Family Services Meeting Minutes – 8/18/15

In attendance: Jane Banks, CHD, Yoshi Bird, CHD, Bonnie Caldwell, DHCD, Sarah Cloutier, YWCA, Hillary Cronin, VA, Anthia Elliott, Safe Passage, Rose Evans, DHCD, Erin Forbush, ServiceNet, Julia Guazzo, CFCE, Donna Harris, Franklin Hampshire Career Center, Mary Johnson, Central West Justice Center, Fran Lemay, ServiceNet, Jane Lindfors, DTA DV Unit, Heather Marshall, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Luz Marcano, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Donna Nadeau, DHCD, Kristy Navarro, YWCA, Lizzy Ortiz, City of Springfield, Amy Rowen, VA, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Janette Vigo, HAPHousing, Lauren Voyer, HAPHousing, Arelis Whitaker, Springfield Partners

Welcome and introductions:
We welcomed Rose Evans, DHCD Deputy Undersecretary, to the meeting. Thanks to Rose for taking the time to join our discussion.

Discussion of DHCD data regarding family homelessness:
We reviewed the Committee’s data request to DHCD, including the request for breakdowns of W. Mass. families in shelters, motels; the number of applications and entries into EA; the number of exits and diversions, the breakdown of family composition, etc. Rose referred us to the DHCD website link with publicly available information –

We compared what was available with what the Network had requested. Rose offered greater context and background to the discussion:

DHCD has invested millions of dollars in the last 1.5 years to upgrade its HMIS and data compliance systems.  They are moving rapidly towards “one family, one record.”  Providers can now get into the system and see family history – where they have been, whether shelter or hotels, compliance issues  Providers are currently getting up to speed in using it.  DHCD is also working across agencies – meeting regularly with secretaries from DCF, DPH, DTA, DMH – to break through the data silos so they can go “horizontal” – across agency – instead of just “vertical.”

Providers have access to all the info they need to rehouse families quickly and well (e.g., number of kids, ages, towns of origin, all the things the Network asked for).  Rose noted that there is no need for that data to be more broadly disseminated since it raises privacy issues (at least 13% of families in system suffer DV – privacy and safety are vital concerns) and access to this data more widely is not necessary to serve the rehousing goal.

Rose noted that the state is not permitted to spend state EA funds on meeting federal data requirements and that HUD’s requirements are not mandatory to the state program.  She noted that MA is in a unique position due to being the only state with a right to shelter law (as a state we spend far more on family homelessness than the federal government does in MA). DHCD is continuing to work on meeting the HUD data requirements so there is uniformity and since doing so enhances CoC funding applications (and we all agreed the data is worthy).

We reviewed the most recent publicly available data. Western MA hotel numbers continue to drop (May – 140; June 106), along with the rest of the state (total number is 1,270 as of June).

Rose noted that Western MA is the strongest region across the state, both in placements out of shelter and in diversions from shelter. Also new shelter capacity in the region and across the state is a significant contributing factor to the reduction of families in hotels.

There is currently a 13% return rate to shelter statewide (number not available for Western MA). 20% is the national norm. Reasons are largely income-based (average income is less than $500/month) but other social factors are extremely relevant, e.g., race, ethnicity.

Data on reasons for homelessness is also available statewide statewide, but not for Western MA.

The average length of stay in shelter is 7 months statewide (data not available for Western MA).

Opening Doors Strategies Discussion

We revisited last month’s discussion around prioritizing our strategies set forth in the Opening Doors Plan and Pamela offered updates on pending questions from our last meeting:

Workforce Development with MGM casino

Gerry reported (via email) that the City’s agreement with MGM has requirements regarding local hiring and a number of Springfield-based groups are working on it. CPM (and Vanessa Otero as the contact) is one of those groups. We will learn more from her. As to housing, Gerry confirmed that there is no housing being displaced by MGM’s development. However, The Springfield Rescue Mission’s Bliss Street transitional housing program (for single men) will be displaced and MGM has purchased a replacement site. The Hampden County Sheriff’s Dept. Alcohol and Drug Treatment Residential Program is being displaced and is currently operating out of a temporary location in Holyoke.

Affordable Housing Discussion

Pamela reported on her conversation with David Elvin of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission regarding possible ways for the Network to support affordable housing development. Dave explained that the leading barrier is zoning laws that prohibit multi-family housing in outlying communities (which is a huge factor in making our region one of the most segregated in the country). They are currently working on a housing plan in South Hadley. But it is complicated for the Network to be especially vocal on the issue since much of the resistance to affordable housing stems from community concerns and biases against low-income people. Lauren Voyer noted that Sarah Page of HAP is working on the larger issue of building relationships with communities and providing education to eliminate unfounded fears. We can learn more about that. We agreed that this issue should not be the focus of our Committee work but instead we should stay informed and connected and participate when useful.

Transportation Access

Pamela reported out on conversations with David Elvin of PVPC and Megan Rhodes of Franklin Regional Council of Governments. They both noted that the public comment period for the regional transit authorities’ transit plans has ended. Both have meaningful advances in route access for people who rely on public transportation. Megan noted that the FRTA includes recommendations to increase bus frequency in the most populated areas and extend service into the evenings and weekends. The FRTA will also begin issuing monthly and weekly bus passes, which will increase affordability. Regional transit plans will be submitted to the state legislature by 9/28. This is an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the importance of these reforms and the need to fund them. All agreed that the Network will send a support letter to this effect.

Landlord Outreach

Unfortunately, the people who attended most of the Zero 2016 webinars on landlord outreach were not present at the meeting. Erin Forbush noted that for Berkshire County, a small population over large territory, personal relationships are key.

Our Committee’s Priority: Coordinated Assessment

The committee discussed coordinated assessment for families to ensure best allocation of Permanent Supportive Housing. Pamela noted that coordinated assessment is a HUD priority – highly valued in CoC funding applications – and is a current focus of other Network committees so affords a uniformity across the Network.

Rose pointed out that MA’s aggressive fair housing law is a huge factor in determining appropriate “targeting” strategies (e.g., allocation of MRVPs).

We agreed we should look at all the various housing options available for families in our region. Lauren Voyer offered to put together a flow chart for the next meeting.

Our challenge is to figure out how to create a coordinated assessment process that best allocates our housing resources here in Western MA in the context of a statewide family shelter system that is controlled at the “front door” by DHCD. Pamela agreed to talk with Rose in more depth about this prior to the next meeting.

Rose pointed out that the state focus right now is to move all families out of motels and cease use of motels altogether. DHCD is currently preparing to go through its lists of families by each sub-region and drill down with providers to determine how best to rehouse each and every one of them.

Concern was expressed about the number of families in the homeless system who have suffered domestic violence (it was noted that the statewide number of 13% is likely low due to under-reporting). And currently families within the DV system (via DCF) cannot access EA (and therefore HomeBASE). This must be addressed.

Additionally, Sarah Slautterback pointed out the number of homeless youth in the school sytem who are undercounted.   How do we reach these families?

Next month’s agenda items:

  • Follow-up on coordinated entry – initial brainstorm with DHCD; review of current housing resources for prevention, diversion, rapid re-housing
  • Discussion of DV barriers and how the Network can respond
  • Discussion of undercounted youth and how the Network can respond
  • CHD share of pilot landlord outreach effort

Next meeting: September 8, 1:30-3:00 pm, Northampton Senior Center (to accommodate Three County CoC meeting that morning in Pittsfield)

Also note: Three County CoC is holding a joint individual/family services meeting for its sub-region on Monday, 8/31, 2-4 pm, Hilltown CDC, Chesterfield. All are welcome.

«   »

Return to full list of blog posts.