BOSTON — The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inadequacy of a safety net system here in Massachusetts, from work force shortages to the lack of a viable public health response for adults, youth and families experiencing homelessness on a day-to-day basis.
The pandemic has pushed our state-wide response system to the limit — further straining the state’s critical services and supports that keep low-income householdops stable.
Many people are stretched thin and need help.
Now is the time for the Massachusetts Legislature to take a coordinated, comprehensive action to ensure that these resources are deployed effectively and equitably. By transforming our approach to homelessness, we can move from a crisis response to investing in vulnerable adults, families, and youth for more stable lives.
And that’s exactly what House Bill 3838, An Act to create and implement a Massachusetts flexible housing subsidy pool program to address the medically complex needs of disabled men, women and children experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts, a vital piece of legislation drafted by Representative Joan Meschino, of Hull, does.
As House Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing, I enthusiastically support this measure to combine funding sources and streamline the administration of services to those experiencing homelessness across the Commonwealth — from Boston to Pittsfield, from the North Shore to Fall River, from Worcester to Lowell.
Granted a favorable review by the Joint Committee on Housing earlier this year, this bill adopts a comprehensive approach to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness by ensuring they receive the medical care they need and provide the increased stability and security they deserve. Firstly, some background:
- Data shows that supportive housing is a highly effective, cost-efficient strategy that combines affordable housing with intensive, coordinated services to help people struggling with chronic physical and mental health issues through the maintenance of stable housing and continued access to critically necessary health care services.
- This legislation builds off the nation’s first Pay For Success program, a housing-first program run by the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, which was launched in 2015. This initiative has placed more than 1,000 tenants into permanent supportive housing to date. We know that supportive housing works as an innovative intervention for high-need, high-cost citizens by providing affordable housing alongside services needed in order to live with autonomy.
- According to our Massachusetts Pay For Success Initiative, 84% of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness who receive supportive services and a housing voucher remain housed one year later.
- At its core, stable housing proves that adults and families have a choice of where they live. Stable housing results in fewer moves for children in school, consistent commutes for parents to work, and economic benefits from savings on costly services such as shelters, emergency rooms and addiction treatment centers.
- Data from the city of Denver’s supportive housing approach shows that when people experiencing homelessness were offered housing, most took it and stayed for the long term. Of those who were housed through the program, 86 percent of participants remained in stable housing at one year. At two years, 81 percent remained in stable housing, and at three years, 77 percent remained.
- Supportive housing significantly increased participants’ access to housing assistance, according to the city’s data. Over three years, people referred to supportive housing received an average of 560 more days of permanent housing assistance per person than those who received usual services, demonstrating the scarcity of housing assistance in the absence of a targeted initiative.
- In addition, people in supportive housing experienced fewer interactions with the criminal justice system, as evidenced by a 34 percent reduction in police contacts and a 40 percent reduction in arrests. People referred to supportive housing also utilize less emergency health care and more office-based services, illustrated by a 40 percent decrease in emergency department visits, a 155 percent increase in office-based visits, and a 29 percent increase in unique prescription medications.
In conjunction with this data and facts, H.3838 will:
- Streamline the administration of services to individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness across the Commonwealth.
- Braid and prioritize public and private funding streams to provide flexible, responsive funds for housing subsidies as well as tenancy stabilization and supports when there is no other alternative payer (e.g., MassHealth). The MFHP focuses on bundling and delivering these resources in a new way that improves the efficiency of housing placement, centralizes the housing and services coordination function, and ultimately reduces the time to achieve long-term stabilization.
- Take the strain off providers accessing the state’s patchwork of critical services and supports while strengthening the coordination and delivery of supportive services that help people exit streets, doubled-up housing, and emergency response systems.
- It will create a statewide Funder’s Collaborative to End Homelessness to allow for public and private dollars to nimbly fill in gaps — thus, braiding existing resources for housing and health care into a unified, flexible funding stream to support trauma-informed service delivery, regional coordination efforts, and integrated services for our communities.
If achieved, this thoughtful and impactful bill will ensure that existing state programs are deployed equitably to reach our most vulnerable residents.
We have a truly unique opportunity to test and re-imagine the Commonwealth’s approach to homelessness. The pool of funding this legislation would create will enable coordinated, comprehensive action and ensure resources for individuals and families are leveraged quickly and effectively.
We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.
Our citizens need help, and it is our time as legislators to act, by passing House Bill 3838.