Family Services Committee Meeting Minutes
March 10, 2015
In attendance: Jane Banks, Center for Human Development, Ashley Brehm, HAPHousing, Bonnie Caldwell, DHCD, Cris Carl, ServiceNet (Franklin), Loletta Collins, Springfield Housing Authority, Jenni Delmonte, Tenancy Preservation Project, Jennifer Dieringer, Community Legal Aid, Harry Duchesne, New England Farm Workers Council, Lindsay Errichetto, Family Life Support Center, Erin Forbush, ServiceNet (Berkshires), Hwei-Ling Greeney, Amherst Community Connections, Julia Guazzo, CFCE/HCS Head Start, Sandra Haigh, Tenancy Preservation Project, Donna Harris, Franklin Hampshire Career Center, Sean Hemingway, Center for Human Development, Steve Huntley, Valley Opportunity Council, Jill Fijal, Chicopee Public Schools, Faith Lafayette, FOR Families, Jane Lindfors, DTA DV Unit, Heather Marshall, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Lizzy Ortiz, City of Springfield, Steve Plummer, Springfield Partners, Anna Quan, Amherst Community Connections, Hiilda Santa, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity, Lourdes Sariol, DHCD, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Helen Shea, Square One, Janna Tetreault, Community Action, Janette Vigo, HAPHousing, Phyllis White, Franklin Hampshire Career Center
Discussion of Governor Baker’s FY16 Budget Proposal:
Pamela distributed hand-outs of budget summaries provided by Mass. Budget and Policy Center and Mass. Law Reform Institute (see http://www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=Analyzing_the_Governors_Budget_for_FY_2016.html and http://www.masslegalservices.org/content/governors-fy-2016-budget-proposal-mlris-preliminary-analysis-selected-issues. We reviewed the provisions pertaining to family homelessness, specifically the additional EA eligibility restrictions and the allocation of $20 million to Executive Office of Health and Human Service (EOHHS) for support services for homeless families.
We agreed it is too early and too much is unknown to weigh in on the $20 million allocation. There are many unanswered questions, chiefly: how would the proposed support services differ from those that that are being provided by current housing stabilization workers (via HomeBASE) and FOR Families. People expressed concern about the inefficiency/duplication of funding programs separate from those already underway, as well as the prospect of delay and gaps in services due to the need for procurement and start-up.
The group as a whole expressed immediate and grave concern in response to the Governor’s proposal to eliminate EA eligibility for families who are couch-surfing or doubled-up and families who are living in others’ homes that do not meet the State Sanitary Code. DHCD has estimated that roughly 40% of its current EA families are families who qualify for EA under these criteria.
The group discussed their presumption that the Governor decided he needed to restrict the “front door” (eliminating eligibility for many families) in order to have the funds to pay for the additional $20 million of support services. However, group members expressed that even this “trade” was off-base because it did not deal with the lack of affordable housing, the lack of subsidies and the lack of permanent supportive housing which many of these families need.
The group discussed the current DHCD model that has been in effect since December that provides diversion workers at the front door with DHCD staff. Since September, CHD staff have worked to significantly reduced the number of families entering the shelter system with their diversion efforts. The latest data shows a 70% diversion rate at the Liberty Street office. Statewide, the diversion rate is at 20% (Boston is especially difficult to divert due to housing costs). Right now, the motel population is at 1,397, down from 2,600.
The group consensus was that the current diversion effort is proving successful and should be expanded; that this demonstrates that it is possible to lower shelter entries without denying eligibility to families who are in fact homeless.
Specifically regarding the rural population in the Berkshires, Lindsay shared that with these new restrictions, no family would ever access EA (since rural homelessness is almost always defined as doubling up).
The group elected to take a position to strongly oppose these proposed restrictions on EA eligibility. The group agreed to focus its advocacy on continued support of diversion efforts at the front door; continued investment in affordable housing and subsidies and permanent supportive housing. The group also stressed the need to combine this advocacy with a focus on investment in child care because families cannot move out of poverty and into employment without safe and affordable child care.
Donna Nadeau of DHCD noted that EA shelter contracts expire on 3/21 (under a 21 day contract). She is awaiting updates on next steps for renewal/extension.
The Father Nurturing Conference is happening next week in Newport. A very exciting opportunity for all who can attend.
Habitat for Humanity provided applications for housing opportunities for low-income families. Consider this resource for some of the EA eligible families (with some income). Not a quick fix but offers an extraordinary opportunity.
Springfield Partners announced it has funding available to defray fuel costs for those who are not eligible for fuel assistance (above their income guidelines). Contact Steve Plummer for more information
4/14, 1-2:30 pm, NEFWC, 225 High Street