New research from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds that since 2007, Massachusetts has been experiencing the highest increase, by percentage, in family homelessness out of all the states in the country.
There are currently 3,400 families experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts.
HUD categorizes homelessness according to a handful of scenarios: trading sex for housing, staying with friends (but cannot stay there for longer than 14 days), being trafficked, and being riven from one’s home by physical, emotional, or financial abuse. This includes families living on the streets as well as in shelters, motels, cars, and in doubled up living situations.
In the past year, homelessness in Massachusetts has grown by approximately 14 percent, and by 20.6 percent since 2010. This number may be inaccurate due to underreporting by families. It is estimated that one in every 30 children in the United States are experiencing homelessness. Boston Public Schools alone have reported 3,500 homeless students. Massachusetts also leads the country with its rates of Hispanic/Latinx homelessness with 107 out of every 10,000 people in that demographic experiencing homelessness.
These facts have come as a shock to many familiar with the state’s history with homeless policies. In 1983, Massachusetts became the first and only “right to shelter” state in the country. “Right to shelter” means that no family can be denied shelter, though this right is not as cut and dry as it may sound. Families often have to prove that they are homeless, and show a reason for their homelessness. The specifics differ from shelter to shelter. Massachusetts currently houses 95 percent of its homeless population – which is why a smaller percentage of homeless families are seen on the streets compared to other states.
It’s important to note that being sheltered does not necessarily mean a family’s living situation is stable. Many emergency shelters only allow people to stay for one night, while others allow people to stay for six to nine months. After that period of time, families are expected to move into transitional housing, and then permanent housing. Currently, the waitlist for permanent public housing can be as long as ten years. Though the recent numbers are not encouraging, there are many Massachusetts residents putting in time and effort to bring about change. If you are interested in supporting changes to Massachusetts homeless policy, you can join in on the Legislative Action Day headed by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless on Thursday, Feb. 27. See mahomeless.org for more details.