Initiating Solutions to End Homelessness

Preventing and Ending Homelessness: Solutions for Homeless Individuals

The Front Door: Emergency Services and Prevention
Emergency shelter beds and services in Massachusetts are primarily funded by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) through line item 4406-3000, but also by line items in the Departments of Public Health and Veterans Services. 4406-3000 was funded at $30 million in FY '03, down from $35.5 million in FY '02.

- Approximately 3,225 beds are available year round in the publicly funded shelter system. In addition, many programs support beds through local fundraising, especially for winter and overflow capacity. According to the nightly census of emergency shelter beds conducted by the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA) since 1992, shelters have experienced overflow demand for 55 consecutive months and 63 of the last 66 months (as of April 2003).

- The shelter system and day programs are a decentralized, privatized network operated by community-based organizations. DTA and other agencies do not impose intake or eligibility requirements. Reliable longitudinal and system-wide data on the population, length of stay, and movement between programs is not available.

- The individual shelter system provides for two meals and a place to stay for 12 hours; most homeless individuals leave during daytime hours. The state is not mandated to shelter all individuals who need a place to stay; many have been turned away this year.

- MHSA's Subpopulation Census shows that sheltered individuals are well known to many state systems of care, treatment, and incarceration such as substance abuse, mental health, state and county corrections, primary health care, and foster care. Individuals frequently fall into homelessness on transfer between systems or discharge, due to a lack of adequate planning and residential next step resources.

The Back Door: Housing Resources
Housing resources open the back door of shelter and end homelessness. More housing capacity will shorten shelter stays, reduce shelter crowding, and help more people, especially those on the streets, move to stability.

- According to HUD data, the most acute housing shortage is for those at or below 30% of area median income - as little as $12,650 for an individual in some parts of the state. Targeting housing resources to this category ensures that housing options are available.

- The DMH Special Initiative to House the Homeless Mentally Ill takes homeless individuals with major mental illness off the streets and puts them in permanent housing. Over 2,360 homeless mentally ill individuals have been successfully housed since FY '92, with each state dollar leveraging four federal dollars.

- An average of 30% of homeless adults are working and need quicker access to the stability of housing. The Individual Self Sufficiency Initiative (ISSI) addresses this need, using the model of short-term flexible rental assistance (@$6000 over 12 months) to end homelessness.

- Federally funded housing and employment search and stabilization programs for homeless individuals, including those with disabilities, have more than eight years of experience in Massachusetts with a record of success in housing homeless adults and sustaining their new tenancies.

For homeless individuals with disabilities, the more recently documented technology of direct access to housing models ("Housing First") hold promise. These non-linear housing and service models move the most disabled people directly to housing prior to treatment, and use the housing as the transforming element to support participation in treatment.

This information is provided by the Executive Commission on Homeless Services Coordination.