A broad coalition of health care providers, homeless advocates, and community groups are calling on the Department of Housing and Community Development to scuttle the new regulations guiding access to homeless shelters. Rosie’s Place, Massachusetts Immigrant Rights Association, Home for Families, Association for Haitian Women of Boston were among the organizers and supporters for the 12/12/12 March.
“The state house is my house, got any vacancies?” read a placard carried by local activists outside the gates of the Massachusetts State House. At noon, on Wednesday, December 12, 2012, a festive and focused crowd peacefully formed and adamantly shouted chants of “Shelter not neglect-show families some respect!” “What we do want? NEWE REGS! When do want them? NOW!” “D.H.C.D-how homeless do we have to be?” and “ Homeless children can not wait!”
Amongst the crowd were women with young children in strollers, participating in the march in support of families to end homelessness. One of the women said, “Children need a consistent place to live, not be moved around”. A dog wearing a t-shirt with the statement read, “Protect the shelters until every child has a home”. Representatives from the Greater Boston Legal Services also marched in support of homeless families, stating that the situation was very shameful and cannot be ignored, that there needs to be a commitment to finding safe and affordable housing.
The march began downtown on Beacon Street and congregated in front of the DHCD building. Protesters, photographers and writers – caring the message of the need for aide to homeless families and child neglect against the DHCD – were politely asked to step off their platform and onto the sidewalk, as to turning a deaf ear.
There is a growing population of homeless families who are at risk of not receiving housing or shelter; and it’s taking a huge toll on the safety of children. So on December 12, 2012, people marched and protested to deliver a symbolic 51-A, which is the official designation for a claim filed against an individual suspected of child abuse. The 12/12/12 march denounced the state’s new set of housing regulations for homeless families. Activist charge the regulations do not protect children at imminent risks of homelessness. Accordingly, nearly 70% of homeless families that apply for shelter are denied and are forced to stay in dangerous and unfit places not fit for human habitation.
One of the marchers included State Representative James O’Day (D- Worcester) a former social worker. “I am starting my seventh year as (State) rep.; but before that I worked for DCF for twenty-five years and primarily what I did was 51A investigations,” O’Day recalled. He continued by explaining the inner workings of a 51A filing. Slightly, raising his voice with a cool New England sternness, “ When your dealing with children sleeping in cars it’s outrageous!” Assured in his assessment, O’Day asserted, “I definitely know the difference between difficult times and abuse and neglect. I see this as absolutely borderline neglecting our kids. That’s really why I’m here.”
The new regulations require that family that is experiencing homelessness most return to their most recent domicile and acquire proof of their homelessness before receiving shelter.
Literature distributed during the march recounted tragic stories of extreme hardship caused by the new regulations.
Since the regulations went into affect, a mother stayed in a van with her two young children, while she was repeatedly denied shelter at a DHCD shelter. Another mother was allegedly turned way from a DHCD shelter because she did not have “sufficient paperwork” to prove that she was a victim of domestic violence. Consequently she was threatened with the possibility of having her children placed in foster care because she did not have anywhere to stay. A couple reported that they had to stay in a convenience store parking lot before they were eligible for a shelter. And perhaps the most egregious report claimed that a young pregnant mother was not homeless enough to receive shelter because she was staying on a recliner in the living room of a friend’s one bedroom apartment.
Over 60% homeless women are domestic violence victims. Advocates argue that the new regulations place women and children in domestic violence situations at greater risk because they must return to the same environments that they are fleeing. Although the commonwealth has increased its investments in housing programs such as Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and the Mass Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) it does not support and save all families in need. As one of the signs read on the cold 12/12/12 afternoon, “Until everyone has housing, protect the shelters.”