Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Meeting Minutes – 7/17/19

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In attendance:  Katy Abel, MA Department of Higher Education, Kim Borden, Berkshire Regional Housing Authority, Amber Connors, YWCA of Western MA, Emily English, Gandara Center, Rosemary Fiedler, HCC, Jill Fijal, Chicopee Public Schools, Leslie Fisher-Katz, Children’s Study Home, J. Froneberger, CHD, Lisa Goldsmith, Community Action, Kara Knott, UMass Amherst, Gretchen LaBonte, UMass Amherst, Ann Lentini, Domus,  Phil Ringwood, DIAL/SELF, Gerry McCafferty, Hampden CoC/City of Springfield, Spencer Moser, MCLA, Mena Regan, CHD, Elizabeth Rivera, HCC, Christina Royal, HCC, Tony Sbalbi, HCC, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Beth Wallace, Berkshire Community College, 

MA Student Housing Security Pilot – Presentation and DiscussionSpecial Guest: Katy Abel, Associate Commissioner for External Affairs & Special Projects, MA Department of Higher Education
Katy presented on the “MA Student Housing Security Pilot,” a pilot project funded by the MA Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless begun in Jan. 2019 and funded through FY20. Four 4-year universities are partnering with community colleges to provide up to 5 beds for students identified by campus staff or local service providers as experiencing homelessness. 

Findings thus far post this first semester:  

19 students enrolled
17 completed the Spring semester
GPA: 10 over 3.0 (9 had over 3.0 prior to enrolling in this program)
6 of 19 had course withdrawals (reasons not listed)
13 of 19 were active on campus in various activities

Overwhelming feedback from the students: “grateful” and “now I can focus on my work.”

The Youth Commission is seeking funding to assist with more formal evaluation.  

Cost of this program is estimated at roughly $800 students per month.  Katy was encouraging private fundraising to expand the program as well.

In addition to a college pilot, DHCD is devoting a building in Malden formerly utilized by DMH clients to 11 new SRO units that will be allocated to college students (called the “K house).  It will serve students attending Roxbury CC, Bunker Hill CC, Mass Art and UMass Boston. This will be available to students of all ages because it is DHCD funded as opposed to Youth Commission funded (where the limitation is 18-25 years). 

DHCD is also devoting some of its Moving to Work Section 8 vouchers to increase housing options for this population.

Is expansion of this program to Western MA possible?
We discussed this question explicitly. Both Westfield State University and Holyoke Community College have expressed interest in a partnership.

Additional state funding will first depend on the outcome of the FY20 state budget.  Still waiting for its release from Conference Committee.  Both the House and Senate increased the youth line-item so it is hopeful we will see additional monies available.  Next question is how they are allocated. Katy encouraged the following to put Western MA in the best position to receive funds:

  • advocate to Linn Torto of MA ICHH
  • address anticipated barriers, e.g., transportation needs
  • anticipate how to meet food costs (colleges are responsible); begin conversations with college’s student affairs offices
  • encourage allocation of MTW vouchers from Holyoke Housing Authority

Discussion of other resources/networking opportunities:
The group exchanged information about its various programs and resources.  Below are a few highlights:

  • Jose of STCC noted that federal TRIO funds can be utilized to pay for housing during school break times – this is a big breakthrough and provided emergency motel funds for a student who would otherwise have been sleeping on the street last night
  • Campus food insecurity network: United Way of Pioneer Valley is convening a monthly meeting of colleges to address this topic.  Please contact Jennifer Kinsman at jkinsman@uwpv.org if interested in joining.
  • NESTERLY – this is an intergenerational website that matches seniors with an extra room with people who can rent at a reduced price in exchange for care of house-related needs
  • It was noted that it’s vitally important to have students IN THE ROOM when having these discussions; we will discuss this further at our next meeting
  • DHCD eligibility requirements for shelter frequently create a barrier for students.  Gerry pointed out that one night in a hotel qualifies a person as “homeless” under DHCD rules.
  • A hearing on campus food insecurity bill is taking place at the State House on 7/23. Pamela will relay details.
  • Katy recommended attending REAL COLLEGE conference in Houston on 9/28.  She will forward info and Pamela will relay.

Other Network Updates:
Pamela reported on recent legislative activity that involved Network advocacy. On July 16 at the State House there were two Committee hearings on Network priority bills:

  • Right to Counsel for tenants in eviction proceedings (in 2018, 92% of tenants went to housing court without a lawyer, while over 70% of landlords were represented; this imbalance has a direct impact on homelessness); and
  • The HOMES Act (eviction sealing) which would automatically seal an eviction record upon filing and only be released (for a maximum of 3 years) if there is a finding against the tenant.  Right now, the filing of an eviction becomes an instant public record regardless of whether the tenant did anything wrong or counter-claimed against the landlord or had their case dismissed or entered into an agreement.  This poses a significant barrier for tenants looking for housing. 
  • Cliff Effects pilot program and state data reporting: These bills would address the “cliff effect” – the sudden drop in income and other public assistance when there is an increase in earnings that puts the individual further behind in resources.  State data reporting would require cross-agency reporting to better understand who is impacted by the cliff effect and the pilot program would provide a test vehicle (with 50 families, located in Western MA) for reducing the impact. 
  • Act of Living bill which would create basic civil and human rights protections for people experiencing homelessness.

The Network submitted testimony on all these bills.  Our Western MA delegation is very supportive and frequently in the lead.  Thank you, legislators!

Please join the Network blog at https://westernmasshousingfirst.org to stay most connected to the Network advocacy and participate in it.  It is NOT TOO LATE for organizations to introduce testimony (several Network partners have done so already). Please contact Pamela to discuss further.

Next meeting date:  Wed., August 7, 9:30 am – 11:00 am, Frost Building, Room 309, Holyoke Community College