Monday, March 7, 2011

The Big Losers: Poor families at risk of homelessness

OK, service providers, state bureaucracies and Gov. Patrick-- stop pretending that the revamping of the state's Emergency Assistance Program has to do with anything but saving money.  If it was really about preventing families from being out on the street, the state would be offering housing assistance alternatives as well as shelter.  Instead, the state will take away the right to shelter and offer housing assistance which may or may not succeed in preventing homelessness.  AND if that assistance isn't successful in helping a family avoid homelessness, the family is barred from any further assistance for two years.

This is a bit of a long post, but it has information we all need to know.   What follows is from the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.  Read it and then call you legislators-- please!  You can find their phone numbers at The Massachusetts Legislature.

Under the Governor’s budget, most homeless children and parents with no other safe place to stay would be denied access to emergency shelter through the state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) program
Families who would be denied shelter include those who are homeless because they are members of families that are extremely poor, have lost jobs in the horrible economy, have lost homes because of evictions due to foreclosure, or have previously fled a domestic violence situation. 
·        These families have no family or friends with whom to stay -- otherwise they would not currently be eligible for EA. The only families who could access shelter under the Administration’s proposal are those who are fleeing domestic violence in their current housing situation, headed by a young parent, or homeless due to a fire or natural disaster.
Homeless families denied shelter would be offered only temporary rental assistance and help looking for  an apartment.   The proposal mandates shelter denials but not an immediate right to housing.
·        Providing re-housing resources as quickly as possible is important, and this aspect of the proposal (7004-0108) can be useful, with some important revisions.  But since it can take weeks or months to find a unit to rent -- even with subsidies much more valuable than what is being proposed here -- we would be left out in the cold while searching for housing.
 Families who receive any homelessness assistance would be barred from any other help for 2 full years even if they literally have no safe place to stay.

Barring families from shelter does not end homelessness!  Fewer families will need shelter if better housing resources are available! We can improve housing resources AND preserve the safety net!

Proposed House 1 language
 Item 7004-0101
provided further, that notwithstanding any general or special law, or program regulation, to the contrary, (i) those families that shall be eligible for assistance through a temporary emergency family shelter shall be only (a) families that are at risk of domestic abuse in their current housing situation; and (b) families that, through no fault of their own, are homeless due to fire or natural disaster; and (ii) all families otherwise eligible for temporary emergency family shelter pursuant to departmental regulations, including those families otherwise eligible under (i) above, in which the head of household is not more than 21 years of age at the time of application for emergency assistance, shall be served only through a young families congregate housing program;
provided further, that benefits received under section 30 of Chapter 23B and/or the short-term housing transition program shall render a family ineligible for emergency assistance and/or short-term housing transition benefits for a period of 24 months from the later of the date upon which the family exits a temporary emergency family shelter or a short-term housing transition payment is made to or on behalf of the family;
 Item 7004-0108 (proposed new line item in House 1)
provided, that the assistance provided hereunder may include payments of rent arrears; a portion of the household's monthly rent, first and/or last month's rent, and/or security deposit; utility charges; and extraordinary medical bills so long as such assistance will maintain housing for the family; provided further, that a family's eligibility for such assistance shall not exceed a period of 36 months, as a single, uninterrupted period of time or otherwise; provided further, that such payments shall not exceed $8,000 for the initial 12 month period for which the family receives assistance hereunder, reduced by 5 per cent for each of the next 12 month periods for which the family receives assistance hereunder, such 12 month periods being a single uninterrupted period or otherwise; provided further, that the continued eligibility of the family shall be determined on an annual basis;
provided further, that assistance received under this program shall render a family ineligible for benefits pursuant to section 30 of chapter 23B and short-term housing transition benefits for a period of 24 months from the later of the date upon which the family exits a temporary emergency family shelter or a short-term housing transition payment is made to or on behalf of the family;

For more information or to join the Coalition, please contact members of the Coalition to Protect Homeless Children:  Mass. Coalition for the Homeless 781-595-7570 (Kelly Turley x17, Mass. Law Reform Institute 617-357-0700 (Ruth Bourquin x333 or Deborah Harris x 313, Arise for Social Justice, 413-734-4948 (Michaelann Bewsee,; Family Economic Initiative 617-603-1626 (Elizabeth Toulan, Mass. Alliance on Teen Pregnancy 617-482-9122 (Liz Peck, Coalition for Social Justice 508-678-5497 (Debbie Fastino, Coalition Against Poverty 508-999-2777 (Missy Gilbarg, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center 617-492-8306 (Clare Namugga or Stephanie Decandia or NASW/MA Chapter 617-227-9635x12 (Rebekah Gewirtz, Medical-Legal Partnership – Boston  617-414-3649 (Johanna Flacks\

Photo from RCVNL's photostream at Fickr.

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