Massachusetts Senator Stephen Buoniconti and Representative James Welch have introduced legislation that would, among other welfare changes, makes changes to the family shelter system in Massachusetts.  The bill would impact family shelter by:

  • Requiring the commissioner of DTA to make a report detailing suggested regulations to end the practice of housing families in motels within one year;
  • Requiring that, in the interim, all families housed in motels must have access to food refrigeration and kitchen facilities on the premises; and
  • Requiring that no town shall house a percentage of those housed in motels statewiode that is greater than twice the number of the municipality’s percentage of total state population.

This week’s Reminder reported on the legislation in the article: W. Massachusetts ‘dumping ground’ for homeless.  From the article:

Buoniconti said West Springfield in particular has become “a dumping ground” for the state’s homeless families receiving transitional assistance.

“We want to make sure all communities share the burden,” Buoniconti said, adding that state officials would rather house families in the western part of the state to save money.

He added that 11.6 percent of the state’s needy families are currently housed in hotels and motels within town limits–such as the Quality Inn on Riverdale Street–costing taxpays approximately $2 million per month.  Calls to the Quality Inn were not returned by press time.

“It’s an awful lifestyle and you are setting people up for failure,” Buoniconti said of the living conditions within hotels and motels.

According to numbers obtained from the Department of Transitional assistance, at the end of May 2009, there were 736 families in motels statewide, and 93 of those families were in West Springfield.  The Western Mass. communities with families in motels are Chicopee, 21; Holyoke, 29; Springfield, 14; and Westfield, 7.  Motel placements do not tell the whole story of family homelessness.  Our region also has shelter units as follows: Springfield, 110; Holyoke, 52; Chicopee, 11; West Springfield, 7; South Hadley, 4; Amherst, 6; and Easthampton, 3.

In total there are just over 250 homeless families in Hamden and Hampshire Counties, of which 164 are in motels.  The most recent number on the DTA website are from January 2009: the number of homeless families statewide at that time was 2580.

The proposed legislation makes changes to TAFDC as follows: prohibits TAFDC benefits from being withdrawn in the form of cash; prohibits TAFDC funds from being used for purchase of tobacco or alcohol; and requires a recipient to show a demoonstrated medical necessity in order to have an authorized representative allowed to access the funds.  The bill would also limit exemptions from the TAFDC work requirement: recipients would no longer be exempt due to participating in post-secondary education, college work study, internships, babysitting, or home-schooling a child.  

In (somewhat) related news, the New York Times recently reported that New York experiences a swelling of the number of homeless families during summer months.

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