BOSTON — Where is the stimulus money going? Over the coming months, we will meet some of the people who have received some of the $9 billion promised to Massachusetts. In our second report, the story of how the federal funds helped a family get housing in Chelsea.
Annyeliz Sanchez fusses as her mother tries to give her a snack. She’s a creative two-year-old. In the space of a small hotel room, she has created a bed for her stuffed animals in a dresser drawer. She walks her empty baby carriage back and forth in front of the double beds and she can open the window and drop things onto the parking lot.
For her mother, Janneliz Vega, the hotel room the family is living in does not have enough space. She waves her hand around the small room, a dozen silver bracelets clinking. Vega, 21, says raising a child in the confines of a hotel room is very difficult.
“Food-wise, they don’t have nothing to cook here,” Vega said. “Everything that me and Annyeliz been eating is microwave food.” She says there’s no laundry on site, either.
Vega and her daughter were placed in this Boston hotel on Dec. 10, after she fled from an abusive boyfriend. The state’s family shelters were full, so Vega joined the more than a 1,000 other Massachusetts families living in a hotel or motel room — at a cost of almost $3 million a month to the state.
The state told Vega what they told the other families: Prepare to live in the hotel for up to two years. Vega says she can’t imagine that.
“I can’t, I couldn’t,” Vega said. “I don’t know what I would do. I would work four jobs to get the market rate. It was horrible.”
The federal stimulus money for homeless services came at a good time for Vega, as the state received almost $18.5 million for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing of people living in shelters and motels. Two million dollars went to Heading Home, an agency that is trying to end homelessness in Greater Boston. It used the money to hire six new case workers and gave the rest to families to help pay a first year of rent.
This aid, says Executive Director Tom Lorello, is how Vega ended up with a case worker from Heading Home after only two months in the hotel.
“I remember when I first met Janneliz,” Lorello said. “One of the first things she said to me is, ‘I just need a little help getting out of there. I don’t need help forever, I just need some help getting out.’ And that’s what this money was meant to do, just give people a little boost up to get them over the hump out of a hotel and out of this situation.”
Vega did get a boost. After she found a job, the case worker helped her find an apartment in Chelsea. Vega will get $1,000 a month from stimulus money to help with the rent.
“I’m thankful for that,” Vega said.
Heading Home says it’s using the federal stimulus money to help 400 other families living in motels around Boston find permanent housing. Just moving Vega and her daughter out of the hotel and into an apartment will save the state $2,700 a month. And it will save Vega a lot of headaches with her restless toddler.