From State House News Service:

With the Senate ready to begin debate on its fiscal 2013 budget Wednesday and a majority of senators apparently backing an amendment to eliminate tighter restrictions on shelter eligibility for homeless families, Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein said the Patrick administration is urging the Senate to reject the amendment.

“The governor strongly support the Senate Ways and Means proposal, which we think is a reasonable and balanced approach to serving families in emergency situations and preserving the safety net,” Gornstein told the News Service Tuesday evening.

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-Acton), and Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) are pushing an amendment (Amendment #288) to repeal the categories and return eligibility to standards established in 2011. Gornstein said of the amendment, “It would cost a significant amount of money to continue the emergency shelter system that exists now and undermines our effort to provide a housing-first response.”

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. Another restriction says a family is eligible for shelter if they have been laid off from a job within the past year, but if that person survived on savings for a while, they would not be eligible for shelter if more than a year passed. 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.

Gornstein said the changes, also largely included in the House budget, would allow the state preserve the safety net, while still investing in programs that support more permanent housing options for homeless families. “This would set us back in terms of moving forward toward a housing first response as opposed to focusing a vast majority of our funding on emergency shelter,” Gornstein said.

Gornstein also disputed Eldridge’s assertion that the number of restrictions to accessing shelter have been growing, stating that no changes have been made previously to shelter eligibility. The undersecretary said he hopes senators had the facts they needed to make an appropriate decision.

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