BOSTON — Massachusetts intends to phase out a program that places homeless families in hotels and motels at taxpayer expense when there’s is no room in emergency shelters, according to a top official with the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
The state spent $45 million during the fiscal year that ended last June putting hundreds of families in hotels for months, and in some cases, longer than a year.
Homeless families are placed in hotels when the 2,000 rooms in the state’s family emergency shelter system reach capacity. There were 1,700 families in hotels last month. The number of families placed in hotels has increased in recent years during the recession and foreclosure crisis.
“The motels have no cooking facilities. There is no play space. It is difficult in terms of transportation, child care,” Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, told The Boston Globe. Eliminating the motel system, he said, “is better for the families and it is better for the taxpayers.”
The state plans to phase out the program by June 2014, and will instead increase homeless prevention and expand affordable housing options, he said.
Housing and homeless advocates agree that the motel system is not ideal, but worry that the state will not be able to provide the resources to eliminate the need for motels.
“A lot of children with their parents have nowhere else to go,” said Robyn Frost, executive director of the Lynn-based Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. She said extremely low-income families need more long-term rental housing vouchers to avoid homelessness.