MA Housing Officials Look to Shift Attention to Homelessness Prevention

Massachusetts officials are holding a public hearing in Springfield today to discuss changes to homeless assistance eligibility in the state. The state is shifting its attention toward preventing homelessness with the hope of decreasing funding for costly emergency housing assistance programs.

For several years Massachusetts has had more homeless families than shelter beds to house them, and has resorted to renting hotel and motel rooms for nearly 1700 families. Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein says hotel and motel accommodations are expensive, and often leave families without cooking facilities and far from jobs and access to transportation. Gornstein says the state is investing $8 million in a transition program for families at risk of becoming homeless in order to try to transition away from sheltering families in hotels and motels.

“It’s much better to work with them, those who are at risk of homelessness, first, before they have to go into a shelter which costs $3,000 a month. So this provides a flexible source of funding to help the family stay where they are, or relocate if they need to.”

Gornstein says the number of homeless families living in hotels and motels has decreased in western Massachusetts since July, but four hundred fifty-five families still remain in the region. Gornstein says since August, his department has enlisted the help of organizations like HAP Housing of Springfield to meet with each family to help find more permanent housing solutions.

“We’ve already seen a 13% drop in the number of families in motels since July 1st. We’re expecting that to continue, and we’re moving in the right direction, but it does take some time and patience, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

The state has also tightened the eligibility requirements for families seeking emergency shelter. A hearing on those changes in eligibility begins this morning at 10 at the Springfield state office building.