A Working Model to End Family Homelessness
By Timothy P.
Massachusetts will be a stronger and better Commonwealth if all
families have access to affordable housing. Stable housing options means more
people are back on their feet, employed, and investing in our economy. As Chair
of the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, we are constantly
pushing to decrease the number of homeless families in need of shelter. In the
last three months, we have reduced the number of families who need shelter by
more than 28% statewide.
In 2011, Governor Patrick and I worked closely
with the legislature to implement housing reform, and began shifting some
resources from supporting shelter to affordable housing and homelessness
prevention. By providing critical services to families at the right time, we
are now experiencing a positive trend with more families receiving the immediate
assistance they need.
During the height of the Great Recession, an
influx of federal stimulus funds bolstered programs like shelter diversion and
rapid rehousing. Building from this successful model, our Administration
established the HomeBASE program and recapitalized the Residential Assistance
for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. Together, these two programs have
targeted housing-based assistance for homeless and at-risk families. Since July
2012, HomeBASE has helped over 400 homeless families avoid shelter and another
1,300 families leave shelter and become housed. RAFT has prevented more than
2,150 families from becoming homeless in the first place. Additionally, we have
increased resources for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, adding
approximately 700 vouchers targeted to provide homeless families with long-term
Evidence clearly indicates that with a Housing First
approach, we can reduce the long-term costs of ending homelessness and provide
sustainability for families in need.
I recall my time working as a
housing advocate at a non-profit agency in Framingham in 1991. I primarily
assisted single women and their children who were either homeless or on the
verge of becoming homeless. Some were already in shelters, others were living
with friends or family, and our agency had a contract with the state to help
these families find stable and affordable housing.
In one instance, I
worked with a mother who had three young children and was at risk of eviction
from her apartment because she owed back rent. With children at home, she
worked as much as she could around their school schedule to earn enough to meet
her monthly expenses, but it was challenging. We met almost weekly, filling out
applications for affordable housing for nearly two years, while we did what we
could to keep her family from becoming homeless. Her landlord was a decent man,
and more than once he agreed to wait a few weeks for back rent owed, as she
struggled to work as many hours as she could. During this time, I worked with
her to navigate the tangled, and often disconnected array of public and private
human service programs to find any assistance for her.
After a couple of
years, I left that housing job and another advocate took over this family’s
case. Then, sometime in 2005, when I was Mayor of Worcester, I got an email
from this woman asking if I was the same Tim Murray who worked as her housing
advocate in the 1990’s. When we reconnected, I learned the rest of her
The housing agency continued to work with her and she was
approved for a housing voucher, ending the constant threat of homelessness.
Having stable housing marked a turning point for her family. She continued to
work as many hours as possible and then enrolled in a community college. Next,
she went on to Framingham State College (now University) and earned a degree,
which helped her secure a full-time job. She no longer needed the housing
voucher, and a few years later she bought her own home in an affordable housing
neighborhood created through the Chapter 40B program. Today, she is still
working hard and has put all three of her children through college.
story demonstrates that while maintenance of an emergency system is necessary,
housing and support services can have the most lasting impact. Governor Patrick
often describes our Administration’s efforts to help others by offering a “hand
up, not a hand out.” We are taking that same approach as we take on the
challenge of ending homelessness in Massachusetts. The progress we are making
in partnership with legislators, advocates and providers is leading to more
success stories. Although this work is arduous and complex, we will not be
satisfied until all families in Massachusetts have access to the opportunity and
stability that comes with an affordable place to call home.
As always, thank you for your support with this and other issues.