Gov. Patrick’s proposal would curb reliance on hotels for homeless
Governor wants to provide rent subsidies up to $700 and move people into apartments
Gov. Deval Patrick
y Vicki-Ann DowningEnterprise Staff WriterPosted Mar 10, 2011 @ 06:00 AM
A proposal in Gov. Deval Patrick’s new budget would end the state’s reliance on hotels to accommodate the homeless and, in many cases, would cut the state’s use of shelters as well.
Patrick proposes taking about $38 million from the existing shelter program and using it to create a program called “Home Base.”
The program would provide families with up to $700 in monthly rental subsidies to find apartments on their own.
Traditional shelters would still receive state funding – about $98 million for the next spending year – but their use would be limited to families fleeing domestic violence, turned out of their homes by fire or natural disaster, and to homeless people 21 or younger.
The proposal has won backing from many organizations that serve the homeless, including Father Bill’s and MainSpring and the United Way of Greater Plymouth County.
One Family, a nonprofit group working to end homelessness, calls Patrick’s plan “a step in the right direction.” It estimates the state will spend about $160 million this year on motels and shelters. More than 2,000 families live in shelters and 1,000 in motels, with many stays lasting nearly a year.
Denise Durham Williams, executive director of One Family, said recent events in Brockton show the need for housing reform. On Monday, an 18-month-old boy toppled out a window at the Quality Inn, where 53 homeless families were being housed.
They were among 166 homeless families living in Brockton hotels, at an average cost to the state of $80 a night.
“The hotel-motel situation has risen to the point where it’s not healthy for families and children,” said Williams.
Home Base is “an alternative to motels,” said Emily Cohen, associate director of policy for One Family. “It’s not a new Section 8 program or a new (public) housing program.”
Nine regional centers would administer the Home Base program. For Plymouth and Bristol counties, the agency would be South Shore Housing of Kingston, a nonprofit group that develops affordable housing and administers Section 8 voucher programs for the state.
Carl Nagy-Koechlin, executive director of South Shore Housing, said his agency would subcontract with other agencies, including Brockton Area Multi-Services and Father Bill’s and MainSpring, to provide support services to families in the Home Base program, including job training and education.
The goal would also be to help families avoid homelessness by providing money for back rent or paying utility bills.
Families without apartments would be given money for rent subsidies, but the amount would be capped at $700 per month or $8,000 per year for three years. Residents would be expected to contribute a portion of their income to the rent.
“It won’t pay full freight,” Nagy-Koechlin said. “It’s better than nothing and it’s better than a shelter bed.”
Families would find apartments on their own. Unlike the federal Section 8 voucher program, apartments would not have to pass inspection before being rented, and tenants might have to put a brother and sister together in one bedroom.
“It becomes a question of, ‘Are you in a shelter, or are you in an apartment,’” Nagy-Koechlin said.
“What the state is trying to do is strike a balance,” he said. “I don’t think they want to create a program that entices people to become homeless. They don’t want to have a program that’s so attractive that it draws people into the system.”
Getting people into housing is “a starting point,” Nagy-Koechlin added. “It’s a platform for stable lives and eventually to self-sufficiency. I think (Home Base) is really a step in the right direction.”
Vicki-Ann Downing may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
READ MORE about this issue.