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Governor Baker Announces New Plan on Family Homelessness


March 2, 2015
Elizabeth Guyton

 Baker-Polito Administration Unveils Initiatives to Reduce Homelessness, Proposes $20 Million ‘End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund’

BOSTON – Today, Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito unveiled a series of reforms aimed at reducing family homelessness and proposed a $20 million ‘End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund.’ The proposals reorganize efforts around prevention, support aggressive casework to shorten the length of shelter stays and task the Executive Office of Health and Human Services with implementing the new policies to combat homelessness.

These reforms and the $20 million ‘End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund’ proposal will be part of the administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) ‘16 budget. An additional $2 million for homelessness support services at the Department of Mental Health is also included in the budget, and the administration has identified an additional $1.5 million for the HomeBASE program, which provides short-term housing assistance.

“It is a human tragedy that more and more Massachusetts families become homeless and it’s clear we must reprioritize how these families are served,” said Governor Baker. “The aggressive strategies and reserve fund we proposed today will cut down the time people spend in shelters away from their community, and get them into stable living conditions faster. We must reprioritize our strategies because it’s clear the policies in place now are not getting the job done.”

“The moms and dads who find themselves in need deserve better than the current system,”said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “The reserve funds and targeted reforms to deliver needed services faster, coupled with a focus on prevention, are the best way forward for families who need help now.”

“These reforms will allow us to assist families with their core needs, whether they be child care, education, job training, rental assistance, medical care or substance abuse treatment,”said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “This will give them more than a place to live, it will give them hope and direction to ensure their lives are improving over time.”

“At Heading Home we are excited about the Governor’s approach to family homelessness,”said Tom Lorello, Executive Director of Heading Home in Springfield. “He is clearly following through on the plans he outlined in his white paper by emphasizing prevention and housing. Based on what has been learned in recent years here in Massachusetts and other parts of the country, Governor Baker’s plans will result in better outcomes for families and represent a smarter use of our resources.”

“Diversion works and I commend Governor Baker for putting a strong emphasis on getting families the resources they need to find stable living situations,” said Peter Gagliardi, President and CEO of HAPHousing. “This complement to DHCD’s diversion resources will make sure that families are getting the services they need to succeed and these proposals will strengthen the coordination between HHS & DHCD to address the crisis.”

“To its credit, the Baker-Polito Administration is following through on their promises to remedy the family homelessness crisis, starting with the overflowing welfare motels,” said Philip Mangano, President of the Boston-based American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness. “That’s a good thing for homeless moms and their children, and it sets the stage for a strategy to ensure our families remain in their own communities, and our children in their own schools. It’s common sense for the state budget, common sense for our families’ wellbeing, and far more compassionate than isolating them in distant and expensive welfare motels.”

The Baker-Polito Family Homelessness Reforms:

Meeting families at the “front door” of Emergency Assistance and connecting them quickly with the resources they need is in the best interest of the families, and is also more cost-effective than placing a family in a shelter or motel where it may take months for them to receive services.  Pursuing this strategy will reduce the number of families in shelters in motels and allow the state to invest in other services for our most vulnerable children and their families.

To better meet the needs of homeless families, Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito are proposing:

·       $20 million for the End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund

Tasking the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to take the lead in developing a solution along with the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development

An investment of resources into programs that both prevent families from becoming homeless and shorten the time homeless families spend in shelters before obtaining stable living conditions

A concentrated focus on the unique service needs of each family

The End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund:

 The End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund will offer tailored and flexible short-term assistance for families with a goal of rapid housing stabilization.  These resources can be flexibly used for prevention, diversion and stabilization, depending on the unique needs of the family.  HHS will take the lead on deploying these resources, and will work across state government to provide the necessary services to families.  The state will partner with local service providers to fund outcomes-based programs that successfully return families to stable housing situations as quickly and effectively as possible.

The Baker-Polito Administration will invest $20 million in this new Reserve Fund, enabling the fund to serve thousands of families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.


Incentivize providers to quickly assess and service families according to their specific needs

·       For each family, providers will develop a plan to achieve housing stability and help the family access available services to meet that goal.  Whether it’s child care, education, job training, rental assistance or substance abuse treatment, each family will need different resources to address their unique reason for their housing instability

·       This will help keep families in their communities, rather than placing them in a motel far from their support network, their children’s school and their job

·       This will reduce both the number of homeless families and the length of stay in shelter of homeless families, resulting in savings that will be invested in the Reserve Fund and other important state services

 Key Facts:

·       This proposal revises the categories of eligibility for Emergency Assistance so that those in an emergency situation are able to enter the system, while those who need help with housing stabilization are diverted to other types of services and support

·       This aligns the Massachusetts definition of emergency closer to the federal definition

·       Maintains a 30-day presumptive placement requirement, so that any family in critical need of shelter would be placed until their needs and eligibility could be assessed and they could be connected with the most appropriate services

·       The administration has also identified an additional $1.5 million in funding for the HomeBASE program, which provides short-term housing assistance

·        The budget also provides an additional $2 million for homelessness support services at the Department of Mental Health

Additional Background on the Homelessness Crisis in Massachusetts:

The number of homeless families in Massachusetts is at the highest level in the history of the family sheltering program since it began 30 years ago.  There are approximately 4,500 families in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program.  More than 1,400 of these families with children are being temporarily sheltered in hotels and motels across Massachusetts because emergency shelters are full.

State spending on hotels and motels for homeless families this year will be more than $40 million, or $110,000 a day, compared with $1 million six years ago.  For FY ‘15, the total amount expended on Emergency Assistance for homeless families is expected to be more than $180 million, up from $150 million in FY10.  While the number of homeless families is declining nationally, the number of homeless families continues to rise in Massachusetts.

These families are frequently placed in motels far away from where they have been living, which means they are separated from their communities and family support networks, and their kids miss days or weeks of school, or have to be transported back to their home communities to attend school.

The average motel stay is seven months, at a cost to the state of $2500/month.



On Solid Ground

The On Solid Ground coalition–of which the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness is a member–has released its first report on family homelessness. The report, On Solid Ground: Building Opportunity, Preventing Homelessness, documents the impact of the Commonwealth’s housing shortage on families with extremely low incomes, and outlines the components of a preventative approach to family homelessness.

The report makes the following recommendations to increase stability and reduce family homelessness:

  • Systems Change: Appoint a Special Secretary to build a coordinated service delivery system across governmental departments. The coordinated system will support homelessness prevention, minimize cliff effects, and provide integrated case management services.
  • Housing: Expand the affordable housing stock and rental assistance vouchers for extremely low-income households; preserve existing privately and publicly subsidized homes; and improve public housing.
  • Supportive Services: Invest in services that provide a path to increased incomes and economic mobility for extremely low-income families.
  • Tracking Progress: Collect and analyze data, and track progress – at state agencies and their nonprofit partners – toward an agreed upon set of goals related to housing stability and economic mobility.

On Solid Ground is a cross-sector group of more than 30 partners committed to a research-based approach to increasing housing stability and economic mobility. In preparing this report, On Solid Ground partners looked at factors that contribute to family instability, the gaps in programs meant to serve families with low incomes, the role of federal and state rental subsidy programs, and the interconnectedness of rental assistance, childcare, and employment assistance in increasing family incomes. The paper also looks at how stagnant wages, rising numbers of low wage jobs, and declining supports leave more than 60,000 families living in unstable housing situations and at risk of homelessness. The report demonstrates ways in which the Commonwealth’s service delivery system unintentionally limits the ability of families to increase their incomes and economic mobility, keeping people in poverty.

Hampden & 3 County CoCs reschedule point-in-time count to Jan. 29

Due to potential snow complications for the unsheltered/street count, the Hampden County and Three-County CoCs have both rescheduled the date for the 2015 point-in-time count to this Thursday, January 29.

This means that HMIS data will be pulled for the night of January 29, non-HMIS providers should submit summary data reports for that night, and the street count will take place that night.

Swinging Big on Family Homelessness

Ben Forman, writing in this week’s Gateway Cities Journal:

Last week Governor-elect Baker made a solid play by signing on Chrystal Kornegay to lead the Department of Housing and Community Development. A dynamic affordable housing leader known for persevering through thorny challenges, Kornegay will now shoulder responsibility for addressing family homelessness. Despite dogged attempts by the legislature and the Patrick administration to turn the tide, a growing number of Massachusetts families lack secure housing. Family homelessness is clearly one of the state’s most vexing problems. The Governor-elect has pledged to find a fix.

Gateway Cities will be cheering Baker on because they are shouldering a large share of the financial cost that the crisis exacts on communities. The conversion of hotels to de facto homeless shelters means many of these cities are losing out on hotel excise taxes. Even more costly is the expense of transporting homeless students back to schools in the communities where they previously resided, as required by federal law. This leaves Gateway Cities with fewer dollars to serve the many homeless students who opt to enroll in their school districts, adding to the financial strain these high-poverty systems endure.

Sensitive to these concerns, Baker has pledged that his response to homelessness will include reimbursing cities for the costs they incur. Fair compensation would go a long way for mayors and managers struggling to make municipal budgets work, but it is not simply a question of financial self-interest for Gateway Cities. These communities proudly want to serve as launching pads for families fighting to succeed in our Commonwealth’s economy. Rather than a quick budgetary fix, what they want most is policy solutions that give families experiencing homeless the greatest shot at achieving sustainable self-sufficiency.

Housing providers argue this means coupling housing support with education, job training, and child care, services that will almost certainly cost more than the additional funding Baker will be able to free up to tackle this problem. Success will inevitably mean making hard choices about the distribution of existing resources. For instance, Baker has suggested time limiting housing resources so that more families have an opportunity to use stable housing as a pathway to economic security. Research suggests that such an approach could provide real benefits by reallocating resources to programs that can improve the life prospects of children. But studies also indicate that imposing time limits may make adults worse off.

Weighing the tradeoffs to make informed choices will mean building DHCD’s capacity to assemble and analyze data on outcomes. For a system that expends hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer resources every year, it is essential that we know more than just how many are housed, for how long, and at what cost on a per unit basis. Homelessness has long-term intergenerational consequences as well as multiple consequences for communities most impacted (for example, the high number of students churning through Gateway City classrooms harms both the mobile and the stable learners).

The strength of Governor-elect Baker’s campaign was his passion for a government that operates efficiently and gets it right. With a strong team behind him and an issue that begs for a hard-nosed, data-driven approach, family homelessness seems like the right pitch for him to swing big.