Linn Torto – 10:30-noon, Kittredge Center, Room 301, HCCAugust 7, 9:30-11- CONFIRMED – Frost Building, Room 309, HCCSept. 18, 10:30 am – 12 noon – CONFIRMED – Frost Building, Room 309, HCC
Resource Fair Monday June 10 – 15 legislators will be attending.  We will feature youth homelessness (and the $1.7 million funding increase on the line)

HSF Forum: The State of Opioid Addiction in MA

See this opportunity offered by the Human Services Forum:

Join us for a look at the current state of the opioid crisis and how is continues to effect Massachusetts.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019
8 am – 12 noon
The Delaney House
3 Country Club Road

Event Schedule:
Coffee 7:30 am
Breakfast, Keynote & Annual Meeting 8:00- 9:30
Panel & Discussion 9:45 – Noon

Program Fee:
HSF Members: $40
Not Yet Members: $60

Register here!

Keynote: Dr. Robert Roose, MD, MPH, FASAM Interim Chief Medical Officer, Mercy Medical Center, Chief of Addiction Medicine & Recovery Services, Trinity Health of New England

Dr. Roose earned his Doctor of Medicine and Master in Public Health degrees at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington D.C. and completed his residency training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY.

After the keynote, our expert panel will discuss community perspectives on the epidemic.
*There will be a panel Q&A

Panelists:Benjamin H. Cluff , MPA, LADCI, CADC
Veterans’ Services Coordinator
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Bureau of Substance Addiction Services

Peter D. Friedmann
Chief Research Officer and Endowed Chair for Clinical Research, Baystate Health

J. Cherry Sullivan
Program Coordinator Hampshire HOPE Center for Prevention and Community Engagement, City of Northampton Health Department

*4th panelist TBA

FY20 Senate Budget Outcomes

The Senate adopted its proposed budget last week for Fiscal Year 2020. In relation to Network priorities, the highlights include:

  • Unaccompanied Homeless Youth housing and support services funding was increased $1.7 million to $5 million.
  • Secure Jobs Initiative funding was doubled to $2 million.
  • Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) funding for non-elderly disabled individuals was increased $500,000 to $8 million.
  • RAFT received an additional $1 million in funding (now at $21 million), half of which is unrestricted funds and the other half dedicated to survivors of domestic violence.
  • Regional Transit Authority funding was increased to $90.5 million, although $4.5 million will be awarded through discretionary awards, which still threatens local RTAs with additional cuts.
  • The Berkshires’ earmark for overflow winter shelter was funded at $125,000 (big thanks to Senator Hinds for his lead sponsorship).
  • The Network itself was funded at $75,000 (big thanks to Senator Comerford for her lead sponsorship and to every other Western MA Senator for their co-sponsorship!).

Review all Network priorities and outcomes by going here.
For our statewide partner updates, see CHAPA and Mass Coalition for the Homeless.

Next up is the Conference Committee phase, where 3 Senators and 3 Representatives will work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the budget. We will do our part to ensure that the progress in each budget holds firm, e.g., the House budget contains the additional funding for Homeless Individuals Assistance (emergency shelters), and Housing Consumer Education Centers. The good news is that Craig’s Doors funding is in the Governor’s budget as a line-item and ABE/ESOL funding increase exists across both the House and Senate, as does the $10 million increase in the Mass. Rental Voucher Program.

Unfortunately, Career Centers did not receive their needed funding increase in either the House or Senate budget so the advocacy will have to continue next year.

Additionally, on a related note, the Senate adopted an Amendment that increases the income cap for Emergency Assistance eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level (up from the current limit of 115%), allowing families to increase their income and gain greater stability without suddenly losing their shelter. MA Coalition for the Homeless, Homes for Families and EmPath led the work on this effort, which will now continue in Conference.

Please stay tuned for additional advocacy updates. Thanks for your partnership!