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Homeless In Hotels

Change of approach

The news this week that Massachusetts is changing its approach to helping people who have lost their homes should be seen as a step forward.

The current reliance on motels and hotels as the backup when the state’s own limited shelters were filled should never have been anything more than a temporary solution. Instead, the state has relied more and more on motels and hotels in Massachusetts to provide homeless families lodging for not just a couple of days or weeks but for much longer periods of times.

Some families have been living in motels or hotels for a year or more.

As state officials have belatedly come to realize, this approach, which Massachusetts has been using for more than five years, wasn’t working in the best interests of those needing housing or the state’s taxpayers.

Housing families in such a way wasn’t providing them with a new start, one that provided a better opportunity for a return to normalcy in their lives. As Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, has said in several published reports, the hotels and motels don’t have kitchens or play spaces for children.

And, depending upon where a family was placed, the situation was creating difficulties when it came to education and child care.

Meanwhile the state had seen both the number of families being housed in motels and hotels rising as well as the money it spends in this way. Providing housing in hotels or motels costs $80 per night per family, which translates into about $45 million in fiscal year 2012.

Now, the state is looking at a two-pronged approach, one that takes a proactive approach in trying to prevent people from finding themselves without a home and the other expanding options for affordable housing.

And in case anyone is worried that homeless families are going to be thrown out in the cold, the use of hotels and motels will be phased out during the next 18 months or so. That should provide time to fine tune the state’s role in the matter.

The issue of homelessness, for individuals and families, has been one Massachusetts has struggled with for years. Acknowledging that the existing approach isn’t working is a right step in finding a better way.

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