By State House News Service
Homelessness is a growing problem in Massachusetts that affects thousands of families, children, teenagers, single people and the elderly and will require millions of dollars more in state funds to alleviate, advocates from the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless told lawmakers this week at the State House.
The group came to Beacon Hill Wednesday hoping to show lawmakers the extent of the problem, in part by airing a video with interviews of homeless teens. On Tuesday night, there were 1,434 homeless families who spent the night in hotels around the state. The coalition tracks the number daily. An additional 2,200 families were staying in family shelters. Robyn Frost, executive director of the coalition, said thousands of mothers across the state have nowhere for their children to sleep at night. “This is the most solvable issue in our lifetime,” she said.
The number of homeless families staying in hotels peaked last summer, when the number hit more than 1,800, according to Kelly Turley, director of legislative advocacy for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
Last fall, there were so many families in need of home-based assistance the state was forced to stop issuing subsidies. In his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, Gov. Deval Patrick recommended increasing funding for several homeless assistance programs, including boosting the Massachusetts Rental Voucher program by $10 million, bringing the total to $46 million. Advocates estimate that would help an additional 900 families in danger of becoming homeless.
While the state’s near-universal rate of health insurance coverage is often touted by top state officials, statistics on estimated homelessness levels are sobering. According to the coalition, 2.6 percent of the state’s residents are experiencing homelessness and in 2010, at least 22,569 children experienced homelessness, rates that the coalition called “an all-time high in Massachusetts.” There are numerous accounts and programs scattered throughout the state budget to address homelessness and the coalition urged funding increases for those programs as well as passage of a bill (H 3838) aimed at helping homeless young people who have dropped out of school and don’t have an adult guardian.