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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