The last people I saw at Arise today were a woman and her adult nephew.
For the last five years, she and her three children have been living with her father and taking care of him as he was dying, which, last month, he did.. She was never on his lease. The landlord is evicting her, and Housing Court gave her ten days to leave. Those ten days are now up, and she is waiting for the 48 hour notice from the sheriff.
Two weeks ago she went down to the Liberty St. welfare office and filled out an application for Emergency Assistance with the Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). She went back to DHCD on Wednesday and a DHCD worker told her there was nothing they could do to help her.
"The only thing I can do for you," she said, "is walk you to the door."
Well, we're going to do what we can for her. But here's what YOU can do: we're not done pressuring the Governor's office, our legislators, or DHCD. Please call BOTH the Boston and the local Governor's office: 617- 725-4005 or 784-1200. Call your state senator and representative through the State House switchboard. Ask them: is this what they intended when they voted these new rules through? And call DHCD at 627-788-3610 and ask him to have some compassion in how his agency applies the new rules.
MORE YOU CAN DO: Help us monitor the DHCD office in Springfield (and Holyoke, if we can get enough people!) for homeless families being turned away from shelter. We have two trainings scheduled: Monday, August 20, 11 am., and Wednesday, August 22, 5 pm. It's not necessary to take the training to do the monitoring, but it's helpful.
Here are some of the situations that our colleagues in Boston are reporting. I'll be very surprised if you aren't gnashing your teeth by the end of this post.
In the past week, one very young mom with a 1-year old baby was denied shelter after exhausting her last double-up. She and her child slept for 2 nights in South Station. The first night a man approached them and offered them food. The next night he returned and said he was worried about them and would let them stay in his apartment. He then raped the young mother while the baby slept nearby. Even after the mother returned to DHCD with the rape kit results and proof of why she had good cause for losing a prior job (she had no child care and nowhere to stay), DHCD refused to look at the evidence, denied her shelter again, and told her that they would report her to DCF for neglecting her child by sleeping in South Station. In fact, we now know that DHCD actually did file a 51A on this poor woman. And even after Traveler’s Aid put her up for a few nights and contacted DHCD on her behalf, a high ranking DHCD official refused to place her and said: “she can appeal the denial and get a decision in 45 days.” Ongoing efforts are being made to force DHCD to place this family (which may or may not happen today), but whatever happens to this family now, the harm is done and there can be no denying that this is a predictable consequence of the policy that is being applied.
Other families are being approached outside DHCD offices by strangers who see them crying or distraught and offering to take them home. We are very concerned about the quid pro quos that may be imposed. In one double up, the mom was told she would have to “strip to stay.”
In another case, a woman who is 8 months pregnant and her baby’s father had no where to sleep but an old car of some friends that was parked on the street. The car recently was towed away, leaving them with nowhere to go. They applied for shelter and were told they would not be eligible until they brought in a ream of verifications, including the registration for the car that was towed (which of course is relevant to nothing and was in the car that was towed which no one had resources to retrieve). The pregnant woman in the late stages of her pregnancy has now been forced to sleep on the hard floor of an acquaintance’s house with no mattress and cannot stay there for long. She has given DHCD verification from medical providers that her pregnancy is high risk to which DHCD has responded: "they aren't my boss."
In addition to the fact of the denials and reflected in the above examples and others, families are systematically being treated horribly by DHCD. Families cry to us: “Do I really have to go back there to get shelter? Please don’t say I have to go back there.” They are forced to go to the office day after day, given long lists of verifications to bring back (some of which are not even relevant and many of which should not be required before placement), and then when they do bring them in are told DHCD is too busy to see them that day.
One woman who is a natural born U.S. Citizen and has never been in the Dominican Republic in her life was told by a DHCD worker: “Just go back to the Dominican Republic where you belong.”
One mother with several children who is hearing impaired and has just been diagnosed with cancer is another example. Based on reports from the City of Boston, she and her children have been staying temporarily with her mother in subsidized housing who has now been served with eviction papers, at least in part because their staying there violates the lease. She has spent multiple days at DHCD with her children without being served. She noticed many families who came in later than her being processed in front of her and so repeatedly went to the reception desk to ask if she had missed hearing her name called -- due to her hearing impairment. She was rudely told that if she came back to the desk again she would be forced to leave. Then she was told they did not have time to see her and she should come back yet another day. She begged them to place her because she could not go back to her mother’s because of the pending eviction and did not know where her children would sleep. She was told that it was her problem where her children were going to sleep and told in front of one of her children that DHCD would file a 51A against her to have DCF take her children if she did not return to her mother’s last night. Traveler’s Aid ended up putting them up last night but obviously does not have the resources to replace the EA system for all these families.
In addition, Traveler’s Aid contacted DHCD counsel about the mother’s pending eviction, based on the understanding that DHCD had promised lawmakers that it would take steps to ensure that hosts in subsidized housing would not be evicted for taking in homeless families. But DHCD counsel informed Traveler’s Aid that no action would be taken to prevent eviction in individual cases.