On February 27th, a large group of concerned citizens met at the State House to ask the State Legislature to protect families by increasing funding for housing and protecting safety net programs. The day was also meant to focus attention on the need to protect programs designed to help homeless youth under the age of 24.
HomeBASE is a state program in danger of budget cuts. This program, which serves families most in need of housing assistance, is scheduled to begin cutting rental support on July 1st. If rental support funds are cut as scheduled, 62% of the more than 6,800 families currently served by the program will be dropped by January 1st.
Among the many other programs the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is concerned about protecting from budget cuts are Emergency Assistance Family Shelter and Services, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children Program. The Coalition is also pushing for legislative session bill priorities such as House Bill 135, the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Act, House Bill 143, and the No Place Like Home Bill, which would provide stabilization funds and services to households at risk of homelessness.
According to The Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, which administers HomeBASE in the greater Boston area, if the program loses funding, 85% of families HomeBASE serves in the Boston area will use 100% of their income to pay rent. Chris Norris, MBHP’s Executive Director, states that without the support of HomeBASE, these families will be at risk of becoming homeless again. “It’s simple math,” he comments. “Massachusetts is a high-rent state, and families cannot pay more for rent than what they bring home.”
Legislators, organization representatives, and individuals spoke at the State House gathering, which was sponsored by Representative James O’Day, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs. Testimonies on the importance of investment in housing and benefits programs were provided by people who have experienced homelessness or who have worked towards ending homelessness (or who have done both, in many cases).
One speaker, Willie Jones, a single father who, along with his children, has benefitted greatly from HomeBASE. Jones is also in danger of becoming homeless again if funding for the program is cut. In the past, Jones has worked two or more jobs to provide for himself and his daughters, but was injured on a job which left him unable to work. Now striving to regain his health, he noted, “I have received a lot of resources from the HomeBASE program, and I have taken advantage of all the workshops and services available to me, but without the security of a high-paying job, I cannot afford market rent in today’s climate.” Jones described HomeBASE as “A great program for people who want to better themselves and their children’s lives. I am very thankful for everything the program has done for me, and know that a year or more of HomeBASE assistance would ensure my ability to survive and provide for my children in today’s economic climate.”
The Legislative Action Day included an art show curated by Samantha Alves, a Legislative Action Day organizer. The show was held at the State House and was titled “Our Stories, Our Art: At the Intersection of Homelessness and Creativity” and featured art and photography by youth and adults who have been affected by homelessness.
—Melanie Temin Mendez