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New England News

State Budget Boost Sought For Homeless Individuals

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WAMC
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As the Massachusetts House begins debate today on a proposed $38 billion state budget, advocates for homeless individuals are lobbying for more funding.  The major service provider for the homeless in western Massachusetts says it is being shortchanged because the state money is not equitably distributed.  

The state budget recommended by the House Ways and Means Committee includes $43.2 million for services to homeless individuals.  That is $200,000 more than was budgeted this year.  The Coalition for Homeless Individuals, which represents the network of private shelters across the state, is seeking a $5.5 million increase.

Bill Miller, Executive Director at Friends of the Homeless in Springfield, says there has not been a substantial increase in state funding to assist homeless individuals in 15 years.

"We can't afford to stay as underfunded as we are," he said.

The region’s largest shelter for homeless individuals has an annual budget of $3.4 million.

"We depend on charity, we depend on grant-writing, and other sources of funding, but the core is our state contracts," said Miller.

The prolonged underfunding strained the shelter system during the record-setting winter when more people needed help.  Friends of the Homeless received state funding for the 133 beds it has, but averaged 170 guests per night.

"We don't  want people living in alleyways and under bridges. We have some flexibility. It may be just sleeping on a blanket in a hallway but it is better to be indoors," said Miller

The formula used by the state to distribute money to the homeless shelters has shortchanged Springfield for years, according to Miller.  Western Massachusetts has 13 percent of the state’s homeless population and receives 7 percent of the funding. The greater Boston area with 38 percent of the state’s homeless population gets 65 percent of the funding.

" Those numbers are pretty stark," said Miller.

Miller said his program is more than just a bed and a meal. It has support services to help people get back on their feet and find permanent housing.  He said it assists about 1,000 different individuals a year.

State Rep. Thomas Petrolati of Ludlow said he’ll argue in the budget debate for more funding for Friends of The Homeless.

"Being able to keep them open 24-7  is essential. Otherwise the streets of Springfield, the streets of Ludlow, everywhere in western Massachusetts will see an increase of people on the streets and that is not what our job is for government, " said Petrolati.

House leaders contend the state budget is very tight and have urged the rank-and-file to restrain from seeking spending increases during this week’s floor debate.  Nonetheless, more than 1,100 amendments were filed to the Ways and Means Committee’s budget.

State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst said he supports fair and reasonable rates for the state’s homeless shelters as well as funding for programs to reduce homelessness.

" The governor put forward a few strategies, the house put forward some strategies, I am hoping the Senate Ways and Means Committee will recommend some, said Rosenberg.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee’s budget is expected to be released in mid-May.

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