Family Services Committee Meeting Minutes
February 11, 2014

In attendance:  Jane Banks, Center for Human Development, Shannon Barry, Springfield Public Schools,  Charity Day, Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Ken Demers, New England Farm Workers Council, Jenna Duquette, Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority/OFH, Anthia Elliott, Safe Passage, Erin Forbush, ServiceNet (Berkshires), Jane Lindfors, DTA DV Unit, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Lizzy Ortiz, City of Springfield, Stephen Plummer, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Lourdes Sariol, DHCD, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Liza Rios, YWCA Domestic Violence, Tyler Rousseau, Clinical Support Options, Rachel Trant, DCF

Discussion of Network Legislative Priorities (to recommend to Leadership Council for adoption)

Reviewed CHAPA and Mass Coalition for the Homeless (MCH) Priorities as basis for discussion.

Agreed on the following:

MRVP request: $87.5 million (CHAPA, MCH consistent)
RAFT request $12 million (CHAPA, MCH consistent), HOWEVER, committee does not agree with renewed funding of Seven Day Temporary Emergency Assistance Program (SDTEA) (see below for discussion)

Discussion of SDTEA:

All agreed that protecting families from sleeping in unsafe places is of paramount importance, but that SDTEA is not a good use of funds to accomplish that goal.  The Committee agreed that EA is the housing safety net and that our focus should be to make it better function as that instead of providing an add-on program that adds to complexity, inefficiency and only cements the gaps in the primary safety net program.   We agreed we need to close the gaps instead and focus on making the EA program the safety net it is intended to be.

All agreed that ideally “presumptive placement” into EA would accomplish the goal of ensuring no family is subjected to sleeping in unsafe places.  However, Jane Banks, Erin Forbush, Jenna Duquette and others noted that as currently implemented “presumptive placement” is not working well enough to consider it adequate.  Right now, providers are not notified by DHCD when a family is presumptively placed.  This means that providers do not know additional paperwork is needed and are unable to provide adequate support to obtain it (and families are frequently overwhelmed or confused about the requirements so they are not reporting their status directly to providers).  The first providers frequently learn of the presumptive placement is when their families are terminated!

Donna Nadeau (DHCD) said she would look into this and report back on what DHCD’s consider correct process on this; we will then follow-up to advocate either for changes or adequate implementation.

Donna will also clarify for us the criteria for presumptive placement so we all better understand the basis for qualification.  It was noted that right now if you do not have a Mass ID or have been evicted from subsidized housing, you are automatically disqualified from presumptive placement.  These limitations make “presumptive placement” a failure for protecting families from sleeping in unsafe places.  If “presumptive placement” is to be used as the ultimate safety net, then automatic barriers with disregard to safety are not appropriate.  The Committee agreed to revisit this issue and map out our action steps at our next meeting (after learning more from Donna).

The Committee reviewed MLRI/MCH’s agenda to amend the EA line item to allow otherwise eligible homeless families to be placed in shelter when they are “within 24 hours of staying in a place not meant for human habitation,” not just after they have stayed there.

With the starting point of the goal to keep families in safe places, and the fact that SDTEA is not an effective solution, and “presumptive placement” is currently not working to adequately protect families, the Committee agreed to support this amendment.  The Committee recognizes and supports DHCD’s goal of encouraging families to explore every other safe alternative before entering shelter; however, the group noted that DHCD also shares the same goal of ensuring no family sleeps in an unsafe place and that it is a necessary burden on DHCD to evaluate that situation in advance of it occurring.  This amendment would codify that obligation.

Discussion of transportation line-item to reimburse cities/towns under McKinney-Vento Act.  Lourdes Sariol asked if this provision covers transportation for children 2.9 to 5 years who need transportation to day care from hotels, but it does not.  She noted this issue is a huge barrier for children and their families.  Lourdes will call a meeting of providers to further discuss this issue and brainstorm solutions.  Pamela will assist in outreach for the meeting.

Discussion of DCF staff/advocates being turned away by DHCD when accompanying family to apply for EA.

Rachel Trant of DCF shared that she personally, as well as her staff and advocates, have experienced over the last 4-5 months DHCD staff denying them the choice to accompany a family into the room for the meeting with DHCD worker (they are asked to wait in the waiting room).  This is a change from long-standing practice and is a significant loss for the families.  Families have experienced increased hardship as a result – confusion, delay in understanding next steps, resources available, requiring DCF to intervene after the fact and provide clarification.  She does not understand what has brought this change about.  Donna Nadeau will follow-up with DHCD and report back.  All agreed this is an unacceptable situation that must be changed.

Other Updates:

FCRHRA: RAFT funding still available.  Working with legislature around expanding use of RAFT funds to make them available for those over 30% of AMI.

HAP:  Bonnie Caldwell was unable to attend but asked that Pamela report that RAFT funding is still available for Hampden/Hampshire Counties.

Lizzy Ortiz reported on  Catholic Charities special fuel assistance program – up to $400).  She will forward information to Pamela who will forward to group.

Steve Plummer of Springfield Partners reported on its fuel assistance program as well.  Pamela will also forward info.

Jane Banks provided update on  Nurturing Fathers program, a support/educational group for dads.  Training underway.  Groups will be offered in West Springfield.  This is a very exciting development.

Lourdes Sariol added that DHCD is also putting together a child care training program as a companion piece to the Nurturing Fathers program.  If interested,  contact Shannon Porter at HAP.

Next meeting:

Tuesday, 3/11, 1-2:30 pm, New England Farm Workers Council, 225 High Street, Holyoke

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