How do families and individuals get rehoused after a fire?

Figuring out what to do after a fire has displaced you and your family from your home is a real issue that most people don’t care to think about until it happens.

Those who are unable to re-enter their homes are immediately approached by members of the American Red Cross, which dealt with 5,053 cases in Massachusetts in the last fiscal year.

Once a home is on fire, officials from the Red Cross and the City of Boston determine how to help those who have literally no place to stay.

“Frankly most people have a place to stay for the short term while their unit is being renovated,” said Elizabeth Doyle, deputy director of Boston’s supportive housing division.

It typically takes families and individuals who have lost their homes in a fire a couple of weeks or three to four months to find permanent housing, Doyle said.

The city’s role is to ensure that those affected find long-term housing while the American Red Cross provides them with money if they don’t have friends or family to stay with or cannot afford to stay at a hotel for the first few days. In some extreme cases, city officials work to place people and families in an emergency shelter.

Jessica Emond, spokesperson for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts, said her agency provides financial aid in the form of prepaid cards for temporary lodging, food and clothing, usually for the first two to three days.

“They provide us with their contact information. Usually once they have started talking to a housing agency our work is done and we close the case,” Emond said about her clients.

In the fiscal year 2014, the Massachusetts Red Cross dealt with 5,163 cases while Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) dealt with 109 cases from 2015 to June 2016.

After contact with the American Red Cross, cases are handled by DND and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. Both work with individuals, families, property owners and even nonprofits.

“What we try to do is figure out if people who absolutely have no place to stay can double up with others. We try to broker those relationships and work with property owners to see if they have units in other buildings they can put them in while we’re working with them to get affordable housing,” Doyle said.

It is hard to guarantee how long the process will take depending on the situation, Doyle said, but the city stays involved until those affected find a more permanent solution.

“We do an assessment; we are essentially case-managing people during the process,” Doyle said. “As you well know, finding affordable housing in the city takes a while.”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

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