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Patrick Proposes Funding Cut For Emergency Homeless Shelters

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick is proposing to cut the state budget by $570 million, or 1.8 percent. His administration is calling it the biggest budget cut in 20 years.

Patrick is proposing cutting 900 state jobs. He hopes to save $1 billion in the way the state contracts out health care. He’s making cuts in local aid and in public defenders.

“There are many things we have not been able to do in this budget,” Patrick said. “Some programs will end. Some facilities will close. Many services will be combined, and there will be more of that to come.”

One program being cut is emergency shelters for homeless families. But some advocates for the homeless think that’s actually a good idea.

Tom Lorello runs a group called Heading Home, which has shelters all over Greater Boston. So you might think that he’d be all gloom and doom over Patrick’s proposal to cut $23 million from emergency shelters for families. But he’s welcoming the idea.

At the same time that the governor is proposing to cut funding for emergency homeless shelters for families, he’s also increasing the budget for alternative programs to place them in long-term housing.

“So rather than having all of us having to just provide emergency shelter, we will have the flexibility of providing some other kinds of services that might be more effective in ending families’ homelessness,” Lorello said.

“Over the past few years, I think we’ve really come to understand that long-term homelessness is really bad for families. So if we have the option of something other than shelter, and it works and it’s more effective, I like the flexibility of being able to do that.”

At the same time that the governor is proposing to cut funding for emergency homeless shelters for families, he’s also increasing the budget for alternative programs to place them in long-term housing. Lorello said Heading Home has been experimenting with putting parents and children very quickly into permanent housing.

“A side benefit — it actually turns out to cost a lot less, so we can actually place a lot more families with that model into housing than we can shelter them now,” Lorello said.

Priscilla Medina and her three children moved to Boston from Puerto Rico six months ago. She’s studying to be a medical assistant. She and her children spent just two weeks in a shelter before being placed in an apartment in Roxbury.

“I got my own privacy. I have less stress,” Medina said. “I got my own place and the kids are happy. They have their own room.”

Not everyone thinks the governor’s proposal is a good one.

Leslie Lawrence is assistant director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. She believes the cuts to emergency shelters will leave families out in the cold.

“The proposal would only provide shelter to families who are homeless because of domestic violence, fire or natural disaster,” Lawrence said. “And while other families would get housing assistance, the problem is that for some of these families, they can’t lease up something before they’re out on the street, because it takes two weeks to four weeks to be able to secure an apartment.”

Lawrence said her group asked the administration to provide stopgap funding for families stuck on the streets, but, she said, they said no.

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