Group Says MA Regulations Leaves Homeless Families Out of Emergency Shelter

A report released this week by a Massachusetts advocacy organization alleges a state regulation change last fall has forced 160 homeless families to stay in inadequate situations for days at a time. But state officials are downplaying those numbers.

Last fall, the state’s department of Housing and Community Development tightened the eligibility requirements for families seeking emergency shelter. At the same time, the department began to build more affordable housing, while drawing down the number of homeless families in hotels and motels. But a report by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute says the regulation change granted some families emergency housing only after they stayed in a “place unfit for human habitation.”

“Such as a bus station, a car, or an emergency room,” says Ruth Bourquin, an attorney with the institute. She says the state could house all homeless families without requiring them to live in poor conditions before receiving emergency shelter, by changing regulation language, and spending an additional $100,000 a year. 

“We think the costs are minimal because we’re just talking about a few nights more of shelter than they would otherwise get,” says Bourquin.

But state officials estimate the actual cost at $10 million per year. Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein also says changing regulations would put more families in hotels and motels, and the department is maintaining a strong safety net for homeless families.

“We’re placing people quickly, and whenever there’s any kind of health and safety risk.”

Gornstein says the number of homeless families living in hotels and motels in western Massachusetts has dropped by 45 percent since July.