Massachusetts Family Homelessness System | City of Ideas

Posted 02/22/2017 by Lucy Ellis, Program Associate, Neighborhoods and Housing

Emergency Assistance
The Massachusetts family homelessness system is called the Emergency Assistance (EA) program, and is operated by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

  • Emergency Assistance (EA) is a program that provides homeless families with children access to emergency shelter and help finding permanent housing.
  • Massachusetts is unique in that it operates the shelter system at the state level rather than the county or city level.

Right to Shelter
Massachusetts is a right to shelter state for families: Right to shelter is a mandate that requires a state or municipality to provide temporary emergency shelter to every man, woman and child who is eligible for services, every night. 

  • Massachusetts has been a right to shelter state since Chapter 450 of the Acts of 1983 was signed by Governor Dukakis.
  • Only two other U.S. jurisdictions have right to shelter mandates: New York City and the District of Columbia.

Eligibility for Emergency Assistance is determined by staff at one of DHCD’s 18 field offices. The current eligibility requirements, passed in FY2012, indicate that to apply families must:

  • fall below 115% of the poverty line
  • prove their homelessness status
  • be homeless due to one of four conditions :
    • domestic violence
    • disaster
    • eviction
    • health and safety (e.g., irregular housing situation; not meant for human habitation; health/behavioral health; unit condition)

Shelter Providers & Types

  • Shelter is provided by 52 nonprofits across the state via EA contracts with Mass. DHCD
  • Four types of shelters are or have been available across the state: 
    • Congregate shelter: provides families with their own room and shared bathroom, kitchen and living area. These shelters are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    • Scattered-site shelters: apartments in the community rented by the state. Families in scattered-site shelters receive services either through an offsite case manager visiting a family’s home or by a family going to a central office.
    • Co-shelter: apartments in the community shared by two to three families, with each family having its own bedroom and sharing the remainder of the apartment. Some apartments are staffed; others are not.
    • Hotels/motels: Historically have been used as an overflow system when shelter capacity is filled. DHCD does not contract for a specific number of hotel and motel units, but rather uses the number necessary to meet the current demand. Hotels/motels provide each family with its own room and wraparound services, although 24-hour case management services are not available. The use of hotels and motels is currently in the process of being discontinued.

Homeless Assistance for Families beyond Emergency Assistance

  • Families enrolled in EA can also receive additional supports; in fact, about half of families receive other homeless and/or housing assistance.
  • HomeBASE – A flexible rapid rehousing (housing relocation and stabilization services and time-limited rental assistance to help individuals or families exit homelessness and quickly return to permanent housing) option administered by nonprofit agencies contracted with DHCD that can be used for either diversion (avoiding shelter entrance by keeping current housing or placement in new housing) in lieu of shelter or stabilization following shelter.
  • RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) – Massachusetts’ largest homelessness and eviction prevention program, which provides up to $4,000 in financial assistance over a 12-month period for expenses such as moving costs, rent and utility arrears, utility bills, security deposits, utility startup costs, first/last month’s rent and furniture.

Housing Subsidy Programs

  • Section 8 – A common name for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is a federally funded, locally administered rental assistance program that helps low-income families, the elderly and the disabled afford decent, safe housing in the private market.
  • Massachusetts Voucher Rental Program (MVRP) – A program that provides both tenant- and project-based rental subsidies to low-income families and individuals in Massachusetts.
  • HOME Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program – A federal program that administers rental subsidies to help individual households afford housing costs such as rent and security deposits.

Agencies to Know

  • United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – The federal department that administers programs that provide housing and community development assistance.
  • Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) – Massachusetts state agency in charge of health and human service programs and policy development.
  • Executive Office of Housing and Economic Developments (EOHED) – Massachusetts state organization responsible for aligning the Commonwealth’s housing and economic development agencies to coordinate policies and programs in community leadership, business development and job creation.
  • Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) – The housing and community development agency in Massachusetts responsible for administering Emergency Assistance and other homeless assistance programs.
  • Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICHH) – Convened by Governor Baker in October of 2015 to coordinate Massachusetts state policy and working relationships among state, local and nonprofit agencies that work to remedy and prevent homelessness.

Research/Data Terms

  • Point in Time (PIT) – An annual national count of homeless persons on a single night in January conducted by a set of volunteers canvassing to identify individuals living on the streets and other outdoor areas as well as in shelters within a specified geographic area.
  • American Community Survey (ACS) – An annual ongoing statistical survey by the U.S. Census Bureau that collects information on demographics, jobs and occupations, educational attainment, veterans.

The full report contains a glossary at the back containing these terms and more.

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  • # Pauline Corbin's gravatar Pauline Corbin said:
    9/17/2019 10:35 AM

    What if you have no type of income at all and if you are staying with a relative and that person wants you to leave. Even though you are looking for a job. And you have two kids and a cat. Do you provide free housing for people like that?

  • # Christina osier's gravatar Christina osier said:
    3/28/2020 12:37 AM

    apologize to burden your offices for assistance. I would be grateful for any direction or Guidance the offices may be able to provide us with. My son and I were displaced housing wise because of the pandemic. Our domestic violence shelter DOVE out of Quincy shut down. The state did not mandate them to close and is not mandating them to stay close however they have temporarily closed their doors to the programs participants. My son and I are staying at a hotel up the street in Quincy. When we left the dove shelter initially we were told to pack for a 3 weeks to a month. That is how long I was told we would be staying in the hotel for. Only to have been told three days ago that we would not be going back to their house at all. They have not giving us a clear idea of when we can retrieve the rest of my belongings which we will need much more than 3 weeks worth of. They also have not given have clear answer of where we will be going to next. They said they can only pay for our hotel for a short amount of time and keep trying to send us to another shelter. Realistically if one shelter like our Dove shelter isn't safe for us to reside at than another shelter isn't safe for us either i would think. It terrifies me the idea of going to a public facility during this time. I feel anxious even staying in a hotel because all of the different service areas my 2 year old son and I are inevitably forced touch and share. So I didn't know if you had any housing resources I could maybe reach out to in regards to finding more safe sterile non-public temporary transitional housing during this pandemic.Also I think it's illegal that the house is asking me to leave telling me they're not going to pay for housing and trying to force me into another shelter during the pandemic. They haven't made any of the other girls apply for other shelters, or have told them they're not come back to the house and they haven't told them not going to stop paying for their hotel. they have withheld all of my mail for this entire week and they will not be clear but when I can get the rest of my son and I's belongings they told us when we were leaving we were only going to be gone for 3 weeks so I don't have enough of our belongings to suffice over the next unknown amount of time. I called 211 and was informed the state didn't mandate them to shut down and the state isn't ordering them to stay close so I don't understand why I can't retrieve our belongings. This all seems illegal. I no longer feel safe with my our lives in the hands of these people who displace US housing wise during this pandemic, while they are not offering us any long-term alternate housing besides trying to push us out and shuffle us off to public shelter during this very scary health hazardous time. we are participants of the program and legally reside at that address which I believe legally makes them responsible for our safe and healthy housing now more than ever. they have moved all of the other participants of the program to another nicer hotel and left my son and I behind here at another hotel. DV Advocate from the program came to the hotel yesterday locked in my car so I couldn't leave to force me to sign an application to go to another shelter I have to call the police to ensure that I had enough time to read so I really understood what I was signing and I'm still not entirely clear of what I signed. I keep trying to involve and include my DCF worker in the emails and the circumstances surrounding our housing however she just closed our case and in less than 2 weeks there is very little that department is going to be able to do for us at all I would think the department will be able to do. I'm fairly confident what they're doing us is illegal so I plan on contacting a lawyer and I'm going to be leaving their Donestic Violence program altogether. Even if there was not a pandemic outbreak leaving my son and I all alone in a public hotel is not a safe move any number of people could recognize us and get in touch with my son's father who I have now only have a stay away from since our restraining order expired. I sought shelter for my two-year-old son and in their program because I believed that they would have all keep us safe but leaving us all alone in a hotel separated from the other participant during a wide spread public pandemic outbreak while leaving us with little to no idea of where we will be able to reside at After. After a year-and-a-half in the shelter I have no subsidized housing options on the near Horizon. A lot of offices that I would typically be able to reach out to for assistance and resources seem to be closed or not encouraging families to go into public shelters either. I am working with an incredibly kind homeless coordinator from the offices of DCDH however was hoping you made knew of any alternate emergency housing programs or departments we could reach out to during this time. I'm embarrassed to even ask because im sure this is not a typical resource requested from your services. I understand completely if you have no direction to provide us with for that reason. I don't want to burden you in this very chaotic time. I'm sure you are busy with a whole lot more important things💚