[Hpn] Boston, MA - New state law could result in more homeless families - Boston Globe - August 19, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <hccjr@bellsouth.net
Mon, 19 Aug 2002 07:42:32 -0500


Outside the limit
New state law could result in more homeless families

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By David Abel - Boston Globe - August 19, 2002

As the number of homeless families across the state reaches
unprecedented levels, a new law passed last month is denying
assistance to hundreds of families who previously would have been
eligible to stay in state shelters.

Without anywhere to turn, many of those families will end up on
the streets, government officials and homeless advocates concede.

Moreover, they say, about 75 families now in state shelters will
be forced to leave in coming weeks as officials reconcile the law
with the families already in their care.

The law - which reduces the income families can earn to qualify
for a room at a state shelter - takes effect during perhaps the
most severe homeless crisis ever to hit the nation.

More than 1,000 homeless families are living in state shelters and
another 440 are being housed in motels across Massachusetts.

At the Sojourner House, a shelter in Roxbury, seven of the nine
sets of working parents, including an elementary school teacher,
a barber, a bank employee, and a receptionist, have suddenly lost
their eligibility to stay in state shelters.

''What are we going to do with them?'' said Zimma Mercer-Drake,
director of the Sojourner House.

''These people are going to be on the street.
There's no other place for them.''

The recent surge in homeless families and the doubling of families
living in motels is the result of the economic downturn, rising rents,
and the lack of affordable housing.

The new law is adding to the problem.

To be eligible for emergency assistance, a family of three now can only
earn up to $15,024 a year - instead of $19,536, as they could since 2000.

''The problem of homeless families keeps on getting worse and worse,''
said Dick Powers, a spokesman for the Department of Transitional
Assistance, the state agency overseeing the shelter system.

''Unfortunately, we only provide a Band-Aid - and now we have to
help people in the system seek alternative shelter, even if that
means living on the streets. It's scary.''

State agencies aren't the only ones feeling the pressure.

When they can't provide for a homeless family, they suggest the
family seek help from nonprofit organizations, such as Travelers
Aid in Boston, which has seen a significant jump in recent weeks
in requests for shelter.

But with a limited budget, now being crimped by state cuts, it
has room to shelter only 10 families a night.

''There are many more calls coming in - and we expect they will
increase,'' said Richard Ring, executive director of Travelers Aid,
adding that he recently assigned a social worker to answer phones
to do ''triage'' for callers in distress.

He and others blamed the Department of Transitional Assistance
for not doing more to help homeless families.

Instead of putting so many families in motels - which often costs
the state more than $110 a night and requires families to live in a
single room, without a stove, refrigerator, or washing machines
- Ring said the state could be using the money to rent apartments
for families.

And other homeless advocates lambasted the Legislature for
penny-pinching at the expense of society's most down and out and
least politically connected.

It would take only $2.9 million to shelter all the families who will be
removed from state shelters and motels as the result of the new law,
they said.

To provide a pulpit for their anger, Mayor Thomas M. Menino will
host a rally Friday at Fenway Park with advocates, families affected
by the law, and several Red Sox players to pressure the Legislature
to reconsider the cuts.

''It just doesn't make sense to pull out the rug from beneath
families now,'' said Sister Margaret Leonard, executive director
of Project Hope in Boston.

''These people have nowhere else to turn but the state - and in
the end, it's going to cost the state more money.''

But with countless other groups seeking more money and the
economy unlikely to improve in the near future, the Legislature
would probably have to cut other programs to pay for sheltering
homeless families.

Powers said the state now rents about 300 apartments for homeless
families. Fearing the families will stay in state-sponsored apartments
rather than search for their own, the Swift administration has little
desire to add to the number.

For a single mother of three like Marla Lucas that means a future
in purgatory. For the past two months, the 26-year-old and her
three children have lived with 35 other state-subsidized families
at Brookline Manor, an old bed-and-breakfast off Beacon Street.

She is getting tired of not having a place to cook and having to
abide by strict rules, such as not leaving the building after 8
p.m. But, she says, she's happy to at least have a roof to live
under.

How long that will last, she says, she doesn't know.

''I would like more freedom. But my kids need a place to sleep
and we will stay here until we find an apartment,'' Lucas said.

''I hope that's soon.''



David Abel can reached at dabel@globe.com.
 Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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