Family Services Committee Meeting Minutes
October 14, 2014

In attendance: Jane Banks, Center for Human Development, Ashley Brehm, HAPHousing, Melissa Brown, YWCA, Bonnie Caldwell, DHCD, Cris Carl, ServiceNet, Claudia Catalano, DPH, Susan Colwell, DCF, Pat Duffy, Rep. Vega’s office, Harry Duchesne, New England Farm Workers Council, Anthia Elliott, Safe Passage, Rose Evans, DHCD, John Fister, HAPHousing, Julia Guazzo, CFCE, Eryka Haase, Tenancy Preservation Proejct, Flo Haves, EEC, Donna Harris, Franklin Hampshire Career Center, Steve Huntley, Valley Opportunity Council, Faith Lafayette, DPH – FOR Families, Lisa Lapierre, Secure Jobs (CPM), Fran Lemay, ServiceNet, Jane Lindfors, DTA DV Unit, Ses Lopez, CareerPoint/SJC, Ashley Mann, New Lease, Melissa Mateus, Springfield Partners, Heather Marshall, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Gerry McCafferty, City of Springfield, Janet Mock, Square One, Darlene Morse, CareerPoint/SJC, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Halie Nicolosi, Harvard Catalyst, Jordana O’Connell, Holyoke Public Schools, Lizzy Ortiz, City of Springfield, Tom Pilcik, New Lease, Dorothy Pink, Valley Opportunity Council/WIC, Steve Plummer, Springfield Partners, Liza Rios, YWCA,  Hilda Santa, Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Robin Sherman, Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Sarah Slautterback, DESE, Rachel Trant, DCF, Holyoke State Representative Aaron Vega, Janette Vigo, HAPHousing, Lauren Voyer, HAPHousing, Abigail Williams, Harvard Catalyst, Phyllis White, Franklin Hampshire Career Center, Alicia Zoeller, Holyoke Community Development

Pamela welcomed special guests Representative Aaron Vegan, Rose Evans, DHCD Associate Director of Division of Housing Stabilization and Abigail Williams of Harvard Catalyst.

General update from Rose Evans, DHCD Associate Director of Division of Housing Stabilization:

Rose noted FY2014 highlights: 1,000 new households with MRVP subsidies; expansion of state investment in Secure Jobs statewide by $1.5 million; funding for 3,000 units of Permanent Supportive Housing through Housing Stabilization Trust Fund; increase of Household Assistance from $4K to $6K (continuing initiative into FY 2015). The Commonwealth reached a milestone of producing over 20,000 units since 2007.

Regarding shelter capacity: The Commonwealth expanded capacity in FY14, ending the year with an increase of over 700 beds. This effort continues into FY15 as the demand for shelter increases. Shelter capacity will increase by an additional 800 beds in FY15 with 200-300 in Western Mass.

The shelter system has not been “resized” since 2009. An increase in shelter beds is the most appropriate course in view of the continued demand and the desire to decrease reliance on motels and provide more comprehensive services to families.

The FY15 budget includes an increase in Household Assistance upon exiting shelter from $6K to $8K. This has enhanced families’ capacity to become rehoused.

Rose noted the New Lease program. Tom Pilchik, the director, shared that thus far it has moved 65 families out of shelter into apartments. Very exciting initiative.

Rose also noted that DHCD has started case management services at selected hotels (where there are high numbers of families or in remote locations).   DHCD also hired for a new staff position, Felisha Bennett, to oversee operations and to supervise 3 transitional specialists (Juanita Diaz In the Western Mass office).

Rose also noted the FY15 change in MRVP language so that MRVPs are now blind to EA eligibility. Families living in motels and shelter will not have a priority. DHCD is moving to a statewide wait list for MRVPs. This will take time to implement but the process is underway. Meanwhile, housing authorities have released frozen MRVPs and regional housing authorities have been issued new MRVP’s.

Rose provided a breakdown of the 450 families currently living in motels in Western Mass:
242 from Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin Counties
10 Greenfield
39 Holyoke
133 Springfield
22 Chicopee
Other 50% not from W. Mass. DHCD is working very hard to relocate families back to their communities of origin but they have faced the additional challenge of several “extended stay” hotels in Boston area discontinuing business with the Commonwealth. This has resulted in the loss of 233 shelter beds.

Gerry McCafferty posed the question of whether DHCD is considering use of a screening tool (similar to VI-SPDAT that is being implemented for homeless individuals) to prioritize housing resources?

Rose offered that DHCD can get to certain indicators through HUD assessments; can “drill down” based on certain critiera. She will look into that.

Harvard Catalyst Project

Abigail Williams offered the background on this project: Harvard Catalyst is part of Harvard Medical School and offers public policy partnerships, evaluation support, and technical assistance to policy partners. Catalyst entered into a contract with DPH for their home visiting initiative (federal funding for state programs to create an early childhood system of care). A decision was made with DPH to focus on Western Mass. Catalyst began with survey and focus groups with CFCEs (home visiting providers), inquiring about their TA needs to improve the system of care. In focus groups, the issue of family homelessness and particularly the challenges facing families living in motels arose as the greatest concern. Catalyst held two meetings in Western MA, one in June, the other in August, and at the August meeting, the participants brainstormed an action plan.

Note: Pamela, the Network coordinator, explained that she was away on leave this summer. Pamela learned about this initiative upon return in September and began conversations with Abigail and other partners, culminating in this meeting today.

Abigail distributed the action plan and asked for the group to review and discuss.

On issues pertaining to hotel contracts with management (concerns over sufficient space at hotel for case management for families; other environmental issues), Rose Evans offered insight that DHCD negotiates individual contracts with each hotel – there are no over-arching terms. Every hotel’s rate is negotiated. Every room is paid for (no “extra rooms” thrown in for additional services).

Gerry McCafferty noted that missing in the action plan was a focus on rehousing families. She remarked that focus on the crisis of motels instead of focus on housing perpetuates the crisis mode. She said we need to use our expertise to move families out of shelter/motels and into housing.

Pat Duffy noted that in order to focus on housing we need to change the conversation and push for policy change and win legislative and public support for that change.

Jane Banks offered that with DHCD’s recent addition of case managers in hotels who are offering intensive support addresses many of the concerns raised in the action plan (access to food, transportation). Abigail (and others) agreed.

Others who were new to this meeting (invited via previous Catalyst meetings) raised the general concern about staying informed and connected to what is happening in regard to family homelessness in the region. Pamela stressed that the Network is available to provide that conduit of information and that this monthly meeting is intended to be that resource. Additionally, the Hampden County motel task force (coordinated by Kim Lee of Square One), which also meets monthly, is another vehicle for communication and program information.

In response to a question regarding the timeline for this effort, Abigail confirmed that their services are available through Spring 2015.

In view of DHCD developments (new hotel case managers), the limited time frame for Catalyst and the most useful crossover with the Network, the suggestion arose to focus on data analysis and evaluation. DHCD has recently invested in new data tools, which theoretically makes it possible to focus on the new data those tools are generating, e.g., Who are the 420 families living in motels? What can we learn about them and what can inform our policy approaches as we move forward?

Additionally, there is an interest in integrating Secure Jobs data into HMIS so we can examine housing stability for the population receiving workforce development services.

There was consensus that we should explore this path for Network/Catalyst partnership. Anyone interested in shaping what this would look like should contact Pamela. Gerry McCafferty and Steve Huntley have volunteered thus far.

Abigail also brought attention to the initial work of asset mapping that was done following the August meeting. Do we want to develop that further? Could it be updated through the Network? Some skepticism was expressed about the capacity to keep this kind of resource current (in view of constant program changes), but we can explore this more as well.

On the policy/advocacy piece, Pamela noted that the Network’s role is to provide a unified voice for regional legislative priorities. The Network hosts one or two annual legislative meetings to push its shared agenda. The Network is a resource for this piece of the Catalyst action plan.

There was some discussion of Family Resource Centers (DCF funded) – parent education and support centers – and the need to integrate them into our Network so there can be an exchange of information and resources.   How do we maximize the flow of information and awareness of all the services that are available? Pamela expressed her thanks to Catalyst for bringing new partners to the Network.

Pamela and Abigail both noted that the limited time did not allow for a thorough discussion of all the elements of the Catalyst action. More follow-up may be in order. However, we all agreed that for Network purposes, honing in on the data and evaluation piece is the most effective point of intersection.

Pamela and Abigail will follow-up this meeting with plans for the sub-committee conversation on this topic and will bring an update to the next meeting.

The committee will meet next on:

Tuesday, November 18
1:00 – 2:30 pm
Northampton Senior Center
(Note: the change from the usual 2nd Tuesday to the third Tuesday is due to Veterans Day falling on the 2nd Tuesday; the afternoon time in Northampton on the 18th – as opposed to the usual morning time in Northampton – is due to the change to the third week).

«   »

Return to full list of blog posts.