Stuck in Section 8 Purgatory: Waitlist For Subsidized Housing Leaves Families In The Cold

When your application for state housing assistance is accepted, the wait list can stretch to up to seven years long. If you need Section 8 assistance for your young family, I hope you’re ready for a decade-plus wait. Hundreds of individual applications for housing can be filled out with nary a positive response.
That is the reality for the homeless families of Boston that are placed in shelters around the city. These homeless families are not as obvious as the people who end up on the street, and are overlooked consistently by the powers that be. “Out of sight, out of mind” is the tactic used, but we’re still here.

My family has been in a state funded family shelter for over three years now. One would think that within that span of time, a solution to our homelessness would have been found, but it hasn’t. We’ve been stuck in the bowels of purgatory this entire time, endlessly filling out applications and mailing them in, only to find out that the list for the city applied to is indefinitely closed or the wait is astronomical.  

Like many families in this situation, the obstacles to obtaining our permanent housing can be crippling, verging on insurmountable. I’m a single mother raising my children with no child support. My children have psychiatric needs that literally prohibit me from taking and keeping gainful employment.
Transportation has been very challenging, especially considering that we were relocated to an area that was completely foreign to us. Shelter families are routinely placed in areas that are far from their home range due to demand for services. Entire support systems are lost due to distance and travel time, which causes even more stress on parents and kids alike.  Long waits with small children in state agency buildings staffed by jaded social workers who lose your paperwork routinely is only a small frustration compared to the daily reality that we face.

On top of that, imagine living in fear of being written up for any little thing that’s decided to be an infraction. Now, imagine you only get three infractions before you are kicked to the curb with your kids. It’s so nerve wracking to know that a late bus, or a desk worker on a power trip can spell your doom. I’ve personally seen this happen many times to other families in the system.

The vast majority of shelter families are headed by single parents that simply cannot make ends meet no matter how many hours they work. My family depends on disability benefits to survive. We could move to the poorest state in the country and still not be able to afford housing while paying fair market rent. There are actually a lot of disabled heads of household to be accounted for as well. These families will never be able to afford  rent in the Massachusetts real estate market.

What’s to become of these thousands of families? From what I’ve seen, over the course of these three long years, the solution  the state seems to have settled on is the warehousing of these people. This is not a valid solution, just a very expensive band aid applied to a festering wound that won’t heal.  

It costs more money to house a family in a shelter or a motel, than it does to subsidize rent. To put things more simply, we are in desperate need of affordable housing.

Shelter residents want nothing more than to move on and become independent again.  I’m among these people, and I hear their voices every day. No one wants to be homeless. No one enjoys being humiliated by an uncaring system. No one wants to struggle through this phase of their lives living in subpar conditions with their children. We stick it out, because giving up now spells doom for the family. There is no other solution, and that is simply unacceptable.

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