Solving for Space and Time: Ending homelessness by fixing the DTA and MBTA

Photo: Shinya Suzuki

What does improving the food system and reducing vehicle traffic and air pollution (especially in urban areas) have to do with ending homelessness worldwide?

Everything.

Well then, how can Massachusetts lead the rest of the world in doing this?

Massachusetts could first humanize the management system used by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). The system currently sends away hundreds of people struggling with poverty (many of them homeless) with no food benefits due to complications in its computerized decision-making process.

The DTA’s new computerized system literally overrides DTA administrators’ ability to make humane decisions. The good news is that we can fix that.

Next, we should guarantee that all Massachusetts residents who make below $75,000 per year receive at least $100 in foodstamp benefits per month. That’s right: EBT/SNAP cards for nearly everyone. This would have an immediate and ongoing positive effect on our food system.

We would literally be voting for our public health everywhere that accepts EBT/SNAP cards: local grocers like Stop & Shop, Whole Foods and even the corner liquor stores, which would immediately offer healthier food choices to their customers at the most reasonable prices possible.

How awesome is that? It’s very doable with just the slightest bit of political will and leverage.

Now on to fixing the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA).

With this in mind, we want to create a situation in which people actually have the time to prepare, enjoy and manage the abundance of good food they would now have access to. Of course, our local soup kitchens and food pantries, such as Bread of Life in Malden and St. Francis House in Boston, would be glad to help, and, under the scheme we’re proposing, they would be even better positioned to do so. Besides increased and better donations, soup kitchens and food pantries would also have corporate EBT/SNAP card accounts to better run their superb operations.

We’d also have to incentivize people to stop driving and start walking, biking and using the MBTA. Only then could we create and sustain the situation we’re trying to orchestrate.

One sure way to incentivize the reduction of driving is to make it easier for people not to drive. This is largely a cultural-mindset problem requiring marketing solutions. We have to solve for space and time.

We would need to figure out who needs to drive and who doesn’t, the segment of the population who are professionally obligated and entitled to use a car and the segment of the population that would be better off not driving but using the MBTA.

Then we need to get that segment on the T as soon as possible. We would also have to ensure that all the facilities people use on public transit, such as restrooms and porta-potties, are available at all the major stations. Very few people are able to enjoy riding the T with a full bladder, right?

Furthermore, the T should be free for tourists and for everyone who make below $75,000 per year.

This scheme incentivizes and pretty much guarantees the mobility we’d like the entire world to adopt, because it amplifies overall public mobility and sustainable economic development.

For the homeless population, access to quality food and public transportation are literally matters of life and death, happiness and utter misery, well-rested nights and long lonely sleepless nights out in the cold. The homeless have the highest mortality rates and the poorest nutrition. Therefore, at the very least, the homeless must have free access to the MBTA.

Also, food benefits for the homeless must be increased and sustained for several years after homeless people get “housed” to ensure their psychological well being and to avoid “cliff effects.”

Cliff effects are a socio-economic phenomenon whereby people who ascend out of poverty and homeless fall right back into poverty and homelessness because they’ve found a job and no longer qualify for benefits such as EBT/SNAP food benefits. Eventually, they become worse off, the cost of living spirals out of control and they fall right back into poverty and homelessness. Cliff effects are an extremely difficult thing to overcome.

Here in Massachusetts, we can put an end to such senselessness and lead the world into a better situation by creating a world-class, statewide, urban food and public transportation system.

As we know, the entire world is in transition, so let’s lead the way and make this happen fast. Please share these ideas with policymakers, academics, the business community and DTA and MBTA officials.

Here are some fellow citizens helping to orchestrate this cause. You can contact them right away:

  • Dr. Susan R. Crandell, director of the Center for Social Policy at UMass Boston.
  • Dr. Randy Albelda, professor of Economics at UMass Boston.
  • Ana Patricia Munoz, director of community development, research and communications, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  • Jeff McCue, commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance.
  • Ronald G. Marlow, under secretary for workforce development, Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
  • Mary Tittman, outreach director, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

Finally, the MBTA is seeking to fill the position of director of revenue. Google “MBTA careers director of revenue” to apply.

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