Report: To Reduce Mass. Family Homelessness, Focus Less On Shelters

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More than 13,000 Massachusetts families applied for housing assistance during the last fiscal year. Gov. Charlie Baker has made tackling homelessness one of his top priorities, and a new report released Wednesday offers the administration a few suggestions.

The report, which was spearheaded by the group Citizens' Housing And Planning Association, examines how the state should address family homelessness in particular.

Rachel Heller, the group's director of public policy, joined WBUR's Morning Edition. She says family homelessness in Massachusetts is beyond crisis levels and it's time to shift our approach.


On shifting the sole focus away from shelters:

If we continue to focus only on reducing shelter numbers, family homelessness will continue to rise. If we shift our focus to housing stability and economic mobility, that will result in better outcomes for children, for their families and for our communities.

On the establishment of a new cabinet secretary for homelessness:

We need high level leadership to build a coordinated service delivery system. The state has done tremendous things and has great programs meant to serve people with low incomes who are really struggling, but we need to pull all of this together. Right now, too many families find that they're eligible for help with housing but then they can't get the childcare they need to be able to go to work. In this high cost market where we have the seventh highest rental market, we have the highest childcare costs, we really need these programs to work together in order to gain that stability.

On the state's progress with homelessness in the last 30 years:

One of the things that was surprising to me was how similar the situation is today as to when the family shelter system was started back in 1983. We're dealing with all the same issues: a shortage of affordable housing, not enough support programs, programs that don't work well together. Massachusetts has developed these programs because we care, policymakers care, the public cares.

But we haven't gotten to the root causes, it's only gotten worse, unfortunately. The numbers are increasing. The state has made progress for some families but unfortunately we don't have enough resources and the programs don't work well enough together to help more families.

On working with the Baker administration to address homelessness:

We're very encouraged by the governor's attention to this issue both during the campaign and since he's come into office. We've already met with him and are very encouraged by, again, his attention to this issue and his desire to really impact it. And same with the Legislature. We've been working with the Legislature for years and they continue to fund them, they try to make them better. So we're hopeful that the information can help to really guide how we help improve these programs and help families gain stability. It is going to be a long term commitment that we have to have as a state. It's been spiraling upward, the need for shelter. So it's going to take a while to get out and now we think if we all partner together, change our focus, we can see different outcomes.

This segment aired on February 11, 2015.


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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.


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Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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