[Hpn] LOWELL, MA - State considers plan to charge homeless - The Lowell Sun - Novermber 29, 2003

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Sun, 30 Nov 2003 10:56:51 -0500


State considers plan to charge homeless

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By PETER WARD - The Lowell Sun - Novermber 29, 2003

LOWELL, MA - A 50-year-old homeless man named Charlie
chose a cot with a brown blanket because there's an electric
outlet nearby. At night, he needs to plug in a breathing
machine that calms his sleep apnea.

No one officially asked Charlie, who has lived at the
Lowell Transitional Living Center for two years and takes
college-level engineering courses, but he'd be willing to
try a proposal floated in a just-released report from a
commission on homelessness. It would allow providers to
charge homeless people a "nominal fee" for using a
shelter.

"Every shelter or mission I've been in is not for free.
They asked you to do chores or sweep the floors, something.
I think people that have income should pay something," said
Charlie, a Burlington native who didn't want his last name
used.

Gov. Mitt Romney's Executive Commission for Homeless
Services Coordination recently concluded in a report that
the state needs to:

Increase affordable housing for people with very low
incomes.

Focus more on prevention.

Better coordinate services for the homeless.

Improve data collection, coordination and reporting.

Establish an interagency council.

Though controversial, the idea to charge the homeless a fee
came from shelter operators appointed to the commission,
not its "officials," said Dick Powers of the state
Department of Transitional Assistance, which allots the
most state tax money to shelters.

"There are arguments on both sides of the issue," Powers
said. "Some shelter providers felt it would encourage more
personal responsibility on the part of occupants. There was
no mention as to what the fee would be. It's just an idea
that was floated out there."

Romney established the commission in February after several
homeless people died outdoors in bitter cold weather.

On any given night statewide, 1,050 families reside in
emergency shelters and another 538 families are housed at
state expense in motels. In addition, more than 3,000
individuals occupy shelters, which have been over capacity
for six years.

Mark Cote, director of the Lowell Transitional Living
Center on Middlesex Street, where all 90 beds are occupied
each night, said he's open to the fee idea.

Budget cutbacks about two years ago forced him to cut daily
meals from three to two daily and to lay off two nurses and
two case managers.

"And we were still short-staffed. I'd be for (a fee), but
it would have to be done on an individual basis people with
some kind of income. It would help offset our costs, which
continually rise," Cote said.

The report calls for new ways to combat homelessness
without increasing the state's overall appropriation.

The state this year will spend $250 million on shelters,
and officials expect to appropriate a similar sum in
2005.

"So it's not that the commitment hasn't been there. ... We
have to spend more wisely," said Powers, the DTA
spokesman.

The report calls for diverting money from shelters to
affordable housing. It notes that the federal government
stopped issuing Section 8 housing vouchers and that the
region's rents are among the nation's highest.

The Section 8 cutoff is a problem, said one shelter
operator, who predicted that increasingly people who
otherwise would leave the shelter and use vouchers to find
a place to live will instead return to the streets and
shelters.

The House of Hope, an emergency shelter on Salem Street in
Lowell that is fully occupied with 18 homeless families,
"has already embraced the governor's response," said Debbie
Chausse, executive director.

In the spring, it plans to break ground on a $2 million,
10-apartment complex next door for low-income families.

"The answer is building permanent housing with supports so
that kids don't have to be nomads," she said, but added,
"the one caution I'd have is pitting the needs of those
currently in need of emergency shelter against the
long-term needs of the homeless."

To see the report online, go to
www.mass.gov/homelesscommission

Peter Ward's e-mail address
is pward@lowellsun.com

source page: http://tinyurl.com/x1z5
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ŠTHE HOMELESS NEWS - H.C. Covington, Editor  http://tinyurl.com/2yg2