Massachusetts has reached a "tipping point" in the fight against homelessness, where the homeless individuals seeking shelter more frequently come through the door with complex addiction or mental health issues, service providers said Thursday.
"Before, we were trying to end homelessness and now we're trying to manage it. That's not the right way to go. It's not cost effective, it doesn't work for the taxpayers," said John Yazwinski, president and CEO of Father Bill's & MainSpring emergency shelter in Brockton. "We're not able to help people get jobs, we're not able to help people move out quickly because all we're trying to do is make sure everybody has a safe place to go."
The Coalition for Homeless Individuals, made up of homeless individuals and organizations that provide services to the homeless, on Thursday called on the Legislature to fund the homeless individuals assistance line item at $50 million to help them tackle complex challenges like addiction and mental health. [Photo: Antonio Caban/SHNS]
Father Bill's shelters an average of 250 individuals each night, Yazwinski said, but state aid funds just 126 of the beds.
"The problem with that is it's 126 beds is what they fund, they fund it at $26 a day and 23 percent of the people we see that come into Father Bill's are coming in from other state systems of care -- mental health places, substance abuse places -- and those systems get a couple hundred dollars day and they're discharging people to the streets," he said. "They're sending them to a system that's already got not enough resources."
Providers like Father Bill's rely on the Homeless Individuals Assistance budget line item, which has declined by 8.6 percent since 2001 when adjusted for inflation, according to the Coalition for Homeless Individuals. Gov. Charlie Baker's fiscal 2018 budget proposal would fund the line item at $45.18 million, up from $44.83 in the current budget.
Providers called on the Legislature to go further than the governor's proposed increase and fund the line item at $50 million.
"Service providers across Massachusetts are highly successful at transitioning men and women out of homelessness," said Karen LaFrazia, president and CEO of St. Francis House in Boston. "We have the ability and the experience to make a significant impact on ending homelessness if we can secure the right resources."
According to the coalition, state funding covers only 47 percent of the "true costs" of the 3,538 shelter beds available around the state through providers like Father Bill's and just 35 percent of the costs for day shelters like St. Francis House.
Statewide, there are approximately 8,000 homeless individuals and 2,700 are moved into permanent housing each year, the coalition said.
The state classifies people experiencing homelessness two ways: either as individuals -- which includes adults and unaccompanied youth -- or as families. Each group receives separate services funding from different sources.
The service providers who work with individuals on Thursday lauded Baker for his work to reduce the number of homeless families living in hotels or motels, but noted that family homelessness is just one piece of the issue.
When Baker took office, there were more than 1,500 families living in hotels or motels around the state. As of January, that number had been whittled down to fewer than 100, Baker said during his State of the Commonwealth address last month.