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Homeless In Hotels

State help not enough to get homeless back on feet

GREENFIELD — Some of the homeless families that were part of the recent surge into Greenfield hotels were families left homeless when they weren’t able to successfully transition off of one of the state’s temporary subsidized rental programs, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for the DHCD, said the HomeBASE rental program is a two-year program the state has been providing to struggling families since 2011 to help pay their rent for two years while they get on their feet.

In July 2013, the first families began transitioning off the program and Sheaff said the program will end for all families on June 30, 2014.

He said many families ended up on the program because they lost their jobs or had some other life-changing event and couldn’t afford to pay their rent.

He said the state Legislature created the program in its effort to establish a more housing-based, rather than shelter-based, approach to homelessness.

Sheaff said there are no plans to extend the program.

The Days Inn and Quality Inn in Greenfield are currently housing a mix of homeless families — some were not able to transition to self-sufficiency when the HomeBASE rental program expired for them, while others lost their homes.

Sheaff said the HomeBASE rental program should not be confused with the HomeBASE household assistance program, which gives families, many of whom are currently staying in Greenfield hotels, up to $4,000 a year to move from a shelter or hotel room into permanent affordable housing. It gives homeless families money for things like first-month’s and last-month’s rent, a security deposit or moving expenses.

“Those families have worked with the state, put their names on lists for public housing and explored all of the options, or found affordable housing and know they can afford it, but need up to $4,000 to get themselves situated,” said Sheaff.

“The rental program was put in place to help families who need help paying their rent for a couple of years, while they work with a case manager to help them learn how to manage things,” said Sheaff. “It was always made clear by the state that it would be a two-year program from whenever someone was approved.”

He said that 96 percent of the people who transitioned off the HomeBASE rental program in October ended up self-sufficient and in permanent affordable housing.

He said the other 4 percent couldn’t make the transition, for whatever reason, and ended up in a shelter or hotel room.

“The state kept in contact with people while they were in the HomeBASE rental program for two years,” said Sheaff. “They had case managers and the state reminded them through letters and such that the program was ending, so it wasn’t a surprise.”

Sheaff said the state also has a hotline for people participating in the rental program. He said they can call any time to find out when their two years expires. The number is 617-573-1123 and is bilingual.

One woman, who is staying in a Greenfield hotel with her husband and three children, said she and her husband owned a home in Attleboro, but lost it about two years ago when they fell on hard times. She said her family was moved into transitional housing two years ago and recently moved to the Quality Inn in Greenfield from Dorchester.

She recently told The Recorder that the three-bedroom Dorchester apartment cost $1,400 and her family had to pay $200 of that, while the rest was covered by the state.

Sheaff said the family would have known that they had two years before the program ended because the state would have had contact with them well before.

Sheaff said the state has not gone to anyone to tell them they have to vacate an apartment immediately.

“No one has been evicted,” he said. “The state has helped each family with the transition, but some just haven’t been able to make it for whatever reason.”

He said every family on the two-year HomeBASE rental program had the option of staying where they were or finding a different affordable apartment once the program ended for them. He said once the program ended, though, the state stopped paying through the HomeBASE rental program. He said people may have found other programs that subsidized their rent or helped with other issues.

“Some just couldn’t swing the rent themselves and that’s why they may have ended up in a hotel room,” he said.

Sheaff said even after families transition off the HomeBASE rental program, they receive case management for a year, to make sure they are managing their money, staying on track, hitting their goals, and don’t end up homeless again.

He said the state is doing its best to get people out of shelters and hotel rooms and into affordable housing.

“Being in your own place is always better than being in a hotel room,” said Sheaff.

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