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Homeless Services Consolidation
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FY2010 House 1 Budget Recommendation:
Deval L. Patrick, Governor
Timothy P. Murray, Lt. Governor
“Ending homelessness will not be easy and will require a dramatic transformation of the Commonwealth’s system for responding to homeless individuals and families. The Commission generated a broadly-accepted vision for a new system, where shelters are used only for emergency transitions and every family and individual has a permanent place to live. Today, the system starts with placement in shelter for those presenting as homeless; tomorrow, we envision a system that starts with stabilizing existing tenancies to prevent homelessness, re-housing people before they enter shelter, and linking people to the appropriate community supports to find and keep stable housing situations and improve their economic position.”
The fiscal year 2010 House 1 budget transfers $133.7 million in spending from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). This proposal represents the next step in the implementation of the Administration’s efforts to improve the long-term outcomes for Massachusetts individuals and families that are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. The transfer reflects the Article 87 legislation filed by the Governor in January 2009.
Homelessness in Massachusetts
Safe and affordable places for individuals and families to live will always be an essential requirement to ensure residents can lead stable and productive lives in the Commonwealth. Housing that allows workers to live affordably near their place of work is vital for economic growth. Units that meet standards for safety, protection and maintenance are the underpinning for neighborhoods to keep their residents in secure and permanent housing within their communities. Historically, the Commonwealth has played a key role in advancing this objective, especially in the high-cost Northeast region, where housing and rental costs are expensive for residents. This objective has been reinvigorated by the Patrick-Murray Administration, which has made one of its key performance measures the goal that “all residents have full and fair access to desirable, affordable housing near the places they work, shop, play and come together as a community”.
A key indicator of the challenges for the Commonwealth and its communities to provide safe and affordable housing for its most vulnerable populations is the level of homeless or at-risk individuals and families. Many factors contribute to a person or his or her family becoming homeless, including loss of income, domestic violence, foreclosure, substance abuse or other illness, all of which can become magnified in the face of a lack of affordable housing within communities. Further, during periods of economic downturn such as the current one facing Massachusetts and the nation, the economic conditions for individuals and families most at risk of homelessness often worsen.
The table below demonstrates that the number of homeless persons in the Commonwealth has increased as the economy has experienced its recent downturn. While the number of individuals staying at shelters has remained mostly constant, and in some cases decreased, cases of family homelessness have grown substantially since the beginning of fiscal year 2008. Moreover, while the number of persons who are at-risk of homelessness is not fully known, it is commonly understood that these populations have similarly increased across the Commonwealth.
Massachusetts has consistently led in providing emergency housing and services to both individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. The Commonwealth has deployed an extensive emergency assistance program for families, which is administered by DTA. In addition, state funding has been provided for housing-related services to individuals and families. This approach has ensured the presence of a vital safety net to provide families and individuals with emergency housing. At the same time, the challenge has remained for the Commonwealth in how to leverage its existing housing resources and support services for lower-income populations to provide more stable and permanent housing options for the people who are served by its programs.
The Commission to End Homelessness
In the summer of 2007, the Governor and Legislature jointly convened the Commission to End Homelessness in the Commonwealth. The commission, which was co-chaired by Representative Byron Rushing and Tina Brooks, Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development, included members from within the state Administration, the Legislature, housing service providers, law enforcement and municipal government officials. The objectives of the commission were to develop a 5-year plan that could end homelessness in the Commonwealth by 2013.
A major component of this plan was to transform the state’s existing system for responding to homeless individuals and families by transitioning from a system that emphasizes shelters as the first solution for persons presenting as homeless to one that deploys shelter as an emergency assistance tool, applying greater emphasis on prevention and permanent housing solutions. The commission contended that this would result in a reduction in need for emergency shelters.
Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness and Regional Network Pilots
In the fiscal year 2009 House 2 Executive Budget, the Governor proposed $8.25 million in spending over 18 months for a pilot program to fund regional innovations across the Commonwealth that implemented new approaches and strategies for homeless prevention and permanent housing programs. The funding was to be awarded by the Interagency Council on Housing and Homeless (ICHH), which was reconstituted by Executive Order #492 and is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray.
Under Lieutenant Governor Murray’s leadership, the ICHH crafted a competitive award process for regions across Massachusetts to develop networks made up of municipal leaders, housing providers, state officials, community leaders and others, to identify innovative new ways to address homelessness in their area. Networks were asked to provide information to the ICHH demonstrating their ability to adopt recommendations by the Commission to End Homelessness into their approaches. Eight grant awards were announced by the ICHH on December 16, 2008 in the amount of $8 million. It is the goal of the ICHH to use the knowledge and experience gained through these regional networks to inform future changes to the shelter and housing systems. Key innovations that will be tested include comprehensive assessment, permanent supportive housing, flexible rental supports, Housing First models, coordinated case management and early warning prevention and diversion systems.
FY2010 House 1 Proposal to Transfer Homeless Spending from DTA to DHCD
The Governor’s fiscal year 2010 House 1 recommendation proposes to transfer funding that currently supports homeless services and shelter costs for individuals and families at DTA to DHCD to combine emergency shelter programs with the State’s housing delivery system. Under the consolidation plan, DTA’s family and emergency shelter programs will be transferred to DHCD to help carry out a “Housing First” approach, as recommended by the homelessness commission, which focuses on helping individuals and families quickly access and sustain housing.
The Patrick-Murray Administration proposes organizational restructuring in order to create a seamless housing services system, and integrate the Commonwealth’s emergency housing into its broader housing delivery system. The transition of the Commonwealth’s shelter system to DHCD will help to make state services more efficient by shifting focus away from shelter use to a permanent housing strategy, with the goal to end homelessness in Massachusetts.
By consolidating all housing activities into DHCD, the Commonwealth can achieve several key outcomes:
- Provide a single local point of entry, assessment and access to housing solutions for individuals and families at risk of losing housing or already homeless
- Provide an expanded array of prevention and diversion resources
- Inform the housing production agenda by identifying specific housing supply needs
- Extend the reach of subsidized housing to extremely low-income households
Furthermore, the proposal recognizes that in order to achieve the Administration’s goal of eliminating homelessness in the Commonwealth, dramatic changes in the way housing services are delivered must be contemplated. As a result of the proposed restructuring, residents of the Commonwealth, whether they are facing housing challenges or not, can expect:
- More seamless access to housing services
The restructuring of state homeless funding and activities is part of a comprehensive systems reform effort to carry out the recommendations of the Commission to End Homelessness. The Commission prioritized the implementation of a “Housing First” approach, which places an immediate and primary focus on helping individuals and families quickly access and sustain permanent housing. Housing, paired with appropriate supports, will reduce reliance on long-term shelter stays, even for those considered chronically homeless or for people with multiple needs. The reorganization of emergency services from DTA to DHCD is the fist step in a comprehensive reengineering of the shelter and housing systems. By pairing shelter and housing services within a single department, it will be easier to identify and address critical gaps in services.
Transfer of Funding from DTA to DHCD
The following table identifies the funding that is currently provided at DTA that will be transferred to DHCD. Major programs or funding objectives are identified along with appropriation number and projected spending for both fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2010.
Other Key Efforts Related to Housing and Homelessness
The Patrick-Murray Administration has made the protection and expansion of affordable housing for extremely low income (ELI) households a high priority. This approach has yielded significant results and key initiatives and programs continue to advance these objectives further. They include: