[Hpn] Boston, MA - "There is no other place to go" - The Boston Herald - August 23, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Sun, 25 Aug 2002 11:37:58 -0500


$$ cuts slam poor: Many Hub families may face eviction
"There is no other place to go''

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by Ellen J. Silberman - The Boston Herald - August 23, 2002

Thousands of ``working poor'' families across the state will be
hit by state budget cuts that may force them into the streets
even as Boston officials estimate a 30 percent increase in
homelessness.

At greatest risk are some 75 families now in emergency housing in
Massachusetts who will face eviction because of new income guidelines.

``If we had any other place to go we would have gone there, me
and the kids,'' said Elizabeth Monteiro, who lives in the Homes
of Family shelter in Hingham with her two daughters, Brieanna, 2,
and Shardey, 13. ``There is no other place to go.''

New state guidelines designed to meet budget demands require that
families in state-funded apartments, motel rooms or group homes
earn no more than the poverty line, rather than 130 percent of
the poverty level as was previously the rule. This means that a
family of three can earn no more than $15,020 a year, rather than
the past $19,000 threshold.

Activists - backed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino - say the change
punishes those trying to work their way off welfare, like
Monteiro, a single mother who works as a customer service
coordinator at Marshall's in Braintree.

``Our shelters are at capacity right now - and it's only August - 
What's going to happen come winter?'' said Menino, who is hosting
a rally against the budget cuts set for this afternoon at Fenway Park.

``We spent nine months arguing about Clean Elections. We didn't
spend 10 minutes talking about homelessness,'' the mayor said.
``It's really a sad situation.''

Other cost-cutting measures are making matters even worse, he
said. They include:

The elimination of a $9.1 million rental assistance program
designed to keep families from becoming homeless. 

The program used to pay landlords up to four months rent - an
average of $1,200 - to help poor families through transitions like
a rent hike or a lost job.

A cut of 15 percent in spending for adult shelter beds, a savings
of $7 million to the state but a move that has already forced
Kingston House in downtown Boston to eliminate 120 beds. 

The cuts come as welfare-to-work requirements and Boston's 
affordable housing crisis are driving up the numbers of homeless.

Sister Margaret Leonard, executive director of Project Hope, a
North Dorchester social service agency that runs a shelter for
homeless families, said, ``We are seeing more and more families
who are working poor becoming homeless.''

Families who aren't eligible for emergency shelter do qualify for
public housing, but the waiting lists are years long. They can
also get Section 8 housing vouchers - Monteiro is waiting for one
- but as rents soar it's harder and harder to find landlords who
take the vouchers.

Approximately 800 families a month used to turn to rental
assistance to stay in their homes, but the program ran out of
money in April and the Legislature shut it down.

Menino said 40 Boston families are on the verge of eviction
because they can't get state help with their rent.

``What happens to those families? What happens to those
children?'' he said. ``It isn't snow. It's not going to melt when
the sun comes out.''

The mayor will lead a rally of hundreds of activists, politicians
and homeless advocates near Fenway Park's home plate to protest
the cutbacks. 

The ballpark was selected because of the Red Sox commitment to
job training programs for low-income people. 

Sister Margaret said the cutbacks may actually prove ``more costly'' to
the state in the long run because of greater services that will be needed
for the newly homeless. 

Such families require emergency overnight placements and in some
cases foster care once they lose their homes and belongings.

``We should really be putting more money into the prevention
end,'' she said.

Ed Cameron, acting director of Boston's Emergency Shelter
Commission, said, ```We're talking about these very emergency
needs and even if we get that money back all that gets us is back
to a very awful status quo. It's shocking. It really is.''

For Montiero, the budget-linked eligibility change means that she
and her daughters will lose their home for the second time in a year.

Just 14 months ago, she owned a three-family home in Chelsea but
fell behind on her mortgage. Rather than wait for the bank to
foreclose, she sold the house, pocketing $64,000 from the
$245,000 sale.

Monteiro planned to buy another home but on her salary - she earns
just $10.40 an hour at Marshall's - she didn't qualify for a bank loan.

She thought the cash from the sale would help her make ends meet
for a long time, but after she'd paid her debts, bought a car,
lost a deposit on a new home and struggled with rent for 10
months, Monteiro's nest egg was gone.

Under state law homeless adults need only knock on the door of a
shelter like the Pine Street Inn to request a bed for the night
but families - mostly mothers with young children - must prove to
the state Department of Transitional Assistance, the old welfare
department, that they're destitute.

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