Historically homelessness has been associated with individuals living on the streets, but families have become the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, comprising nearly 40 percent nationally, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness [1]. This Update focuses on homelessness among the extremely low-income households served by the Department of Transitional Assistance ( DTA).

DTA's Homelessness Programs

DTA administers two separate homeless accounts. Under the Emergency Assistance (EA) Program, funded at $72.2 million in state fiscal year 2003 (SFY03) [2], DTA places eligible homeless families with children in emergency shelters until permanent housing can be found.

The second account, totaling $30 million in SFY03, supports programs serving homeless individuals. While DTA does not provide emergency shelter placements for homeless individuals, the Department funds some 50 organizations providing various services to individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless including about 3,200 shelter beds, health care services, and day programs.

DTA Homelessness Expenditures SFY94-SFY03 (in millions)

Because of upward pressures on shelter use (family shelter expenditures increased by 84 percent between SFY2000 and SFY2003 [3]), DTA was forced to resume using hotels and motels in August 1999 (a practice that had been phased out in 1996) despite adding as much shelter capacity as providers were able to bring on line. The average hotel/motel monthly caseload in SFY02 was 295 families [4]. We estimate that the hotel/motel monthly caseload for SFY03 will average 516 - an all-time high.

Hotel/Motel Average Monthly Caseload SFY90-SFY03

Approximately one-third of homeless EA families (35 percent) are currently being sheltered in hotels and motels. An additional 60 percent are in congregate shelters that share common living areas (43 percent) or apartment-type, scattered site shelters (17 percent). The remaining five percent are in specialized housing such as substance abuse shelters.

Family Shelter Placements - November 2002


Number of Families

Percent of Total

Congregate shelters (facilities with common living areas)



Scattered site shelters (individual apartments)



Substance abuse shelters












The increasing number of families with children needing emergency shelters has focused greater public attention on the causes of homelessness and how to solve the problem.

Causes of Homelessness

Homelessness is a complex problem associated not only with rising housing costs, but also such trends as wages that have not kept pace with housing costs, and increases in single-parent households with low earnings. The causes of homelessness can be divided into three components:

· Structural issues (high housing costs, low household income);

· Personal issues (mental illness, substance abuse, other physical and mental disabilities); and

· Social policies (effectiveness of assisted housing programs, mental health programs, substance abuse programs and other service interventions) [5].

Personal issues and social policies vary among the homeless population but the structural issues are common to all homeless families and individuals. There is general consensus that the development of decent, safe, affordable housing is a critical first step to ending homelessness.

Affordable Housing

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a major funder of affordable housing along with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MHFA). Eligibility for HUD-funded housing assistance focuses on three income groups - extremely low-income households (incomes less than 30% of the area median income), very low-income households (incomes between 30% and 50% of the area median income) and low-income households (incomes between 50% and 80% of the area median income).

Families eligible for EA services have incomes so low that they fall into the category of extremely low-income households. For example, the income of a three-person family in an EA-funded shelter cannot exceed $15,264 a year whereas the HUD income limit for an extremely low-income three-person family in Boston is over $6,000 more at $21,800 a year. (Income of most EA families is usually much less than the maximum allowed. For example, the majority of EA families also receive TAFDC. A three-person family would receive $7,116 a year from TAFDC [6].) In comparison, a three-person family in Boston can qualify for HUD-financed low-income housing with income up to $56,400.

Three-Person Income Limit for the Emergency Assistance Program

The following data illustrate the problem of housing affordability and income. The 2003 Fair Market Rent [7] in Boston for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,343. Using the standard method of allocating 30 percent of family income to housing costs, a family would need income of $53,720 to afford a fair market rental unit in Boston, more than three times the upper income limit for EA families.

These various statistics underscore the importance of increasing the number of decent, safe, affordable housing units if we are to end homelessness.

Executive Commission for Coordinating Homeless Services

Governor Romney has established an Executive Commission for Coordinating Homeless Services with responsibility for developing recommendations to better manage the current systems of shelters and supports for homeless families and individuals, and for developing long term recommendations to end homelessness as we know it. The Commission is comprised of the leaders of public sector agencies that provide support and services to homeless families and individuals. An Advisory Board of nongovernmental representatives will bring additional expertise and resources to the work of the Commission. Public forums, jointly sponsored by the One Family Campaign and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, are being held throughout the Commonwealth to provide the public an opportunity for raising issues that should be addressed by the Commission and for making recommendations for consideration by the Commission.

As this DTA Update shows, homelessness has been on the rise for a number of years, with over 500 families with children now being sheltered in hotels and motels despite efforts to increase emergency shelter capacity. The need for the Commission is clear. DTA looks forward to working with fellow Commission members and the Advisory Group on ways to prevent and solve homelessness.

[1] National Center on Family Homelessness website. www.familyhomelessness.org

[2] The initial appropriation for the Emergency Assistance Program was $70.2 million. A $2 million supplemental appropriation was approved in May 2003. State fiscal year (SFY) 2003 runs from July 2002 to June 2003.

[3] In July 1999 (the first month of SFY2000) eligibility was expanded to families with incomes between 100 percent and 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline (between $15,020 and $19,526 a year for a family of three in 2002). This expansion of service was rescinded in SFY03.

[4] There were 175 families in hotels/motels at the start of the fiscal year (July 2001). This number increased to 363 by the end of the fiscal year (June 2002).

[5] This categorization of causes of homelessness was put forth by Martha Burt during The Urban Institute's February's First Tuesday discussion series on "Preventing Homelessness: Meeting the Challenge." 2002. See The Urban Institute website www.urban.org/urlprint.cfm

[6] This TAFDC grant amount is for an exempt family without a rent allowance.

[7] The fair market rate for an area "is the amount that would be needed to pay the gross rent (shelter rent plus utilities) of privately owned, decent and safe rental housing of a modest (non-luxury) nature with suitable amenities." Federal Register. Part II. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Fair Market Rents for the Housing Choice Voucher Program and Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy Program Fiscal Year 2003; Notice." Vol. 67, No. 189. September 30,2002.

This information is provided by the Department of Transitional Assistance.