Thursday, January 9, 2014

Call your elected officials and ask them to request an investment of at least $87.5 million in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) as well as a modest reform to the Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter safety net in the Governor’s FY 15 Budget Proposal. 

The final FY 14 budget funded MRVP at $57.5 million, a $15.5 million increase from FY13, providing vouchers to an additional 1,000 families across the Commonwealth. This was a much needed investment and yet if we are to address the growing family homelessness crisis in the state in a meaningful way, we must take sustained and significant steps to expand investment in MRVP and other forms of permanent, affordable housing for our lowest income residents.   

Family homelessness in Massachusetts is at an all-time high, with over 4,000 families currently living in shelter and many more in unsafe or unstable double-up situations. The single most significant cause of family homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. 

We have witnessed first-hand the devastating human and economic consequences of the current family homelessness crisis. It is well-established fact that homeless children, as compared to their housed peers, have:
-       higher rates of acute and chronic illness,
-       more nutritional deficiencies like iron deficiency anemia,
-       greater rates of hunger,
-       higher rates of developmental delays and
-       more difficulty focusing in school, if they make it to school at all, resulting in risks of repeating years in school.

Worse, placing families in motels and shelters costs more – approximately $3000 per month –as compared with funding an MRVP voucher which costs just $1028 per family per month. And long term, the costs of family homelessness – in health care, education, public benefits, and to society at large – are substantial. While we must continue to fully fund EA shelter, since it is such a critical safety net while so many families are homeless and at risk of homelessness, we must also substantially increase our investment in permanent, affordable housing if the need for shelter is to decrease.   

We are asking for a proposed investment of at minimum $87.5 million in the MRVP line item in the Governor’s FY15 Budget Proposal. This would be a $30 million increase over the FY14 investment, and would create between 2,000 and 3,000 additional vouchers. Permanent, affordable housing is the centerpiece to child health and a stable education and has a proven record in contributing to substantial long term cost savings.

 At the same time, we know that families experiencing homelessness need access to emergency shelter until they are able to secure permanent housing and we are very concerned that many families cannot now qualify for EA unless and until they have had no choice but to stay in a place not meant for human habitation.
 The lack of this protection is putting a strain on our medical, educational and social systems. Families in dire straits sometimes have to resort to staying in the emergency room when they’ve been denied shelter and have no other housing options, thereby driving up medical costs. The educators among us have noticed students out of school as their families bounce around from place to place, and have had to take time away from teaching to address the homelessness crises of our students. 

We are asking you our elected officials to request that the Governor's proposal slightly expand eligibility for EA shelter to families who provide credible information that they are within 24 hours of having to stay in a place not meant for human habitation with their children. This should increase cost very little, if anything because these families are qualifying for shelter now but only after having had to go through the trauma of staying in places not meant for human habitation. 

 We ask you to  urge the administration to take this step to ensure that children are kept safe and off the streets while simultaneously setting a strong precedent toward ending family homelessness by proposing to fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program at $87.
5 million or higher.
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1 comment:

Social Justice Poetry said...

It's important for lawmakers to hear from people who understand that being homeless is not a character flaw. Thank you for your efforts.