© 2023
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Longtime Burlington, Vt. Mayor Miro Weinberger will not seek re-election

Gov. Baker's Budget Includes Homelessness Prevention Fund

A white man in a suit stands in front of a bookshelf.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is proposing a fund in his state budget plan to prevent low-income families from becoming homeless.   Baker is fulfilling a campaign promise to tackle the problem that confounded his predecessor.

The “End Family Homelessness Reserve Fund” will pay for counselors and a host of services to families to keep them housed and out of the state’s emergency shelter system.  Baker described it as a preventive approach that will keep families in communities where they have a support system and where their children attend school.

" These reforms not only cut down on teh cost to the state but cut down on the terrible toll homelessness takes on parents and their kids," Baker said.

Baker is proposing $20 million for the homelessness prevention fund as part of the broader state budget.  It does not represent an increase in funding, because the governor is planning to level fund at $180 million the state’s assistance programs for the homeless.  He anticipates the prevention approach will mean the state can spend less on emergency shelters including motels where homeless families are put when the shelters become full.

" At a oint in time when family homelessness has actually been falling nationally,it's been increasing in Massachusetts to the point where it is a human tragedy that clearly must be rethought and reconsidered with respect to how these families are served," said Baker.

   There are currently about 4,500 families in the state’s emergency shelter system, with 1,400 families living in motels, where the average stay is seven months at a cost of more than $100,000 per day.

During his campaign for governor, Baker vowed to end the unpopular practice of sheltering homeless families in motels.  He frequently referenced the approach that was taken in the 1990s when Baker was a top aide to Gov. William Weld that brought the number of homeless families living in motels down to zero.

Former Democratic Governor Deval Patrick set a goal to eliminate the use of motels to shelter the homeless by the halfway point of his second term, but in the last year of his administration a record number of homeless families entered the shelter system and motels were still being used for the overflow.

State Senator James Welch of West Springfield, a longtime critic of using motels to house the homeless, said the practice does a disservice to both the families and state taxpayers.

" Homelessness has always been an issue every community struggles with. We need an open conversation about what we as policy makers and community leaders can do to address this situation," said Welch.

Last fall, the mayors of Chicopee and Holyoke complained that the number of homeless families living in motels in their communities posed a risk to public safety and put a strain on the local schools.

The homeless families were relocated from the motels to congregate housing and apartments in Springfield, where in some cases multiple families were put in a single apartment with separate bedrooms.

This prompted Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno in January to angrily denounce what he called “dumping” homeless families.

While most of the attention has focused on homeless families, Baker said he plans to ask for $2 million to revive a program to help mentally ill homeless individuals.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
Related Content