From State House News Service:

A Senate budget amendment that eliminates tighter restrictions on shelter eligibility for homeless families has attracted majority support in that branch a day prior to budget debate, with 22 senators signing on in support.

The Senate budget, released from the Ways and Means Committee last week, restricts to four “narrow” categories families considered eligible for shelter, and will prevent thousands of families from finding shelter, homeless advocates say. Sen. Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington), Sen. James Eldridge (D-Concord), and Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) are pushing an amendment (Amendment #288) to repeal the categories and return eligibility to standards established in 2011.

“We have a situation in Massachusetts since the fiscal crisis of 2008 where we have thousands of homeless families,” Eldridge said. “We are concerned about the social safety net being ripped away.”

Under the proposed restrictions, families who leave a domestic violence situation would only be eligible for shelter if they seek assistance immediately after they leave the abuse. Someone who stays with family or friends before seeking state shelter would not be eligible, according to homeless advocates. Spilka said she worries most about the children of homeless families. “Nobody would want to exclude them from shelter,” she said.

Another restriction says a family is eligible for shelter if they have been laid off from a job within the past year. If someone was laid off and survived on savings for a while, they would not be eligible for shelter if more than a year passed, according to advocates.

A third category says if a family is evicted from their home because of someone else’s actions – a significant other or another family member – they could not seek shelter, Eldridge said.

A fourth category allows families evicted because of a sudden increase in rent to seek shelter, but if they manage to pay the increased rent for some time, and then end up homeless later, they are not eligible for assistance, advocates said. “There have been growing restrictions in general on access to shelter,” Eldridge said. “There are those of us in the Senate who have fought back against that, and that is what we will be doing this week.”

Debate on the Senate budget begins Wednesday.

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