For many the concept of homelessness is so far removed from their reality that it’s hard to comprehend. For the families who are part of the Housing Families State House photographic exhibit, it was their everyday reality. Housing Families Inc. of Malden provides safe, temporary shelter and quality affordable housing to homeless and at-risk families.
According to the On Solid Ground Coalition, there are 4,800 families in Massachusetts that are living in motels and shelters each night. Another 4,200 families are living in doubled up and unstable situations. They’re behind on their rent or move multiple times per year. On Solid Ground is a cross-sector group of more than 30 partners committed to a research-based approach to increasing housing stability and economic mobility.
All of the families participating in the Housing Families State House Exhibit “Family Homelessness: A View Beyond Stereotypes” have had the misfortune of struggling with housing instability. They have first-hand experience of being forced to sleep in bus stations, cars, abandoned houses and other unsafe places not meant for human habitation before being admitted into a shelter. Housing Families Inc. of Malden help these families receive the critical safety-net support services they required to regain some stability and a home.
According to the City of Boston, Real Estate Trends for 2013 stated that a typical low wage worker making $10.00 per hour makes $1,733.00 per month, while the median asking rent for an apartment in Boston’s least expensive neighborhood is between $1,500.00 and $1,700.00 per month.
It begs the question why is the city of Malden busy building high-rise market rate housing developments that keep families like those pictured in the exhibit excluded from these developments since typical low-wage earners can’t afford the rents even if they were born, raised and lived in Malden their entire lives. Over 1,200 newly constructed housing units have been or are currently under construction in Malden and not one unit is for affordable housing.
Senator Jason Lewis emotes at the legislative breakfast held by Housing Families where the exhibit was first shown said “it is a moral outrage that rich countries like the United States of America and states like Massachusetts have any homeless families.”
He pointed out his concern about the eligibility requirements for families needing emergency assistance suggesting that he would fight to make the process easier. Lewis further commented that it was necessary to support the minimum wage increases working toward a living wage as well as paid sick time. These programs are seen as supports that help families to stabilize their lives. State Representative Paul Donato highlighted the fact that often the only help families need is the first, last and security deposit to secure affordable housing. Unfortunately, without it they fall off the cliff into homelessness. He suggests that the state provide funding to prevent the homelessness before it occurs.
Many agree with the sentiments expressed by On Solid Ground that it’s time for a new approach to addressing family homelessness. By focusing on housing and economic stability, instead of the short-term goal of reducing shelter numbers, thousands of families will avoid the need for shelter and families in a shelter will be less likely to re-enter in the future.
CREATING A PATH TO HOUSING STABILITY AND ECONOMIC MOBILITY
Increasing stability and reducing family homelessness requires a four-pronged approach:
- Systems Change: Appoint a special secretary to build a coordinated service delivery system across government departments. The coordinated system will support homelessness prevention, minimize cliff effects and provide integrated case management services.
- Housing: Expand the affordable housing stock and rental assistance vouchers for extremely low-income households; preserve existing privately and publicly subsidized homes; and improve public housing.
- Supportive Services: Invest in services that provide a path to increased incomes and economic mobility for extremely low-income families.
- Tracking Progress: Collect and analyze data, and track progress – at state agencies and their nonprofit partners – toward an agreed upon set of goals related to housing stability and economic mobility. –Karen Lynch and Marcia Manong