Family Services Committee Meeting – December 13, 2011

 In attendance:  Jane Banks, Center for Human Development, Alvina Brevard, DHCD, Tammie Butler, Community Action, Cris Carl, ServiceNet, Ken Demers, NEFWC, Anthia Elliott, Safe Passage, Steve Huntley, VOC, Dawn DiStefano, YWCA of Western Mass., Fran Lemay, ServiceNet, Jane Lindfors, DTA/DV unit, Yeisie Mateo, DCF, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Jordana O’Connell, Holyoke Public Schools, Lizzy Ortiz, Stephen Plummer, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Carmen Roman, DCF, Pamela Schwartz, network coordinator, Robin Sherman, FCRHRA, Sarah Slautterback, DESE, Rachel Trant, DCF, Lauren Voyer, HAPHousing

 Workforce Development Action Plan Update

 Distributed “listening session” flyer (see attached) – Pamela encouraged everyone to pick one (1/9 in Northampton, 1/11 in Springfifeld, 1/18 in Pittsfield) and participate in this important effort to collect and exchange information around barriers/solutions to workforce development for homeless families.

 HomeBase update

Discussed DHCD recommendation to legislature: continuation of earlier policy change (families post 10/28 entitled to household assistance, not HomeBASE subsidy).  Discussed Network role in relation to this issue:  agreed that we should assess after Governor’s budget is released in late January.  Fundamental message must be:  we cannot solve affordable housing crisis through short-term emergency shelter response.

Robin Sherman recommended that the more advocates can coalesce around a proposal or plan, the more likely we are to gain comprehensive change.  The more there is disagreement among advocates, the less likely the legislature is to adopt real change. 

Discussion of rise in domestic violence in motels.  Lack of space in DV shelters (because of lack of movement out due to lack of affordable housing).  Pamela reminded all of the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s $30,000 contribution to the Network which will support re-housing efforts for families in domestic violence shelters (who are no longer in imminent danger).  UWPV funds will serve Hampden County families and be distributed equally through YWCA of Western Mass. and WomanShelter.  Also acknowledged that while this is vital assistance to the families served, it is only a fraction of what is needed to ease the demand on DV shelter.

Discussion of One Family report on its listening session with providers and regional housing networks around HomeBASE implementation.  Worthwhile reading. 


Network advocacy

Discussion of Network role in meeting with mayors and legislators.  Pamela updated committee on invitation to regional mayors to next Leadership Council meeting of 1/25 and Leadership Council intention to reach out to area legislators as well.  The Steering Committee is in the process of getting clear on the Network’s role as an advocacy body but has agreed that clarity around this role is a priority.

Noted affordable housing call-in day tomorrow, 12/14. Pamela will send out notice to all.

Pilot Program

Pamela brought to the committee the Leadership Council discussion from its 11/30 meeting at which Council members raised the question of whether we could propose a pilot program to DHCD that would better house families at a lower cost to the Commonwealth.  The Leadership Council requested family services committee feedback on the broad concept.  Below is a summary of our committee member comments:

Good thing about pilot is that it is an experiment so you’re not creating an entitlement and you can stress accountability for families being served.  There is knowledge in advance that the program will not necessarily expand to serve everybody.

Challenge in any pilot proving anything on a larger scale:  10-20% of families are relatively easy to serve; 10-20% are incredibly complex and “near impossible” and the rest are so widely variable.  How to tailor any program that serves a few with the potential that it could in fact serve more when the range is so vast?

Should we craft a pilot that works with the most challenging families instead of the easiest to serve?

One of the bigger challenges is serving families with mental health issues.  We need more supportive housing, greater connections to the mental health community as a whole.

We need to emphasize apartment sharing as a response to the housing crisis; one that entails supportive services as well.  People need community, they need human relationships.  Vast majority of people in shelter/motels are there because they do not have family/community.  We can address this through apartment sharing which has already proven successful in the past.

We should consider a mentoring program – one that supports financial literacy and other basic household skills.  A kind of “adopt a family” model that helps build connections and skills.

Take note that all the ideas proposed – apartment sharing, better stabilization services, mentoring – cost more money, not less; the bottom line is for rehousing to work, it takes investment of time and resources.  It IS expensive. 

However, while costly up front, over the long term, it saves money (people less likely to re-enter the system).

Suggestion that in any pilot program discussion, we be very specific – who are we helping – who is the target population exactly – what is the intervention; what are the goals and over what period of time will they be accomplished

A pilot project for 1 year is likely to be worthless – need 5 year commitment to make change really work.

OR, if crafting 1 year project, must be framed extremely narrowly with only the easiest to serve families.

The private sector has a tendency to say:  give me the money, I can do it better.  But they do not realize the level of complexity.  It is not so easy.

Providers are currently so over-burdened with making HomeBASE work, so busy trying to think creatively around how best to meet the crisis with the current resources, there is not much room to think past that.

Consensus:  return to Leadership Council with this feedback and suggestion for them to consider forming their own sub-group to brainstorm “bigger picture” pilot program solutions with Bob Pulster and others and feed their experience back into family services group.  A “divide and conquer” approach:  while family service providers meet the day-to-day demand and plan for global policy/funding in 2013, LC members can think and pursue pilot project concepts.  Pamela will report back.

Next meeting:  Tuesday, January 10, 9:30-11:00 am, Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz Street, Northampton

Liz Rogers from ICHH will attend to discuss and exchange around ICCH support to the Network.

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