transcript The Homeless Response System in Massachusetts

The Homeless Response System Video Transcript

In order to partner with the homeless response system, it is important to understand its basic components. Let’s look at these key components and learn the unique features of the system in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, there are two systems of care that respond to homelessness – one system for individuals and another system for families with children. Families have a right to shelter in Massachusetts, meaning if a family is experiencing homelessness and seeking shelter, the family will receive shelter. Individuals do not have the same right to shelter as families here in Massachusetts. Because of this, the experience of finding a shelter bed is different. For example, families experiencing homelessness have a centralized hotline to call which then supports them in identifying an option while individuals may have to ask around to see which shelters have a bed available, which may require navigating transportation challenges, and managing the various shelters’ procedures for securing a shelter bed. Couples without children are only eligible for shelters for individuals, however there are very few shelters allow couples to stay together while residing there. 

The State funds 90% of the shelters for individuals in Massachusetts, but there are also shelters funded by local municipalities and/or private resources from congregations, foundations, or other sources.

While every person experiences homelessness differently, this is a typical pathway for someone as they move through the homeless response system, starting with housing instability.

A person or household doesn’t become homeless overnight. Many households living in poverty experience housing instability.

Upon a housing crisis in which someone does not have a place to stay, they access the homeless response system by entering shelter or accessing services.

While in shelter, some people may be able to access services and eventually connect with housing supports, while others may be able to resolve their housing crisis using their natural support network.

The overall goal for the homeless response system is that each household can resolve their housing crisis and secure permanent housing.

For the past several years, homeless response systems across the country and in Massachusetts have implemented protocols to divert people on the verge of homelessness and help them find viable alternatives to entering shelter. This emerging best practice is known as housing problem solving or diversion. Shelters that have implemented housing problem solving practices typically see about 15-30% of the population presenting at the shelter door never actually enter shelter and instead find safe alternatives, oftentimes not requiring any financial assistance to support the process.

In efforts to divert people from shelter, homeless response systems are collaborating with the systems and institutions that often refer to shelters, such as hospitals and jails, to prevent in-flow of newly homeless individuals into the shelter system and to identify alternative solutions earlier.

Homelessness can be a dehumanizing experience and a great expense to the healthcare system due to the high utilization and return rates of people experiencing homelessness. Homeless response systems and hospital systems in Massachusetts can collaborate to prevent discharges to shelter and to support patients in finding safer, housing alternatives.