Friday, January 1, 2010

Three years left in Patrick's plan to end homelessness

But homelessness has doubled in the last two years

Massachusetts gets a mention at's  Ten Most Notable Homelessness Stories of 2009.  Apparently one-third of all the homeless families sheltered by the state iofMassachusetts last year stayed at motels.  (Number Ten, however, is actually about the uncounted "hidden homeless" families who fly under the radar of homelessness by moving to a hotel when they've run out of other options. )

Paying for families to live in a motel is a crying shame; the only worse thing the state could do would be to leave these families on the street.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts pays $2.8 million a month to house 1000 families.  Interestingly, the state would only spend $800,000 a month to takes those thousand families and put them in $800 a month apartments.  What's wrong with this picture?

Back in January, 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick announced his Five Year Plan to End Homelessness, which included the merger of  the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) emergency shelter services with existing Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  The three main goals of the plan were to
  • Identify and help people at risk of homelessness.
  • Create more affordable housing.
  • Help create economic stability for families to make sure they don't slip back into homelessness.
Now, these are great goals-- homelessness advocates support them--  but at least some of us were concerned, back then, that the state had little new money to help meet these goals and instead planned to fund them by cutting shelter services in a diversity of ways.  Western Mass lost its oldest family shelter, Jefferson House, as well as several other shelters in our area. Eligibility rules were tightened and stays were shortened.

The very next month, prefaced by the summer's  housing crisis, the recession hit.

If the five year plan was malnourished to begin with, two straight years of financial crises and budget cuts have been devastating.  We are entering year three of the five year plan and homelessness in Massachusetts has doubled. The bureaucracy has been as slow as as the Titanic in steering a new course for its strategy to end homelessness, and each time a recession recedes it leave more and more people like jetsam on the shore.  I don't see an end to homelessness coming any time soon.

Photo from Curtis Gregory Perry's photostream at Flickr.

1 comment:

Diane Nilan said...

Ending homelessness requires more than a slogan; it requires a viable plan and resources to back it up.

The longer families and teens linger in this dysfunctional existence, the harder--and more expensive--it will be to help them reach independence.

Kudos for banging the drum!