Massachusetts To Stop Sheltering Homeless In Motels

Jan 2, 2013

Credit WAMC

The state aims to phase out the use of motel rooms as emergency shelters for homeless families over the next 18 months and halt the program completely by June 30, 2014.  Aaron Gornstein, the Undersecretary of  The Department of  Housing and Community Development  said eliminating the motel system is in the best interest of taxpayers and homeless families.

Last month, there were about 1700 homeless  families staying in motel and hotel rooms. It costs the state $80 per family per night.  Massachusetts, last year,  spent $45 million on emergency shelter for the homeless.

In a recent interview, Gornstein said the state wants to focus its resources on programs to prevent homelessness and increase the availability of affordable housing.

The state has for decades put homeless families up in motel rooms when emergency shelters are at capacity.  But since the recession and the foreclosure crisis the number of families sheltered in motels has sky rocketed.  The average length of  stay before a family moves to a new apartment has also increased.

Pamela Schwartz, the director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness applauds the state’s goal to eliminate the motel system.

The state in 2011 introduced a new program that provides eligible families with up to $4,000 to pay rent, either to avoid homelessness or move out of emergency shelter.  Last summer the state introduced new eligibility rules for families seeking emergency shelter.

Michaelann Bewsee, director of the anti-poverty organization Arise For Social Justice, said the new criteria has made it harder for families to qualify for emergency shelter

Bewsee said the answer to homelessness is more affordable housing.

Recognizing that Massachusetts, and other states need federal help to combat homelessness, Bewsee said her organization is joining a new national campaign to get one million new homes in the next four years.