Family Services Committee Meeting
December 8, 2015

In attendance: Jane Banks, CHD, Toni Bator, HAPHousing, Mary Grace Biastoff, TPP, Yoshi Bird, CHD, Ashley Brehm, HAPHousing, Sarah Cloutier, YWCA, Hillary Cronin, VA-Northampton, Libby Hayes, Homes for Families, Sean Hemingway, CHD, Jane Lindfors, DTA-DV unit, Luz Marcano, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Gerry McCafferty, City of Springfield, Christian Merrill, CHD, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Lizzy Ortiz, City of Springfield, Steve Plummer, Springfield Partners, Jordana O’Connell, CHD, Jenni Pothier, TPP, Evelyn River, WomanShelter, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Linn Torto, MA ICHH, Rachel Trant, DCF, Lauren Voyer, HAPHousing, Jennifer Wands, Springfield Public Schools,

We welcomed Linn Torto, executive director of the MA Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, and Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes for Families.

Report out on DV/homelessness

The new sub-committee on DV/homelessness met for the first time earlier this week and confirmed its mission:

We agreed that we will include in our work both individuals and families who suffer from domestic violence and the risk or experience of homelessness.

Robyn Kennedy of EOHHS and Rose Evans of DHCD, co-chairs of the Integrated Task Force working on this issue, offered to come out and visit with our committee to exchange information and discuss ways to collaborate. Pamela will schedule in the near future.

Secure Jobs Update
Ashley Brehm of HAPHousing, program director of Secure Jobs, provided an update on the program (click here for attachment). The program is on track for meeting or exceeding its placement goals this fiscal year. Ashley shared the great success among partners, including HAP’s job developers working in partnership with the Career Center and housing stabilization workers. We discussed the greatest challenges, which include lack of child care (the limitations of both the DTA and DHCD vouchers) and the need for greater cross-agency collaboration and policymaking to prevent disincentives from working.

Linn noted that she is meeting with agency leaders and staff in both DTA and DHCD around this issue and looks forward to continuing discussions and problem solving (and feedback from Secure Jobs as the discussions unfold).

Chronically Homeless families – Coordinated assessment and referral for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)

Gerry McCafferty of the City of Springfield provided an update on this effort to prioritize PSH for chronically homeless (CH) families in Hampden County. PSH providers have worked in close collaboration to conduct VI-SPDAT assessments for all CH families. 32 CH families were identified in Hampden County (working with DHCD to obtain the data).   Three families are moving into PSH on 12/15 and another 5 families are in the process of being housed. Meaningful progress is being made on housing the longest stayers in shelter. We shared congratulations on this exciting effort.

Gerry asked that anyone working with a CH families should be in contact with her in order to get incorporated and appropriately prioritized on the list.

Gerry also noted that she is running data reports to identify veteran families in the shelter family system (and identified two thus far). She will connect them to veteran resources (Linn noted that Chapter 115 offers to benefits to children of veterans even if parents are not married or together).

Libby Hayes, Homes for Families

Libby shared information about Homes for Families’ Annual Vision Day event, which brings together families and shelter providers from across the state to share experience and feedback on the challenges they face and the services they receive (fantastic representation from Western MA!). Click here for recommendations.

The #1 (most important) program identified was MRVP. The #1 issue identified was child care. See attached hand-out with more detailed feedback on participants’ priorities.   The top recommendations including working on providing “better treatment” of the families being served within the state system and to pay more attention to children’s well-being.

Homes for Families received funding from the Oak Foundation to assess and evaluate the family shelter system (click here and here for reports).   The effort includes direct surveys of 440 famlies (110 in W. Mass.). Homes for Families retained Center for Social Innovation to produce a paper outlining the findings of these evaluations. Some of the initial big-picture findings include: assessment is an ongoing process (not just at the outset), more is needed to focus on the well-being of children. The full report will be issued early next year.

Gerry noted that part of focusing on children’s well-being should include focus on early childhood education; the Network could make some connections in this area (Davis Foundation prioritizes this issue).

Comments by Linn Torto, executive director, MA Interagency Council on Housing and Homelesness

Linn shared a bit about her background: has worked in state government for 25 years; as Assistant Secretary of Residential Services when Governor Baker was Commissioner of EOHHS; has experience coordinating homeless programs for EOHSS and experience in housing development and finance. She began with ICHH in October, 2015.

ICHH is co-chaired by Executive Office of Health and Human Services Commissioner Sudders and Commissioner Ashe of Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The message in that joint chairmanship is that homelessness is a joint issue, transcending the particulars of which agency runs which program. Everyone must lock arms and have a role in solving this problem. Together they have retained the Public Consulting Group to evaluate how we can refocus the system to make it more family-centered; to engage EOHHS services more upstream to prevent homelessness.

Everyone agrees that shelter is not the right place for families and children. Assessment and triage are critical. The default position should not be trying to making families eligible for EA but should be answering the question “what do they need?” to become housing stable (and to address basic needs). We need to focus on flexible resources to provide the right support early on. The vision is to better serve families by making it a family focused system.   Integral to that effort is supporting the development of local responses to families in crisis, supporting local capacity to evaluate and assess people in housing crisis and to respond with what they need to find the most appropriate housing option.   We need to look at strengthening prevention programs (e.g, Tenancy Preservation Project) in order to ensure the most effective resource is available. Everyone is entitled to crisis intervention; the key is making it the right one at the earliest possible time to avoid homelessness.

The homelessness agenda has now been integrated within EOHHS. There is a current infrastructure of quarterly and monthly meetings across agencies and sub-issues/populations to build on this collaboration.

This is a multi-year effort, imagining 3-5 years to make the shift away from EA shelter as a place of last resort instead of first.

Resources Referral Sheet:  Thanks to Lauren Voyer for providing a current draft of this family services referral sheet. It was circulated at the meeting for people to complete contact information where needed. We will revisit a next draft at our next meeting.

Next meeting: January 12, 9:30-11, Northampton Senior Center, subject to confirmation

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