Report: To Reduce Mass. Family Homelessness, Focus Less On Shelters | WBUR

downloadA strategy for ending the crisis of homelessness here in the state? A new report makes some obvious but also interesting suggestions (including a Homelessness Tzar!). Read below or listen to this WBUR news report.

More than 13,000 Massachusetts families applied for housing assistance during the last fiscal year. Gov. Charlie Baker has made tackling homelessness one of his top priorities, and a new report released Wednesday offers the administration a few suggestions.

The report, On Solid Groundwhich was spearheaded by the group Citizens’ Housing And Planning Association, examines how the state should address family homelessness in particular. It recommends a four-pronged approach:

  • Systems Change: Appoint a Special Secretary to build a coordinated service delivery system across government 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.

Rachel Heller, the group’s director of public policy, joined WBUR’s Morning Edition. She says family homelessness in Massachusetts is beyond crisis levels and it’s time to shift our approach.

On shifting the sole focus away from shelters:

If we continue to focus only on reducing shelter numbers, family homelessness will continue to rise. If we shift our focus to housing stability and economic mobility, that will result in better outcomes for children, for their families and for our communities.

On the establishment of a new cabinet secretary for homelessness:

We need high level leadership to build a coordinated service delivery system. The state has done tremendous things and has great programs meant to serve people with low incomes who are really struggling, but we need to pull all of this together. Right now, too many families find that they’re eligible for help with housing but then they can’t get the childcare they need to be able to go to work. In this high cost market where we have the seventh highest rental market, we have the highest childcare costs, we really need these programs to work together in order to gain that stability.

On the state’s progress with homelessness in the last 30 years:

One of the things that was surprising to me was how similar the situation is today as to when the family shelter system was started back in 1983. We’re dealing with all the same issues: a shortage of affordable housing, not enough support programs, programs that don’t work well together. Massachusetts has developed these programs because we care, policymakers care, the public cares.

But we haven’t gotten to the root causes, it’s only gotten worse, unfortunately. The numbers are increasing. The state has made progress for some families but unfortunately we don’t have enough resources and the programs don’t work well enough together to help more families.

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