The Family Services Committee hosted Ruth Bourquin of Mass. Law Reform Institute and Leslie Lawrence of Mass. Coalition for the Homeless to hear their perspectives on the proposed EA reform.  The discussion is summarized below.  The Committee will meet again on Monday, March 21, 9:30 -11:00 am, at the DMH Haskell Building, Northampton (1 Prince Street) to exchange feedback around the discussion and consider possible qualifications to the Network’s endorsement of the proposed reform.  All are welcome.

Family Services Committee Meeting Minutes – 3/15/11

In attendance:  Emily Abbatte, Arise, Jane Banks, CHD, Liz Bewsee,  Arise, Michaelann Bewsee, Arise, Janice Broderick, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Ruth Bourquin, MLRI, Alvina Brevard, DHCD, Tammie Butler, Community Action, Cris Carl, Family Inn, Ken Demers, NEFWC, Heidi DiLeone, FOR Families, Anthia Elliott, Safe Passage,  Lindsay Errichetto, BCAC, Peter Gagliardi, HAPHousing, David Geld, Square One, Joanne Glier, Franklin County Regional Housing Authority, Brad Gordon, Berkshire Regional Housing Authority,  Mary Johnson, YWCA, Leslie Lawrence, Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, Yeisie Mateo, DCF,Ashley McGurn, FOR Families,  Katie McKinnon, Arise, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Elton Ogden, Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, Steve Plummer, Springfield Partners,  Jim Reis, HAPHousing, Pamela Schwartz, network coordinator, Sarah Slautterback, DESE, Nina Vitello, ICI DTA Project, Kurt Zellen, Northampton VAMC

Ruth Bourquin, Mass. Law Reform Institute, Leslie Lawrence Mass. Coalition for the Homeless on EA reform:

We support the aspect of the Governor’s budget proposal that recommends continuing to use EA dollars for short-term housing assistance, but improvements need to be made in how that assistance is designed. Most fundamentally, we support housing first but not without a shelter safety net.  Only 3 categories eligible for shelter under the Governor’s proposal – what about others who need it in spite of being “eligible” for short-term housing assistance which doesn’t ensure families have a place to go right away?  While a short-term housing subsidy is appropriate for many if properly structured, not the answer for everyone. Declining amounts every year are problematic – even those with many fewer barriers to work, etc. cannot increase their incomes in this economy. Value of subsidy should be based on a real assessment of particular families’ needs and actual incomes.  Can provide better housing assistance and protect safety net – false choice to have to choose between the two.  Stand for prevention, short-term housing assistance for those who can benefit and access to long-term housing, whenever possible, but cannot agree to something that would leave families without access to an actual housing unit with nowhere else to go.

EA is a child protective program.  Housing is better than shelter.  But shelter is better than a car or the street.   Short-term housing assistance is not new.  We’ve had $44 million of HPRP dollars, $30 million of EA flex fund dollars.  $38 million in this new program and it’s not realistic to think it will make it ok.  Too early to be eliminating shelter.

Response to rationale of finite resources:  legislature has had long-term commitment to protecting children.  The reason legislature keeps providing funding for shelter is because it’s a safety net program.  It is because Emergency Assistance is a safety net program that there has been support for services such as housing subsidies. By eliminating that connection, we may just end up with less, not something better.

Encouraging legislature to make provision of safety net absolutely explicit (right now Administration is suggesting they will protect it but not good enough). Also do not think provider shelter or a new shelter substitute should be left to regionals. They will have enough on their plates to figure out how to distribute the housing assistance in a time-sensitive and family friendly manner and to oversee stabilization services, which, based on the Flex Funds experience, needs a lot of work.

Can continue to use EA (shift resources) for housing but don’t need to eliminate safety net. If housing assistance works, fewer will qualify for shelter under current rules.

Also need to renew a focus on prevention – for those who have not yet lost their housing but will within 60 days without assistance.

Governor’s proposal puts almost all eggs in basket of short-term housing assistance.  Need to recognize that it is NOT permanent housing. For most people, this is transitional and they’ll need further assistance afterward. Once-in-2-year limit on assistance is also highly problematic.

Michaelann Bewsee, ARISE:  upset by Network’s position.  Asks that we go back to the drawing board.  Incorporate concerns, don’t do blanket endorsement.

Important to have safety net in place because families often are wrongly denied and need legal protections built in. Also, even if one trusts this Administration, who knows who will come next?

A fundamental issue is time lag.  But that isn’t the only issue: Subsidies too low to be functional in some areas, so will never work for some.  Also, not enough units at 80% FMR, particularly in Greater Boston and other higher cost areas.

Mandatory requirement that amount goes down each year is too rigid.  To build in expectation that you will in fact increase your income…not reality based given the continuing economic crisis and declining resources for job training, transportation and child care.  Don’t write the law based on aspirations, write it based on what is real.

Time is now to weigh in with legislature as House budget will be released in mid-April.

Network feedback:  Bigger picture:  as soon as you do better, they take assistance away – medical, child care – no incentive for doing the right thing.   Families get punished instead.  Must address global safety net, including child care, education, job training.  Concern over loss of safety net with shelter; over finite resources; over creating a program that encourages family accountability and empowerment.

Agreed:  Network will meet on Monday, 3/21, 9:30 am at DMH Haskell Building to debrief on this discussion and decide about next steps/possible amendments to unequivocal endorsement.

Additional Updates:

Announcement of ICHH contract – signed between UWPV and ICHH – contracts about to go out to providers.  Funds should be disbursable by next week.

Review of data.  Motel numbers up from last year.  Springfield Liberty Street numbers down over the last 2 months, while Holyoke is up.

Discussion of DV cases and challenges in family shelter.  Suggestion:  cross-trainings from DV staff to family shelter staff; also providing a continuity in service, community supports – connecting families to DV services.  If undocumented and DV survivors, can get support to get green card.  Develop safer screening tools to get a better sense of what people are dealing with.

Next regular meeting:  Tuesday, April 12, 1 pm CHD, 50 Capitol Drive, West Springfield


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