"Homeless numbers going up"
By Pat Eaton-Robb, Associated Press
The North Adams Transcript, Monday, October 8, 2007
AMHERST — There is just enough space for Lisa Rivera's family to sleep at Jessie's House homeless shelter.
In one room, she fits the full-sized bed she shares with her 9-year-old daughter, the trundle for her 11-year-old son, a twin bed for her 14-year-old daughter and a playpen for her 1 1/2-year old son.
"It's comfortable, but it's hard sleeping all together," the 32-year-old woman said. "Oh my God, sometimes it's so hard."
Faced with domestic abuse, high housing costs and unemployment, Rivera's family finds itself among the growing ranks of the homeless in Massachusetts — and possibly, the country.
About 1,800 homeless families were in Massachusetts shelters last week — up from 1,400 in June 2006 and just under 1,200 in June 2005, according to state figures. There are more families in shelters now than at any time since the inception of the state's family shelter program in 1983, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
State officials blame a wide range of problems — from cuts in assistance to the recent housing crisis.
"We're very concerned that this is going to keep going," said Julia Kehoe, commissioner of the state Department of Transitional Assistance.
Massachusetts is one of the few states that keep government records of the number of homeless families in shelters because state law requires the Commonwealth to shelter any family that meets income and other guidelines. The state keeps a daily count to show how many beds it needs, said Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
Nationally, the picture is much less clear.
Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests there about 750,000 homeless in the nation on any given night, with about 40 percent of those members of homeless families, said Philip Mangano, director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
The overall number of homeless people is up from a few years ago, he said, but nobody can pinpoint an exact number of families because reporting requirements vary widely from state to state.
"Our desire would be to have many more states step up and track the data," Mangano said. "Research and data, that's what should drive the resources that we make available. Instead it's often anecdote, conjecture and hearsay that does that."
Kehoe attributes the increase in Massachusetts to a convergence of low wages, high housing costs, an increase in housing foreclosures and cuts in federal and state housing assistance programs. Two years ago, lawmakers also lowered the financial eligibility requirements to qualify for homeless benefits from the poverty level to those making 130 percent of what would be considered a poverty wage, she said.
"I think what we are seeing here is a perfect storm," she said. "Until we have some investment in affordable housing, and some flexibility in using our resources, we're not going to see a leveling off of these numbers."
Rivera lost her apartment in Springfield in 2005, when a domestic abuse case involving the father of her youngest child prompted the state to remove all four youngsters from her custody, she said. Without the money she had been receiving in Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Rivera could not pay her rent.
She moved in with friends, worked at a gas station, went to school to become a medical receptionist and fought in court to get her children back.
A judge eventually restored custody, but without a place to live, the family has moved from one shelter after another.
"It's hard to get an apartment anywhere, especially with the size of apartment I need," she said. "There's none out there, and once one comes available, there are just so many of us out here that need, it gets taken up with the snap of a finger."
The New England Farm Workers Council, a private nonprofit agency contracted by the state, is helping Rivera look for permanent housing. She has an income of just over $1,400 a month, all from either TAFDC or Social Security, which she receives for her 9-year-old who suffers from epilepsy.
The agency requires that families spend no more that 50 percent of their income in rent, a figure designed to make it more likely that families won't get behind on those payments.
But rents for a three-bedroom apartment in the greater Springfield area range from about $800 to $1,300 without utilities, said Tom Salter, the vice president of the agency's shelter and housing division.
"A minimum wage job for 40 hours a week is just not going to pay the rent in any area," he said. "It just isn't."
There are state programs that help once a homeless family finds a new place to live. Rental assistance, however, often is difficult to get. The state spends about $30 million on rental subsidies, compared with about $120 million 15 years ago, and there also have been no new incremental increases in major federal subsidies in about a decade, Kehoe said.
Commissioner Kehoe and Frost said families also are being squeezed by the recent national lending crisis, as high mortgages that have forced some landlords to sell or face foreclosure.
"Although most of the homeless were not homeowners, many could have been people living in units that had been foreclosed," Frost said.
Rivera said once she is able to find an apartment, she plans to enroll in another job training program.
"I want to try and live happily ever after if I can," she said. "I try my best to hang in there and do what I got to do. I never want to try and let them be able to take my kids away from me again."
LABOR: Minimum Wage Paper
Fall Semester of 1998 at The University of Massachusetts at Amherst
By Jonathan Melle
Wages are not a means to private property, as labor is but a custom where the disadvantaged are hired to work for the wealthy. Our nation’s philosophies are rooted in the classical liberal theories of such men as John Locke, who strongly differentiates labor from private property.
In Locke’s theoretical state of nature, mixing labor with something that is common stock lets the laborer acquire personal claim to it. However, the social compact that has allowed humankind to live in communities under governments does not have common stock where a person may work for his or her private property. Instead the government honors those who have legal entitlements to private property to use their personal holdings as capital. Money has taken the place of labor as a means to acquire property, and labor is a means to acquire money. The outcome of this arrangement is that an elite number of wealthy citizens hold most of the wealth, while the masses labor for them in order to acquire money.1 This arrangement often takes the form of economic organizations called corporations.
Some of the outcomes of our nation’s capitalist heritage are the writings of later political theorists, such as Karl Marx. Socialists and Communists, and even people with a conscience saw the workers being exploited by their employers and companies. To the other extreme of Locke, these philosophers saw property as theft. People with a conscience against the cruel world of capitalism wrote about miserly and mean characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
The minimum wage is a price floor set by the government, in this case the national government, to keep employees from being exploited. Neo-Marxists would say this measure, which is not a living wage, is an appeasement to the poor to keep them from rising up against the state that protects the capitalist system of private property and wealth.
Putting the theories aside for a moment, the focus of this paper is to explore what is happening to low-wage workers at the mandated price floor and who is trying to help the from being further exploited by their employers and companies.
In Massachusetts, similar to the trends taking place in the rest of the nation, over forty percent of low-wage workers do not even earn enough wages to cover their needs. According to the Wider Opportunities for Women (WEIU), a Washington advocacy group, the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is inadequate for people to be able to meet their basic needs. Moreover, there is a growing inequality between low-wage earners and the well paid. From the late 1980s to the present, the bottom twenty percent of all wage earners have seen yearly incomes decline by 9.3 percent while the top five percent saw yearly wages rise 10.7 percent.2
This is an injustice that no one in the body politic who is not benefiting from the inequitable distributions of incomes would consent to. Our national principles proclaim that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson in the “Declaration of Independence,” “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their JUST powers from the consent of the governed.”
Furthermore, these national beliefs are the very principles that William Greider addresses. He writes, “…American democracy is in much deeper trouble than most people wish to acknowledge. Behind the reassuring facade, the regular election contests and so forth, the substantive meaning of self-government has been hollowed out.”3
Greider focuses on the oligarchy that has displaced the ideals of the citizens as owners of their government, or at least that the citizens are truly represented.4 While John Locke focused on property rights, Greider focuses on the powers the property owners wield by influencing the decision-making of the government, mostly through major economic organizations, other concentrated forms of wealth and their politically influential fellow elites.5
The very ideals of Locke and Jefferson, however out-of-touch with modern thought and society, are even being overlooked because the liberal belief in justice is no longer the basis for the powers of American government. Instead, economists espouse efficiency. Their language excludes, instead of includes, fellow citizens from participation not only on their belief in money as means of participation as if one was investing in stocks for profits, but also by calling anyone who is not one of them a “noneconomist.” Instead of being an American citizen, an economist is a “corporate citizen” and the “noneconomists” who support them are “All Americans.” Their reinvention of government, democracy and most important of all citizenship are really a subversive means to take away the concept of justice from our nation’s ascriptive values.
These traditional economists are rooted in the libertarian spirit of John Stuart Mill, whose political philosophies found his predecessors’ writing on natural law troubling. Mill believes liberty means utilitarianism, which simply justifies the modern concept of efficiency. He is using logic that precludes reason because he is addressing utility before true morality and justice. While it is useful to know that a straight line is the fastest and most direct means between two points, our governments powers must be just, not efficient.6 Justice must be higher than efficiency. If utility is the justification for action then our government cannot be liberal because it is not just.
Yet, the federal policy behind the minimum wage is not to bring justice to workers or to help foster jobs with justice. The national minimum wage policy is to assure “the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well being of workers.”7 In statute, the minimum wage is clearly defined: $5.15 per hour for most (but not all) covered workers. Unfortunately, the FLSA does not translate that dollar amount into social or human terms.8 The goal of a minimum wage is NOT for employers to have an economic guide to pay full-time workers sufficient income to be able to meet their basic necessities of life. The government has not used the minimum wage as a means for full-time low-income workers to earn a “living wage.”
The minimum wage was designed to set a floor under the structure of wages, and it has accomplished that goal. While the economics of the minimum wage do not produce the most equitable and efficient outcomes, as it only directly affects three to four percent of workers at the minimum level of wages, it provides a strong political statement that economics is not the end-all of our American democracy.9
The values of the governed are rooted in justice, fairness and morals. Because the minimum wage is not used as a “living wage,” the public policy makers may have conceptually placed the minimum wage somewhere between the ideals of justice and efficiency.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA ), under the Department of Labor, established the minimum wage.10 Since its inception in 1938, the FLSA has been comprehensively amended on eight occasions.11 The minimum wage has been raised sixteen times, trying to keep in step with inflation and an ever-increasing cost of living.12 The last time the minimum wage was raised was on September 01, 1997, which resulted from the bill being signed into law by US President Bill Clinton on August 20, 1996.13
The arguments for and against a minimum wage have been generally similar since the 1930s. The opponents of the minimum wage argue that such standards are inflationary, a potential cause of joblessness, an unnecessary burden to employers, and an intrusion upon the “free market.” The proponents of the minimum wage argue that such a measure provides vital protection for unskilled workers, and is a part of the socioeconomic “safety net.”14
Moreover, arguments to change the nominal minimum wage rate to an indexed one have been long debated. The prevailing arguments thus far—the opponents of indexing the minimum wage to an independent economic measure or variable—say that indexation would add to inflationary pressures, and would not deal with current economic reality. On the other hand, proponents argue the indexation would provide regular increases for minimum wage workers and would allow employers to approach the minimum wage gradually, annually, instead of being faced with periodic higher legislated increases.15
Robert B. Reich, former secretary of Labor, is a proponent of indexing the minimum wage to inflation. Social Security, Veterans benefits, union contracts and health insurance are all indexed to inflation. However, Reich points out that the constant fighting about the minimum wage is the very reason why Congress has to approve increases. The ritualized fighting allows Democrats to show their traditional constituents, such as labor, how hard they fight for their causes, while Republicans fight for small businesses and the like. To be concise, if indexed to inflation since 1980, minimum wage would be $5.75, which is sixty cents higher than the current hourly rate of $5.15.16
Beyond the more political arguments of the minimum wage, the economics are an important aspect of this issue. Economists David Card and Alan B. Krueger call into question traditional economic models that always find that higher minimum wage rates correlate with a reduction in employment.17 Card and Krueger find that raising the minimum wage does not have an adverse impact on employment, and that employment sometimes slightly rises. The people helped by the minimum wage are mostly individuals in low-income families. Two out of three minimum wage earners are adults, and the adult’s low-income earnings account for about one-half of his or her family’s total earnings.18 Moreover, minimum wage workers are predominantly women and minorities. Thirty percent of the adults earning the minimum wage are the sole wage earners in their family.19
The economics of the minimum wage in public policy is treated with the same inhumanity and lack of compassion that most, if not all, public policy issues are dealt with by traditional economists. The problem with the minimum wage is that it is not equitable or efficient. It is not the global end all ideal of social and economic values, respectively. As with most, if not all, public policies, many economists point out the fact that the minimum wage generates less benefits and more costs. Therefore, the economists who stand by marginal benefit-cost analysis as the standard of public policy reject the existence of the minimum wage.20
“Noneconomists,” or people who do not ascribe to reducing everything under the sun, including human life, into dollar figures disguised in complex mathematics and graphs, do not use their methodologies to speak the language of self-interest and profit. Social scientists look beyond the myopic world of efficiency, and see issues as political, social and through other important perspectives. Card and Krueger, being social scientists in the economics field, or nontraditional economists, open up the scope of the economics of the minimum wage from one of efficiency to one of distribution. Unfortunately, the distributional impacts of raising the minimum wage are disappointing. A typical increase in the minimum wage generates only a ten to fifteen percent wage increase for fewer than ten percent of the lowest paid workers in the economy. Moreover, the transfers of dollars to low-wage workers from an increase in the minimum wage are not all received by families at the bottom of the income distribution. In short, the minimum wage has only limited effects on the distribution of income.21 For example, the 90 cent increase in the federal minimum wage between 1989-1991 only accounted for a transfer of 0.2 percent of economy-wide earnings to low-wage workers, which is a small part of the overall income distribution.22 Also, increases in the minimum wage help compensate for the wage inequalities of the workers at the bottom of the wage distribution.23
Raising the minimum wage helps not only the low-income workers. It also generates pay increases for workers who were earning more than the new minimum. Also, employers are not found to reduce nonwage benefits in order to offset an increase in the minimum wage.24
Card and Krueger point out “that many economists view the minimum wage as a highly inefficient transfer program and, therefore, usually recommend its repeal.” Despite the sentiment of “textbook” economists, Card and Krueger recommend that this issue be looked at as a distributional issue. Instead of trying to be efficient, they argue that the distributional impacts, although small, should be looked at. Such people as low-income workers and their families who receive increases in pay from an increase in the minimum wage are an important part of the policy equation. Even though the distributional impacts may help these people, and that the minimum wage increases have little impacts on business profits and retail prices, the measure is only a modest transfer program with relatively small efficiency losses. Minimum wage neither adversely impacts business, nor does it greatly help the poor.25
The political issue of the minimum wage is for the government to protect workers from being exploited. The central aim of the policy is to increase the standard of living among low skill earners. However, the minimum wage rate is a nominal figure, and when the issue was being successfully campaigned for in 1996, the purchasing power of the real minimum wage was near the lowest point it had been at for forty years. Constantly increasing inflation causes the purchasing power to decrease, as it is a purely nominal figure. The state of our low-income workers and the limited scope of the minimum wage are injustices in our society.26
Another interesting political point is the comparison of the minimum wage rate of $5.15 and the equivalent of a person on welfare, such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which has since been repealed by President Clinton two days after he signed the “Small Business Protection Act.” This was the name of the bill that increased the minimum wage by ninety cents. Interestingly, assistance provided by AFDC is similar to having a job that pays eight-five cents more than the current minimum wage. Furthermore, being on this now temporary welfare program has full medical coverage with day care benefits.27
For organized labor, one of the most high profile organizations is the AFL-CIO. Iain Gold of the Economic Research Department states for the AFL-CIO, “Let’s put the ‘fair’ back in the FLSA and take the ‘minimum’ out of the minimum wage.”28
While labor supported the due increase of ninety cents in the minimum wage, the current rate of $5.15 an hour leaves real purchasing power of these low-income workers fourteen percent below its equivalent level in 1979. The historical level of the minimum wage is fifty percent of the average hourly earnings, and the current wage is fifty cents under this ideal.29
The crux of the AFL-CIO’s argument is for the measure to be fair to the working poor. However, the minimum wage is not a poverty program. But the two are interrelated because those who work for paltry wages are often dependent on some form of public assistance, to say the least. The point is simply that the welfare reform that has taken place is unjustified without a fair and real minimum wage, which we do not have.30
Despite the calls for justice in the powers of the government from the citizenry through organized labor, David Keene, Chairman of the ACU, wrote to the US Senate that the minimum wage is a “job-killer.” He urged the Senate to “Reject union boss pressure and stay firmly on the side of those millions of workers looking for entry-level positions.”31
An owner of two restaurants with forty-five employees in Milwaukee, Wisconsin argues that the government should not set wages or prices except in extreme national emergencies such as wartime because the private sector through the laws of supply and demand should set wages and prices. Moreover, Bruce Thompson argues that the large labor unions support increasing the minimum wage because their members’ cost of living raises are tied to the increase. Lastly, he offers a final piece of advice: “Don’t become Democratic fools.”32
The fiscal conservative Boston Herald Editors argue that the traditional economic hypothesis that raising the minimum wage will result in low-income workers losing jobs. Moreover, they take the view that labor unions are promoting a minimum wage solely for their own self-interest. The Herald argues that practically no union member earns the minimum wage, but because increasing the wage floor puts upward pressures on all wages the unions are endorsing the measure for their own members.33
In a letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch, David Nayer argued that increasing the minimum wage is an injustice. His logic is that there is an inherent unfairness to employers in the minimum wage because the government is forcing them to pay their employees more than their work is worth. Moreover, the minimum wage ultimately deprives employers of liberty and property without due process of law, and should be banned in all free societies. Furthermore, it deprives workers their freedom to work in some circumstances.34
Mayer goes on to define traditional economists as credible. In order to be a credible economist, one cannot have ties to the Clinton Administration’s Labor Department or organized labor. Mayer goes on to make all of the traditional arguments that “credible economists” make about the minimum wage. But he goes further by saying that the concepts of “fairness” and “decency” weigh heavily against the minimum wage. Instead, he argues that the fairest policy for wages is a free market.35
The different arguments against the minimum wage being increased or even existing at all do not take into consideration many of the reasons for a fair, and hopefully real, minimum wage. For example, the Boston Herald argues that the minimum wage workers will lose jobs by the wage floor being increased without any demographic references to those people who already cannot earn living wages and who then must rely on public assistance to survive. Why doesn’t the Boston Herald reflect upon studies such as the WEIU, which, again, said that forty percent of low-wage Massachusetts workers do not even earn enough in wages to cover their needs?
The most interesting opponent of the minimum wage being increased or even existing uses the logic that anything that interferes with free markets is inherently unfair. The logic may be reasoned out by the fact that the theoretical world of economics is only one kind of social theory. Not only has society moved away from classical economics, even when it was applied it was still only a set of theories based upon assumptions. The basis for classical liberalism lies beyond property rights. The Laws of Nature are the basis of our community from which humankind forms free governments with JUST powers deriving from the consent of the governed. If the government is not serving the people of the commonwealth with just powers then it is not free. This latter set of theories trumps the former because classical economics is only a part of the philosophies of liberty.
Away from the philosophical differences of economists, politicians, social scientists and others, President Clinton signed the last minimum wage increase into law on 20 August 1996. Ten million Americans’ wages increased as a result. Looking on was AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, among others. Although the bill included tax breaks for millions of other Americans, it was the first minimum wage increase in five long years. The US President said, “This bill says to the working people of America that if you are willing to take responsibility and go to work, your work will be honored.”36
This outcome would not have happened without the strong support of labor leaders both in Washington, DC and from around the nation. Organized labor ran an “America Needs a Raise” campaign as their campaign strategy for an increase in the minimum wage. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney stated, “This is not a union issue. It is the same fight we fought for Social Security, which was not for organized labor but for all Americans.”37
Labor, as a part of a group of progressive coalitions, saw that the measure would increase earnings for a full-time minimum wage worker by $1,800.00 a year. Just a ninety-cent increase in the minimum wage would give a small family the ability to pay their rent for four months or buy groceries for seven.38
In Denver, the national executive vice president of the AFL-CIO told the crowd protesting the $4.25 an hour minimum wage that, “It’s about families that work two to three jobs just to keep their heads above water.” She lead a town meeting where low-wage workers shared their personal stories about long hours and low wages as part of the AFL-CIO’s “America Needs a Raise” town meetings held in 29 different localities across the country. The meetings were designed to raise awareness about the plight of minimum wage workers. The local meetings helped both the local and national initiatives to increase the minimum wage.39
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said issue and campaign, “While corporate America is experiencing the highest salaries and compensation packages in the history of America, workers are losing ground in real buying power. We’re going to strive for public policy on these issues. We intend to make these issues during the campaign. It’s not limited to raises. People are concerned about health care, about raids on pensions, about child care.”40
Labor worked not only with local labor unions and civic organizations, but also with religious leaders. In 1996, religious support or organized labor was compared to the days of Cesar Chavez in the 1970s and labor leaders during the Depression. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, former national president of the American Jewish Congress said, “People in the clergy like me who grew up during the New Deal are going back on the warpath to defend the weak.” Under the circumstances of people becoming poorer and less secure in this era of downsizing, and capital getting tougher, the Rabbi feels the clergy’s—ministers, priests and rabbis—support of labor is just and needed in order to help the economically disadvantaged. The clergy’s support of labor includes sermons, petitions, pastoral letters, protest marches, meetings with management, sit-ins and Congressional testimony.41
On a broader scope, the AFL-CIO’s “America Needs a Raise” campaign was a part of organized labor’s strategy to unseat vulnerable House Republicans during the 1996 election. Labor’s support of Democratic candidates helped shift the issues away from tax cuts for the wealthy, a smaller national government and the like to turning Medicare, protecting pensions, and adequate wages for working people into high profile issues. The reason why their strategy is effective explains the AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, “The fact is that the incumbents who’ve been the object of this campaign have bad records on these issues and they’re being exposed.”42
Labor’s political agenda in 1996 produced the following outcomes, but are not limited to the following outcomes:
A number of Republicans in Congress voted in favor of the increase in the minimum wage of ninety cents after having political pressure put on them from a barrage of TV ads sponsored by the AFL-CIO.
The prevention of the passage of Republican proposals, such as to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and student loan spending.
Grassroots campaigns that make voters aware of the records of 75 representatives in the US House who are mostly Republicans and vote against labor union issues.43
Despite winning the battle in 1996, labor’s struggle to increase the minimum wage toward the target of a living wage was unsuccessful in 1998. On 22 September 1998, the US Senate rejected a one-dollar increase in the $5.15 an hour minimum wage. This increase would have helped “hard-working Americans who deserve a living wage,” lamented Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
Workers who earn the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour make an average on $10,700.00 a year. For a family of three earning this income, they are living $2,900.00 below the official poverty level.44
The ninety-cent increase in the minimum wage did not do enough to help the low-income workers and families struggling to meet their basic needs. Unfortunately, our national leaders have not raised the minimum wage to the point where people are able to meet their basic needs.
In Massachusetts, similar to the unjustified problems facing areas throughout the nation, there are a record high number of homeless individuals and families. Moreover, over 8,000 families are scheduled to lost welfare benefits as of December 1, 1998. Worse than this are the policies of state run homeless shelters that make a homeless mother with children choose between a bed and a paycheck more than $5.19 an hour. Mayor Menino of Boston and others are asking state officials to raise this wage ceiling to $8.00 an hour so that mothers with low paying jobs who are homeless can shelter themselves and their children.45
Families are not able to meet their needs at a time when the nation is experiencing an unparalleled prosperity. The people who earn low wages are weakened by their eroding purchasing power because of their nominal pay that decreases with inflation. At least the state of Washington became the first state in the union to mandate annual minimum-wage increases linked to the inflation rate. Yet, it was not the government who passed this measure. The people voted in favor of it through a referendum on November 03, 1998.46
After examining the minimum wage, the critiques of Locke and classical economics by socialist and communist philosophers give legitimacy to the claim that property is theft. Moreover, the minimum wage as it stands helps to demonstrate that the wealthy exercise a disproportionate amount of influence over the state. Instead of citizens calling for justice, the wealthy are replacing our national principles with corporate concepts of efficiency. While people cannot meet their basic needs on the minimum wage, economists are using terminology such as “moral hazard” to predict what would happen if the poor had legitimate access to more money through labor.
Labor, working in coalitions, is able to form a formidable voice against the economic elite. Local, state and national civic and religious leaders and organizations stood by labor in its successful “America Needs a Raise” campaign in 1996. In twenty-nine town hall meetings across the nation, the AFL-CIO worked to help educate and build support for an initiative that represented the values of social justice and fairness for low-income workers.
Labor was able to work together with a diverse group of people who stood for justice and fairness in government on an issue that encompasses political, social and economic issues. Their success in getting a ninety-cent increase in the minimum wage in 1996 is proof that Democracy is still achievable when people stand together.
1 J. Budziszewski, Written On The Heart: The Case For Natural Law (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997) 127.
2 Kimberly Blanton, "Study: Families don't earn enough to cover needs," Boston Globe 23 Sept. 1998: F03.
3 William Greider, Who Will Tell The People: The Betrayal of American Democracy (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1992) 11.
4 Greider 14.
5 Greider 12.
6 Budziszewski 161-162.
7 Iain Gold, "Minimum Wage Issue Paper" (AFL-CIO Economic Research Department: AFL-CIO Publication and Materials Office, 1996) 1.
8 United States, 97058: The Minimum Wage: An Overview of Issues Before the 105th Congress (Washington: CRS, William G. Whitaker, Economics Division, September 28, 1998) 5.
9 Willlis J. Nordlund, The Quest For A Living Wage: The History of the Federal Minimum Wage Program (Westport: Greenwood, 1997) 201-202.
10 U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, Handy Reference Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act (Washington: WH Publication, Revised July 1998) 1. Note: Internet address: www.dol.gov/dol/esa/public/whd_org.htm.
11 United States, 97058 2.
12 "Minimum Wage" (Internet posting, www.gettysburg.edu/%Es352079/wage.html) 1.
13 United States, 97058 1.
14 United States, 97058 2.
15 United States, 97058 9.
16 Robert B. Reich, "A Better Way to Raise the Minimum Wage" (Internet posting, epn.org/reich022398.html, 1998) 1-2.
17 David Card, and Alan B. Krueger, Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995) 1.
18 Card and Krueger 3.
19 Card and Krueger 277.
20 Card and Krueger 276.
21 Card and Krueger 277.
22 Card and Krueger 3.
23 Card and Krueger 391.
24 Card and Krueger 390.
25 Card and Krueger 395.
26 “Minimum Wage” 1.
27 “Minimum Wage” 2.
28 Gold 1.
29 Gold 1.
30 Gold 2-3.
31 David A. Keene, "Hot Issues: Minimum Wage" (Internet posting: www.conservative.org/hotissues/minwage.html, 1996) 1.
32 Bruce Thompson, letter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, Lexis-Nexis (28 July 1996): Crossroads section, 5.
33 "Economic ignorance, again," editorial, Boston Herald 10 July 1996, Third edition: 22. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
34 David N. Mayer, letter, Columbus Dispatch, Lexis-Nexis (01 June 1996): Editorial and Comment, 7A.
35 Mayer 7A.
36 CNN, "Clinton Signs Minimum Wage Increase" (Internet posting, www.cnn.com/us/9608/20/minimum.wage.sign/, August 20, 1996).
37 Susan Yoachum, "Minimum Wage Increase Sought," San Francisco Chronicle 17 April 1996, Final Edition: A15. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
38 Bruce Alpert, "Minimum Wage Workers Try To Maximize Payoff; Wage Increase Picking Up Support," Times-Picayune 18 April 1998, Third Edition: A1. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
39 Emily Narvaes, "Denver Marchers Vow Fight To Raise Minimum Wage," Denver Post 16 May 1996, Second Edition: C-01. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
40 Richard A. Chapman, "Workers Raise Their Voices, Push for Minimum Wage Hike," Chicago Sun-Times 30 May 1996, Final Edition: 45. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
41 Steven Greenhouse, "Labor and Clergy Are Reuniting To Help the Underdogs of Society," New York Times 18 August 1998, Late Edition-Final: section 1, page 1, column 5, Metropolitan Desk. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
42 Susan Benkelman and Harry Berkowitz, "Convention 96/Unions Target GOP Candidates/Ad Campaign," Newsday 26 August 1996, All Editions: A21. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
43 Susan B. Garland and Mary Beth Regan, "Workers Unite…Against the GOP," Business Week 24 June 1996, Number 3481: 34. Note: Lexis-Nexis.
44 Marcy Gordon, "Minimum Wage Increase Rejected," Associated Press; Massachusetts Daily Collegian 23 September 1998: 3.
45 Francie Latour, "$2m To Aid Hub Homeless Families," editorial, Boston Globe 26 October 1998: B03.
46 "Reading the Referendums," editorial, The Berkshire Eagle November 07, 1998.
High-end housing market is growing
By Ellen G. Lahr, Berkshire Eagle Staff
The Berkshire Eagle
Monday, October 29, 2007
LEE — The South County housing market was humming when Bonnie Boyd and Jennifer Leighton closed their $500,000 deal for 30 acres of rolling farmland on Golden Hill in September 2005.
A few months later, the partners added another 20 acres, for a total land deal of almost $1.2 million, and they would need well over a million more to build interior roads and to connect sewer and phone lines, water service and other necessities for their 13-lot Erskine Park subdivision.
It was the biggest venture yet for the developers from Boston's South Shore area. They had taken a shine to the Berkshires in recent visits here and found an ideal spot for high-end, historical-style luxury homes.
Leighton and Boyd combined their own investment with a $1.65 million mortgage from Berkshire Bank. The town approved their plan in early 2006, and the lively South County real estate market promptly went for a suspended snooze.
Still, they had to forge ahead on faith that the luxury home market would remain unfettered, relatively, by the general housing slowdown.
"We never really felt the market for our kind of product would slow down, but it became a question of making people believe it was worth it," Boyd said. "But when we first started this, you couldn't build houses fast enough. In '05 and early '06, it was too good to be true."
On Oct. 17, Leighton and Boyd sold their first completed house for $1.6 million, not far below their asking price of $1.75 million.
The buyers: a New York city couple — two retiring physicians — who want to plant themselves strategically between children and grandchildren in Boston and New York. They plan to live here full time, the partners said.
The deal reflects a segment of the real estate market — the luxury high end — that remains relatively active in the area: Although South County's midpriced houses are slow to move, millions of dollars are changing hands for tiptop dramatic properties, according to real estate data and area brokers.
On Oct. 18, a $2.9 million property changed hands: a two-bedroom, two-bath waterfront cottage on Stockbridge Bowl, with 12 acres and 400 feet of shoreline. The property had been priced at $3.1 million, and was on the market for only a few months, said Tiffany Morawiec, owner of Mole & Mole Real Estate in Lenox, which closed the deal.
She said high-end buyers have been steady customers.
"We have people we can't find houses for," she said. "For $700,000 and up, things are pretty busy."
Mary White, owner of Barnbrook Realty in Great Barrington, said the toughest properties to sell are priced between $450,000 and $950,000.
"The market isn't dead, but it's slower," she said. "We just have to work harder."
So far this year, 19 properties listed with brokers in South County have sold for more than $1 million, and the Erskine Park sale makes 20.
There were 28 broker deals in 2006 for million-dollar-plus homes; 24 in 2005; and 25 in 2004, according to data from the Berkshire County Board of Realtors. Just 10 big deals happened in 2002, in the post-9/11 market dip; the general market began to rally in 2003, but last year slipped again.
Other seven-figure sales will close before year's end: White's agency has two contracts to sell houses at prices above $1 million, she said. Wheeler & Taylor of Great Barrington has two, each above $2 million, said owner Joe Carini, and there may be other contracts pending as well.
The numbers also show that sellers are getting sale prices quite close to the asking prices. This year, average "days on the market" is 242, compared with 240 in 2005.
Erskine Park's first sale is a dramatic red cedar-shingled "carriage house" style that hearkens to the Berkshire cottage era. The 4,500-square-foot house has an open living design with period details, including faux carriage house doors, 6.5 baths and five bedrooms, expansive walk-in closets with elaborate storage options, elevated windows and radiant heat.
An Italian chandelier in the foyer lowers from the ceiling with a wall switch for cleaning. A red brick fireplace, arched doorways, built-in shelving, a screened porch and deck, underground irrigation in the lawn are on a long list of features, and some flooring is of Douglas fir, salvaged from a ship in the Baltimore harbor.
The kitchen is of red birch cabinetry and soapstone countertops, with a minibar and pantry. There is a study, two laundry facilities and a guest suite above the garage.
Boyd said brokers who toured the house said the price was too low, but Boyd and Leighton wanted to price it to sell.
Leighton and Boyd have been developing or renovating historic properties in the Duxbury area for years and have honed a particular authentic design style that meshes with the most modern of conveniences.
"Those gals really know how to build a house," said White, who toured the place this year and, as a broker of the female persuasion, was struck by the closets and light.
So far, Lee has not had such an up-market development of its own, despite its scenic vistas facing October Mountain and Beartown State Park, its handy location and its access to area amenities. Morawiec said that the seven-figure sale is a big one for Lee, where the second-home market has been more low-key.
The Golden Hill property, among the higher, more rural spots in town, was once part of the Westinghouse family estate, serving as farmland for the family's livestock. Boyd and Leighton seized on the historical elements of the site, drafting four house designs with period style.
Besides setting a price others thought may have be on the lower side, Leighton and Boyd invested heavily in marketing: They bypassed a real estate broker listing and, instead, hired a local market professional, Pamela Scott-Smith of West Stockbridge, who teamed up with BookMarc Creative, a Pittsfield Web design firm, to create a tasteful Internet Web site for Erskine Park.
Boyd and Leighton estimate that they spent as much as $50,000 to market and advertise the project.
Before ground was broken, Scott-Smith began advertising the development in Berkshire Living magazine and in the Tanglewood concert and Jacob's Pillow event programs, among others.
The foundation for the first house was poured in the fall of 2005. A South Shore carpentry team, long associated with Leighton and Boyd's projects, finished the project using local subcontractors and suppliers. Work slowed down last winter, but marched to completion this summer.
Scott-Smith got a spot for Erskine Park on the back cover of a glossy real estate guide and hosted an event at the house for brokers. The sellers offered a 2.5 percent commission to any broker who produced a buyer.
But with nothing completed to see, early shoppers were more casual than committed when touring the house, Scott-Smith said.
"We had a lot of traffic, but the place wasn't ready," Scott-Smith said of the early shoppers. "We brought people in, and they loved it, but they wanted it for $500,000 less."
About two months ago, a New York couple saw the advertisement in Berkshire Living magazine during a visit here. They followed the Web link and called the developers directly. No brokers were involved; no commission was paid out.
"We thought they were hooked when they came back the second time with their measuring tape," said Boyd, who delighted in the recollection.
Boyd said the right marketing plan, the right price and a lovely final product — and the enthusiasm she and Leighton had for their project — were what moved their first property.
And now, a second lot nearby is under agreement.
"It's true that patience is a great virtue," she said, "and we believe in what we're offering. It's not just a house we're trying to sell."
Out on the streets
Homeless veterans a common trend
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Friday, November 09, 2007
David Madigan, who served in the Navy, shares a room with five men at the United Veterans of America facility in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Photo by Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff
PITTSFIELD — The San Francisco 49ers jacket Mike Shindler sports is a reminder of how far he fell.
He was wearing it a year ago, when he would huddle under blankets with his girlfriend along a chain link fence at Wahconah Park.
With a row of thick tree trunks on one side of the fence and low-hanging pine branches on the other, the dark hollow provided a warm sleeping spot on a cool fall night. The trees blocked them from the wind and the branches hid them from the cops.
Today, though, there's no hiding.
The 50-year-old former homeless veteran, who resides at the United Veterans of America, Inc., residence, is living a clean life. He credits UVA for getting him sober and back on track, but he wonders how many other places like it exist.
"Congress needs to do more for our veterans," he said. "There's a lot more guys like me out on the streets."
Numbers from the National Alliance to End Homelessness confirm Shindler's belief. Based on a new report from the group, roughly 195,827 veterans (26 percent of the nation's homeless) were on the streets on a given night in 2006. Even more daunting, estimates say that 495,400 of the nation's 23.4 million veterans experienced some period of homelessness last year.
Veterans have typically represented a high share of the nation's homeless over history. Mental health issues — like post-traumatic stress disorder — physical injuries and substance abuse contribute to the problem.
While it had taken several of years, even decades, before veterans of wars became homeless, the nation is now witnessing an influx of young veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan walking into shelters.
The NAEH group recommends creating 5,000 housing units per year for the next five years to combat homelessness. It also recommends funding an additional 20,000 housing vouchers for homeless veterans to help pay rent.
The local UVA organization is ahead of the plan. In addition to its Berkshire Veterans Residence — an 84-bed transitional living facility at 360 West Housatonic St. — plans are in the works to build a 39-unit housing cooperative in the spring.
The facility is designed to help veterans who have completed more structured Veterans Administration programs to make the transition back to normal society.
James Canavan, UVA's vice president, said finding affordable housing remains a problem for veterans.
"We're making a difference in people's lives, but not making a dent in the problem," he said. "There's more to be done."
The new building will cost about $6 million and the state has pledged $3 million. U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, secured an $800,000 federal earmark recently, but the agency is still looking for an additional $2.2 million.
Shindler says he hopes other veterans groups across the country duplicate UVA's example.
A 1975 Pittsfield High graduate, he served in the Air Force in Colorado from 1979 until 1982 as a supply clerk.
"We worked hard during the week and drank hard on the weekends," he said.
Milwaukee's Best was his drink of choice. When he returned to Pittsfield, he worked at Price Chopper for a few years before taking odd jobs. He found himself a girlfriend, who also drank heavily, and the two began to dabble in cocaine.
He found work through Labor Ready, a day labor employer, and then got a job at The Eagle in the mailroom. He drank too much one Sunday — it was football season — and didn't show up for his early morning shift. He was fired. Then the bills started to add up, and the couple were evicted from their apartment.
They used public restrooms to clean up and slept in the park. By this time, Shindler had kicked cocaine, but as Christmas approached last year, he felt low. An all-day bender put him in Berkshire Medical Center with pneumonia.
A hospital case worker found out he was a veteran and told him about the UVA program.
In the 10 months since he's been under UVA's care, he's gotten sober, scored a job and has accumulated a savings.
"Just the other day I went to the Berkshire Mall and bought myself this," he said, pointing to a white Under Armour shirt. "It feels good."
The 49ers jacket?
"I wear it because it's a reminder of where I've been," he said. "Thank God for this place. They saved my life."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
By the numbers ...
National — 2005
Total veterans: 23,427,584
Homeless veterans: 195,877
As a percentage of total veterans: 0.84
Massachusetts — 2005
Total veterans: 453,249
Homeless veterans: 1,680
As a percentage of total veterans: 0.37
SOURCE: National Alliance to End Homelessness
Homeless families at a high in NYC
Legal advocates say some wrongly denied shelter
By Robin Shulman, Washington Post | November 25, 2007
NEW YORK - No child is supposed to sleep on the street in New York. The city is unique among major cities in that it has guaranteed - by consent decree and later court orders - shelter to every homeless individual or family.
But on a recent cold and rainy night, Cristal, Rocheleet, and Bryan Garcia, ages 13, 16, and 17, splayed out on a sidewalk across the street from a city office that is supposed to help people find a place to spend the night. They huddled under layers of clothes and towels, taking shelter with their parents below a tin scaffold.
City officials have declared them ineligible for shelter, asserting that they are not really homeless and they have relatives in Puerto Rico with whom they could stay. And because of a new city policy, social workers also denied the family emergency one-night shelter.
So, for two nights, Carmen Rosa, the mother, staked out a stretch of sidewalk and set up house for her children and ill husband: carpeting the area with flattened boxes, walling it off with heaps of family possessions, staying awake all night to watch over them as they slept.
"It's my job to take care of them," Rosa, 45, said in a low, calm voice, her hand on Cristal's shoulder.
Homelessness in the city has been under special scrutiny since 2004, when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised to reduce the number of homeless people by two-thirds by 2009. While the number of homeless single adults has declined 19 percent since then, officials acknowledge that the number of homeless families is at an all-time high, with more than 9,500 in the shelter system.
As the number of homeless families soars, the fate of families like Rosa's is under debate in City Council chambers, courtrooms, and intake centers and on the streets. Advocates for the homeless and city officials argue over what constitutes homelessness. Who is in crisis? What mechanisms should be used to decide?
The Legal Aid Society has taken the city to court, arguing that the city is wrongly declaring some families ineligible, a charge that city officials vehemently deny. One City Council member has publicly apologized to a homeless family over poor treatment. And the homeless themselves are trying to cope with new rules.
Every day, people line up at the city's only intake center for families seeking shelter. There, employees of the Department of Homeless Services determine who qualifies for temporary housing and dispatch them to shelters.
Women, men, and children arrive at the intake center dragging luggage and plastic bags full of their belongings, toting Snow White backpacks stuffed with children's underwear and T-shirts, pushing carts overflowing with toys and televisions. One woman pulled a plaid, wheeled suitcase full of baby clothes, bottles, and diapers - a postnatal kit for a baby due any day.
Applicants go through a comprehensive screening process in which the agency sends investigators to visit prior residences and decide whether any of them are still viable, officials say. And at least three people, including a lawyer, must approve an eligibility decision.
But advocates say the city still makes too many mistakes. Steven Banks, a lead attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said that in 2006, 51.8 percent of all families deemed ineligible subsequently were found eligible.
Percentages by Which Homeless Children are More Likely to Experience Medical Problems
MANCHESTER, NH, DAILY EXPRESS, Thursday, December 13, 2007
“Honoring the less fortunate: Ceremony pays tribute to homeless who died”
By Dan Magazu
Each year, several homeless residents across the state die mostly unnoticed out in the cold.
Unlike most people, they rarely receive proper burials or obituaries in the paper.
To recognize and honor these individuals, as small group of residents have been gathering in Veterans Park since 1999 on the longest night of each year.
“We want to bring attention to the troubles of the homeless and honor those who have died over the past year,” said Cindy Carlson, who organizes the Manchester gathering, which is one of hundreds that occur across the country on or near the winter solstice. The National Coalition for the Homeless sponsors the events.
This year’s ceremony is set to take place on Friday, December 21, 2007, at 6:00 P.M.
Cindy Carlson, a formerly homeless mother, was one of the first to graduate from a program provided by Families in Transition that assists homeless women and their children.
In 2000, Cindy Carlson got involved as an AmeriCorps member, working at the Way Home, a non-profit housing organization.
While she is no longer homeless herself, she has developed relationships with many of the city’s homeless and still tries to help them whenever she can.
“Most people here in Manchester call me Cindy the sandwich lady,” Carlson said. “The name is about more than just food. It is a manner in which one can develop relationships, build trust and then help them better identify and meet their needs.”
Since 1999, Carlson has compiled a list of the names of 83 homeless people who have died across the state. The ever-expanding list is read off during the ceremony.
“These people don’t just freeze to death. Many die of untreated illnesses,” Carlson said. “You have people on the streets with cancer and diabetes, but no health care.”
This year, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council has joined in co-sponsoring the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
Carlson encourages anyone to come to the Manchester ceremony, which takes place near the corner of Central and Elm streets.
If possible, residents should bring candles.
Volunteer Robert H. Coats restocks shelves at the Capital Area Food Bank, where the current inventory is dramatically below last year's level. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post) 12/8/2007.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino spoke with Laurie, a homeless woman, on a street near Government Center last night during the annual city homeless census. (ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE).
"As city census starts, homeless man dies"
By Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe Staff, December 19, 2007
Hours before Boston officials launched the latest census of the city's homeless population, police began investigating the death of a homeless man found yesterday on conservation land adjacent to the Globe's offices in Dorchester.
A passerby found the man's body on a blanket in the snow-covered park and contacted the newspaper, Boston police Sergeant Michael Locke said. He said he did not know the identity of the man nor how long he had been there. But he said the man appeared to have died from exposure to the cold.
"There's no obvious signs of trauma," Locke said.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he learned of the homeless man's death yesterday, just hours before he gathered at City Hall with more than 300 volunteers to begin the city's annual homeless population count. Menino expressed frustration over such deaths.
"We offer services," he said. "Some folks, no matter what we do, don't want to come inside."
That was the case last night, as Menino approached homeless people living in doorways and subway entrances in Downtown Crossing, hoping to persuade them to spend the night in a city shelter. Volunteers in 35 other neighborhoods participated.
Some of those approached agreed to take shelter. Others did not.
Dodging ice as he walked, Menino recalled a homeless census six years ago when he met a pregnant woman sleeping in a doorway. He said it took him 45 minutes to persuade the woman, Laurie, to go to a hospital. She delivered a healthy baby, Menino said, adding that he learned years later that a prominent developer had adopted the child.
Last night, Laurie was on the streets again. Menino found her smoking and panhandling outside a 7-Eleven convenience store near the old Filene's Basement. She sat on a crate, her legs covered with a blanket, and smiled at the mayor. But when he offered her a van ride to a shelter, she grew belligerent.
"I'm not going," she said loudly, repeating herself. "I [practically] froze to death last night. I was stuck in a cubby hole over there. My tears froze."
She asked Menino and Jim Greene, director of the city's Emergency Shelter Commission, if they would want to go to one.
Menino continued to speak to her in hushed tones and agreed to arrange for a counselor to meet with her on the corner.
As Menino and the two dozen people with him moved on, Laurie shook the change in her panhandling cup and shouted, "I didn't even get a dollar from you guys!"
City officials will compile raw data from the census and issue a preliminary report by the end of the week. Last year, the census identified 6,636 homeless men, women, and children in the city, a 4 percent increase over the previous year. The number of families who were homeless increased by 13 percent from 2005 to 2006.
No one knows what to expect this year, but on Monday night, all 450 beds at the Pine Street Inn were taken, and 65 people slept on the floor of the shelter. Boston has endured ice-covered venues in the last week, when more than 15 inches of snow fell on the city.
Greene said anyone who sees an encampment of homeless people in the city should call the Emergency Shelter Commission or the Boston Police Department to report it. Both agencies keep lists of places where the homeless congregate and check on them when the temperature drops.
Prior to yesterday, Greene said, the last homeless person to die in winter in the city was found last year in Chinatown.
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Three people. Three stories. Locals share the realities of their struggles."
By Amy Carr, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Sunday, December 23, 2007
It grabs you by the throat and tells you that society has no place for you. It injects a liquid blackness into your soul. Forces depression toward your brain. Leaves a hole that slowly leaks hope and dignity.
With a lonely $5 bill in your pocket as you walk past the grocery store, giving up dinner to buy just one Christmas gift, homelessness whispers threats into your ear and gnaws at your spirit.
For some locals — even those with a home or permanent residence — the realities of the cold streets seem to camp on their doorsteps, waiting to prey on weakness, hopelessness and circumstance.
Homelessness, which affects between 700,000 and 2 million Americans on any given night, means you are always away from home. And the fear of that truth brings a choice: Put up your fists every morning, or fade into the darkness.
At the "nooners," Dave Macknis sits alongside the other recoverees, listening to their tales of one-day-at-a-time and painful relapse.
When it comes time for him to speak, he knows he has to be honest about his situation. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
"Hi, I'm Dave and I'm recovering from homelessness," the 60-year-old Air Force veteran says with a smile.
Macknis admits homelessness is an odd reason to crack a smile — and to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting — but he is a glass-half-full kind of guy, and most of the shelter programs he attended before coming to the Berkshire Veterans Residence in Pittsfield assumed his bum status made him a chronic user.
But he never turned to any bottle or needle. He never used them to make him forget the chokehold and the beating that left him with a useless right eye, nerve damage in his neck, and no job in 2004.
"I had it all then: a cell phone, credit cards, DIRECTV," he remembers, his right eye consistently stationary as the left one moves freely in conversation.
But that was before three men stormed into his apartment in Derby, Conn., in the middle of the night.
Macknis said he quickly found himself on the ground with an elbow around his neck.
"I fought back," he said. "That's why I got kicked in the eye. I was actually winning. But everything went downhill after that."
Two weeks later, Macknis, who never filed a police report about the incident, quit his job as a carpenter after falling nearly two stories while working on a house. In 2006, piles of outstanding bills and late rent finally landed him on the street. He received his first Social Security check 12 days after being evicted by his landlord.
Ask Macknis what brought him to Pittsfield, and he'll tell you: Homelessness.
The kind where you find yourself in mandatory AA meetings simply to qualify for the shelter programs and $623 a month in Social Security checks.
But after only three weeks as a resident at the affordable housing facility run by Soldier On, formerly the United Veterans of America, Macknis — who is divorced and has one son, in Connecticut — can already sense that he and the other 62 tenants are not seen as broken soldiers, hopeless addicts or even lethargic collectors of government assistance.
Instead, case managers are working to help him get surgery to repair the damage done to his eye and to boost his job potential by enrolling him in a computer course.
Case manager Sam Bennett said many residents find it difficult to remember better times during the holidays. Bound by budgets of only Social Security or disability checks, they cannot afford Christmas presents for family — or even for themselves.
"It's very hard for them around the holidays," said Bennett, a former veteran and program resident. "Being homeless, for a lot of guys, it means they're disconnected from their families, and this is all you've got."
But Bennett also knows that his residents have a support system that is unavailable to many struggling locals. Rent is calculated by 30 percent of a tenant's income, and those who can't afford it pay through community service. Residents also are eligible for addiction recovery and homeless prevention programs.
"It's a big support for them," Bennett said. "If they didn't have this place, they would still be on the street. And here, they have made the conscious decision to get away from that."
Get away from homelessness. That is Macknis' goal as he approaches another Christmas at the bottom.
"A lot of people might be sad around the holidays," he says, sitting back in his chair at the Berkshire Veterans Residence. "But my glass is always half full. I'm not down on myself. I didn't make this happen. It could happen to anyone. Some people carry grudges and can't get on with their lives, but I'll get through it."
Five people living in an apartment that was made for one. Three starving children. The oldest, 6, with a rare form of diabetes. The 2-week-old sleeping in a car seat. A stay-at-home mother with crippling postpartum depression. A working father at his breaking point.
Pamela LaChappelle stood outside of the Ashland Street high-rise in North Adams this past summer, tears filling her eyes at the thought of the family inside. It was easier just serving them lunch from the city's Berkshire Food Project.
At the apartment door, LaChappelle reached into her pocket for a $10 bill, desperate to prolong the decision she knew she had to make.
"Here, just get the baby some formula."
Those were the last words LaChappelle said to the family of five. The next day, she asked the state Department of Social Services to step in.
But LaChappelle, a 42-year-old mother of one, is still haunted by her solemn walk from that apartment building. Her heart felt lodged at the base of her throat, as if attempting to override her vocal cords and say something more. Do something more.
"This was a family with a father making over $20 with a budget stretched to the max and falling fast," LaChappelle says with a sigh. "And they couldn't get help from the agencies because the paperwork wasn't in to confirm that the father had to take time off from work to care for his family. Rejection makes people feel worse, and they were starving, and slipping, and asking 'What do we have to do to show that we are in crisis?' "
LaChappelle's voice strains when she says crisis. And you know in her mind that she is back at the Ashland Street high-rise with the family that was one step above homelessness, wishing $10 could get them through a week.
But she realizes she will never know what became of the family or her $10 donation.
This Christmas, LaChappelle can't afford to look back.
Working at Berkshire Food Project, she developed carpal tunnel and had to quit. Now, Section 30 unemployment helps LaChappelle through a one-year medical assistant's program at the Charles H. McCann Technical School. The unemployment money also enables her to pay for food, the North Adams apartment she shares with her 16-year-old daughter, and a few Christmas presents.
"I'm working almost every hour of the day to make sure I get good grades and graduate," LaChappelle says with a swelling sense of hope. "Fortunately, I made it, but there are so many people out there who don't. And any person who sits on their pedestal and says (losing everything) can't happen to them, well, they are sadly mistaken."
The young woman
The only hints of Christmas fall from the sky like tiny crystals. Inside her three-room apartment, Michelle Hillard cuddles "$9 Kitty," surrounded by the same year-round décor: two full ashtrays on the coffee table, dishes piled high in the sink and — across from the couch where she sleeps — a picture memorial of her father.
"Maybe I could get Social Security for Christmas," the 32-year-old thinks out loud, sitting cross-legged on the floor with her cat and staring out the window at the storm that already has dumped a half-foot of snow on North Adams. "Then maybe I would have money to get my nephews something.
"Man, I hate the holidays."
When you're a recovering methadone addict living with bipolar disorder and severe anxiety, when you haven't had a job in six years, the end of December can feel like the apocalypse — especially after you walk a mile in the snow to find that the Transitional Assistance office is closed.
"At least I got food today, though," she says.
At that moment, Hillard quickly identifies her monthly income — $303.70 from welfare — like it is her captor, holding her over the edge of a cliff by the hood of her gray sweatshirt.
By the end of the month, $115 has gone to Section 8 housing rent — $65 for rent and $50 for back rent when she was hospitalized for anxiety. After she gets food for the cat she bought for $9, along with groceries that food stamps can't buy and cigarettes for comfort, there is $5 left.
"Maybe if I don't eat, I can get my nephews something for Christmas," she says, putting out her cigarette.
When her anxiety keeps her awake at night, Hillard sometimes thinks about getting a job — about making more than $303.70, about using her dental assistant's degree from McCann, about kicking the costly cigarette habit that she says is her life's only luxury.
And she knows that the 25-year-old friend who sleeps on her extra couch while he works to save money for his own place judges her for filling out applications for Social Security instead of for McDonald's.
Sure, she tells him. Judge like you know what it feels like to have anxiety drain the feeling in your arms when you're on the job.
Judge like you understand that working means risking too high an income to qualify for government-assisted housing.
Judge like you know what it feels like to steal food from a soup kitchen.
But there is no judgment when Hillard and her friend have lunch at the Berkshire Food Project each weekday. Sitting around the table are friends who understand the value of a full stomach. Some are homeless, some just a step above. There is coffee until the pots run dry, along with slow-cooked turkey and second helpings.
"This is the highlight of my day," Hillard says, searching the table for the creamer. "It smells really good today. I think I'll eat enough for lunch and dinner."
After hamburgers, carrot sticks and Christmas cookies, a line of people files toward the AA meeting upstairs at First Congregational Church in North Adams. Hillard is not an alcoholic, but the one-day-at-a-time message helps for pain-killer addicts, too.
AA meetings are a good high, she says. Not like too much methadone.
Like an organic sensation of warmth and comfort.
From the church, it takes five minutes of snowy footprints to get home. Hillard opens the apartment door and shuts it in the face of the winter air. Time for an afternoon of watching soap operas and snowfall with $9 Kitty.
Her roommate already is home and walks out of the bathroom in jeans, still drying off.
"I got two more jobs," he says, greeting Hillard on his way into the living room. "I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna have my own place soon."
Hillard smiles, her eyes welling with tears as she stares down the hallway and out the window at tiny falling reminders that her next check comes seven days too late for Christmas.
"I'm going to be OK, too" she says, her next few words more focused and quiet. "I'm strong. It'll be fine. It'll be fine."
To reach Amy Carr: email@example.com, (413) 496-6233.
"The burden of poverty"
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Back in the days when America sent men to the moon, a phrase of frustration evolved that asked, "If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we. . .? Possible questions included — build a good, inexpensive car, invent a tasty diet drink, and solve poverty. We're still working on the answers to those questions, including the scourge of poverty, which continues to afflict the wealthiest nation on the planet.
The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is the one part of the year when most Americans think about the issue of poverty. The front page articles by Amy Carr in the December 23 Eagle explored poverty here in the beautiful Berkshires. The Berkshire economy has struggled for as long as many residents can remember, and poverty and homelessness are a consistent problem here that defies easy resolution.
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 10 percent of all Berkshire residents live in poverty. The state Executive Office of Health and Human Services estimated in Ms. Carr's main story that about 25 percent of those residents are not receiving state assistance of any kind. So the issue is not just poverty but getting help to all of those who are struggling.
Berkshire communities have any number of selfless volunteers, working through churches and community service organizations, who diligently help the families most in need, but like everything else, the poverty issue comes down to money, and that is scarce. Washington offers six federal assistance programs, but too often their guidelines provide a disincentive to work, as recipients who make too much money risk losing monetary assistance or Section 8 housing. The state, which is always struggling to make ends meet, only has so much money available for the needy.
Ms. Carr's article on three Berkshire residents living in poverty provided strong anecdotal evidence of the horrific burden they carry. It is clear that the punishing cost of health care contributes mightily to their misery and that of their children. For that, there is no excuse. Many don't have the education needed to improve their status, and while there are opportunities to do so it is difficult with nagging health problems, or inadequate child care.
Yes, there is an issue of personal responsibility involved. Anyone who is poor and has an alcohol problem must go to AA, and those who smoke must get help kicking a habit that is costly and destructive to health. But the bureaucracy shouldn't be stacked against them. It shouldn't be difficult to qualify for assistance and those who try to better themselves shouldn't lose benefits or housing. Poverty is tough enough without government Catch-22s.
"A serving of dignity, compassion"
By Erin Ailworth, (Boston) Globe Staff, December 26, 2007
Miniature poinsettias, white ceramic plates, and silver utensils adorned the linen-covered tables in the dining room at the Pine Street Inn. The dinner settings gave the men gathered for Christmas at the homeless shelter something they rarely experience: dignity and a bit of togetherness.
"When you live on the street you have days you can't take a shower . . . you eat whatever you can get. You have to beg for money," said Luis Hernandez, 56, who came to the Inn on Harrison Avenue in the South End about four months ago. "[But] I am happy today with what [God] gave me . . . I have cover over my head. I am not hungry. I am not sick."
Hernandez, who said he had battled a drug addiction, was among the estimated 450 homeless men and women who came to the shelter's 38th annual Christmas dinner. This year, more than 100 volunteers served apple-stuffed chicken breasts and rice pilaf, followed by sour cream chocolate cake, to guests during separate dinners for the men and women.
"It's good because we're with other people who I can identify with and who share in the homeless struggle . . . all together receiving the good nature and the good support of the people of Pine," said Alphonso, a 53-year-old man celebrating his second Christmas at the shelter. Alphonso, who declined to give his last name, said he has been homeless off and on for three or four years.
"It's a holiday and, you know, it's a good day to spend with people," he said. "I would prefer it was family because that's the way it used to be when I was a kid . . . [but] if this place wasn't here, I really couldn't say what I would be doing as an option."
Shelter residents said they battle daily for respect from others, as well as from themselves.
"It's not easy," said Derek, 45, who also would not give his last name. He is staying at Pine Street for the second time after losing a job. He has not told his family he is here and said he feels "anger, disappointment . . . in the man above and in myself because it didn't work - no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't make it work."
Derek battled tears as he talked, saying he thanked the volunteers "who didn't know us from Adam" for coming to serve the men a restaurant-style meal.
Still, he tried to be upbeat.
"God woke you up this morning, even if you are between these walls," he said he tells himself. "I'm not going to let this season and this holiday tear into me."
Helping ease that emotional hardship has led Nancy Wewiorski and her children, Carrie and Stanley Smith, to volunteer at Pine Street for roughly 14 years. The family became involved after Carrie spotted a commercial from the shelter requesting aid.
That first meal, Carrie and Stanley were deemed too young to serve the guests, so they cut pies and set out silverware instead. Now in their 20s, they are servers, along with their mother.
"It just feels like it's kind of a need: to give something to the people that aren't with their families at the holidays," Carrie Smith said.
The Parker family, of Martha's Vineyard, rented a hotel room so they could spend the holiday in Boston and volunteer at the Pine Street Inn.
"We're people benefiting from the opportunity to come and open our hearts," said Jill Parker, who came with her husband and her two children, ages 17 and 20. "Asking for help is a lot harder than giving it . . . [and] I would hope that they know we come out of genuine service and not pity."
Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Homes for the holiday: Housing agency, nonprofit team up to help the homeless"
By Megan Woolhouse, (Boston) Globe Staff, December 25, 2007
For Marc Mallary, Christmas last year was like any other day. He ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and slept on donated blankets and quilts with a dozen homeless people living under the brightly decorated trees of Boston Common.
This Christmas is different.
Mallary, 48, now lives in a one-bedroom apartment of his own in the Mary McCormack housing development in South Boston. The burly Dorchester native moved in only a few weeks ago and is still adjusting. Even though a radiator blasts heat in the apartment, Mallary often forgets to take off his heavy winter coat indoors.
"I'm happy," he said, unable to hold back tears during an interview Thursday. "People say, 'Oh, you're living in the projects.' But I come home and close the door, and this is my little castle."
Mallary is one of a handful of homeless people who used to live on the Common, but have received apartments from the Boston Housing Authority. The authority was reacting to a curfew police imposed last summer after a shot was fired into the nearby State House. Knowing that the curfew would displace dozens of homeless people, including some who refuse to stay in shelters, the authority teamed up with the nonprofit agency hopeFound to find subsidized housing.
Ten homeless people who used to live on the Common have recently moved into their own places, and another 44 have been approved for new homes. About 50 people are believed to have lived on the Common. Some never followed up on the applications for housing offered by hopeFound workers.
Mary Nee, executive director of hopeFound, said the challenge of getting people into housing is only surpassed by the challenge of keeping them there.
"You can't just show up and move these people into housing," she said. "They're living on the street. It's dangerous, and many have mental health issues. You need to build trust, and that doesn't happen in a day."
Chris Nourse moved into a one-room apartment in Charlestown Nov. 16, after nearly a year of living on the Common.
He recalled spending last Christmas on a bench guarding two shopping carts. One contained all his possessions (clothes, blankets, food); the other belonged to a friend who had been hospitalized with pneumonia.
"Basically I just sat there all day," said Nourse, 38.
He grew up in Newton, N.H., and had worked in auto parts dealerships until he was laid off by one and could not find work at another. He said he moved to Waltham and watched his money run out. The only available job seemed to be working at Dunkin' Donuts for $8 an hour, not enough to cover his rent, probation fees for DUI offenses, and child-support payments for his son.
He ended up living on the Common, spending his days asking people for money and his nights in an alcove at the Airborne Express office entrance on Tremont Street.
"In the winter, you move with the sun," he said of his days on the Common. "And in the summer, you move with the shade."
Like Nourse, Tammy Whiteway rejected shelters in favor of life on the Common. "I did not deal well with chaos," she said. "The shelters are uncontrolled chaos."
Many are full and have sleeping space only on the floors. Few have handicap-accessible showers. Whiteway said she felt safer on the Common. She spent nine months living there with a group that congregated near the Park Street fountain. Most nights, she slept in a wheelchair she has used to get around since a car crash left her legs paralyzed.
She found an electric outlet outside the Macy's building and used it to keep her wheelchair charged. She stole clothes, she said, and used bathrooms at fast-food restaurants. She napped fitfully, fearful of what could happen if she drifted off into deep sleep.
Mark Manning, who helped recruit homeless people for housing for hopeFound, recalled finding Whiteway soaked after a rainstorm. When an apartment fell through in October, she screamed and cursed at everyone on the Common, she said.
Sitting in her new one-room apartment in Charlestown last week, Whitehead wore her freshly washed hair in a ponytail and a green "Get the Lead Out" T-shirt. She said she slept for 12 straight hours the night she moved in, calling Manning at 7:50 the next morning to tell him how happy she was.
"It's been an amazing change," Manning said of Whitehead's demeanor since she moved in. "Her whole face has changed since she came inside."
Whiteway said it was difficult leaving behind her friends. When she first moved into her apartment, she found herself visiting the Common daily. Now she goes back about twice a week.
"I miss Big Mikey and Billy, even though when he gets drunk he's a pain," she said. "I just want to make sure my friends are getting housed now."
Mallary said he will spend Christmas alone in his new apartment, reading and playing video games on a PlayStation a friend gave him. He dreams of going to school to learn to become a massage therapist, but for now his disability checks leave him with little money for anything more than food and cigarettes.
He once worked as a truck driver, but after a break-up and the death of his mother, he started using cocaine and lost his home and contact with his family, including his five children. For five years, his home was often a bare patch of pavement next to the Civil War Memorial.
He says he is off drugs.
Today, his closest friends are the people he lived with on the Common. He called them family and said that knowing them was "pretty much the best experience of my life."
He also struggles with the isolation he feels in his new apartment. It is located nearly 4 miles from the Common, and he does not often have guests over, fearful that trouble could erupt and he could get evicted.
"I'm going to keep this place," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at email@example.com.
December 27, 2007
I cannot fathom how any civilization has homelessness. Moreover, over the past several decades, homelessness is a growing social problem! From my general understanding, the homeless are predominantly abused poor to middle-income people who must escape interpersonal family violence by living in an inner city. Homeless people include young children, abused spouses, substance abusers, and the mentally ill.
Now, we have Disabled Veterans from Vietnam through Iraq that are living on the streets of our American cities. According to the news article below, there are 300,000 homeless veterans with VA funding for only less than 3% of them.
I am a Disabled Veteran who suffers from mental illness. I may yet become another statistic on the cliché government chart.
Jonathan Alan Melle
New Hampshire Union Leader – Manchester Edition – “Veterans” Section, Page D7, Thursday, December 27, 2007
“Veterans rally in Manchester, NH, on January 04, 2008”
MANCHESTER, NH—Circle of Friends for American Veterans continues its nationwide circuit of rallies in Manchester, NH, to raise support for homeless veterans.
The organization will conduct a rally for homeless veterans and a Veterans Bill of Rights on Friday, January 04, 2008, at the Alpine Club, 175 Putnam Street, at 7:00 P.M.
“It is an outrage that about 3,000 of the valiant troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are now homeless on the streets of our nation,” said Major Brian Hampton, U.S. Army (retired), president of the Circle of Friends for American Veterans.
There are approximately 300,000 homeless veterans on our streets any given night. The VA only funds 8,000 beds a year for these homeless veterans. * The burden for supporting homeless veterans comes to rest on the approximately 300 not-for-profit transitional facilities in our country. VA funding is inadequate.
“We want to help everyone we can, but we have to start with the core,” said Major Hampton. During the 10 city rallies, the president of the Circle of Friends, among other things, will raise support for the “Veterans’ Bill of Rights” drafted by the organization. One of the provisions in the Bill of Rights includes increasing the per diem VA support for all these transitional facilities from $30 a day per bed up to $60 a day (from 1/10th of 1 percent of the VA budget to 2/10ths of 1 percent).
Another provision of the Veterans’ Bill of Rights requests adequate counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a leading cause of homelessness for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Only half of the VA medical centers provide such counseling now. According to the Government Accountability Office, six of the seven centers are not prepared for the caseload.
* VA funding for homeless veterans = 2.67%. VA funding for homeless veterans would have to be increased by 3750% to cut even.
"Increase in homeless families seen in Boston"
January 4, 2008, 3:02 PM
By David Abel
The number of homeless families in Boston has increased sharply, the mayor's office said today in a statement.
An annual census of the homeless last month found 3,084 people in homeless families, up 17 percent from 2,636 the year before.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said more state and federal funding was needed to help homeless families.
The federal government should "recognize the growing crisis in family homelessness" and provide more funding, Menino said in a statement.
Jim Greene, director of the Emergency Shelter Commission, said the "housing picture for low-income families continues to be bleak without greater federal and state aid."
Overall, the number of homeless people in the city increased to 6,901 from 6,636, or about 3.9 percent, the mayor's office said.
Menino was one of hundreds who participated in the 28th Annual City of Boston Homeless Census on Dec. 18.
Landlords are part of homeless issue
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Lieutenant Gov. Murray, as reported in The Eagle, Jan. 21, said, At the root of most homeless issues in most instances is a lack of affordable housing.
What is affordable housing? Unfortunately, simply defining affordable housing has become complex and contradictory. Everything from studio apartments to condominiums have been called affordable housing. A recent article in The Hartford Courant, Jan. 26, "Housing Policy Walks a Tightrope," reports on a proposed "affordable" (housing) condominium" in East Hampton, a community with a median income of $79,600. This is cited to illustrate the problem, and indeed in not unique to Connecticut. Affordable condominiums are not the answer to homelessness!
How do we do a better job of directing families or individuals at risk? Here are some suggestions for Mr. Murray to consider:
Make a list of all the landlords in Massachusetts who make a habit of evicting tenants, and then provide this information to prospective tenants in all the towns and cities of Massachusetts.
Identify landlords who evict tenants at specific times of year so they can rent to tourists for more money. These evictions therefore can be anticipated in advance so that this type of homelessness becomes predictable.
Most homelessness is caused by eviction of tenant families and individuals. These evictions are often capricious and come without warning. The time from being warned to eviction can be as little as five days. The tenant can go to court and fight the eviction, but court procedures tend to be complicated. There is a big gap here in the court system that favors the landlord and makes it difficult for a tenant to exert his rights in court and prevent the landlord from forcing him into homelessness. Massachusetts, to promote homelessness prevention, needs to provide tenants facing eviction with vigorous representation to prevent these evictions.
Prevention of homelessness must begin with the outlawing of the willy-nilly evictions based on the whim of the landlord, or the landlord's perceived economic inconvenience. Eviction should only be used as a remedy of last resort, when other means of solving the problem have failed.
Eviction must not be used to harass or inconvenience tenants, for exerting their rights under law. The tenancy of tenants should be limited only by their desire to continue to rent from the landlord. New laws must be passed which have as their purpose the preservation of tenancy and the prevention of homelessness.
Motels and hotels every night have vacant rooms. These rooms should be made available to the evicted tenant free of charge until a similar apartment can be found in the same community, which can be rented. Tenants that have been evicted and are staying in motels, hotels or shelters should be given priority in rentals. Buildings that are not being used should be evaluated for homeless shelters.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Air Force veteran Maurice Tucker (left) and J.P. Jerry live at Ignatia House, on Armed Forces Retirement Home grounds, in Washington. "We never felt welcome here," Tucker said. (kevin clark/washington post) 2/13/2008
"Homeless veterans left in lurch by plans to raze shelter: Lease expired; development of site is planned"
By Steve Vogel, Washington Post, February 13, 2008
WASHINGTON - A dilapidated shelter for homeless veterans is set to be leveled to make way for development on the sprawling grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, leaving a nonprofit veterans group scrambling to find a new place for 50 men and women to live by the end of next month.
US Vets employees, which operates the shelter, was notified by retirement home officials shortly before Christmas that they would have to vacate the building by the end of this month, when their lease expires. Late last week, the home granted a one-month extension, but said no further reprieves will be given.
"We're not evicting them. Their lease is up," said Christine Black, a communications consultant for the home. "They have known this all along."
But shelter officials said they expected the retirement home to find another place for the homeless veterans on its large campus. "At no time over the course of 4 1/2 years did we anticipate being displaced," said Stephanie Buckley, regional director of the US Veterans Initiative, the nonprofit group that runs US Vets as a collaboration with Cloudbreak Development, a special-needs housing developer based in California. "We never thought we'd be faced with that."
US Vets has been working arduously to find a new location elsewhere in the city, thus far without success, Buckley said.
Black said the group has ignored past deadlines to move, and she pointed to a critical audit that she said "raised a real red flag" about the veterans group and its connections with the for-profit Cloudbreak.
Caught in the middle of the dispute are 50 veterans living at Ignatia House, all of them with honorable discharges and many with substance abuse problems, Buckley said.
Some said they never felt quite welcome on the edge of the retirement home.
"They never wanted us, anyway," said Maurice Tucker, 53, an Air Force veteran who said he has been living at Ignatia for two years as he recovers from drug and health problems. "We never felt welcome here. They don't fix the boilers. We've kind of been freezing here."
Under a plan awaiting final approval, the 50-year-old building would be demolished in preparation for developing a 77-acre parcel of land at the home with a mix of condominiums, apartments, medical office space, and a boutique hotel. The income generated from the project would pay for improved medical and living facilities for the 1,100 veterans who reside at the historic 155-year-old retirement home, officials said.
The home receives no direct money from the federal government and instead relies on a trust fund drawn from service members' paychecks to operate. Faced with bankruptcy in recent years, the home developed a master plan allowing the development of large parcels of the 272-acre property.
That plan will come before the National Capital Planning Commission this spring. If approved, demolition on a 77-acre parcel on the south side could begin this summer.
The plan includes a requirement to build a 100-bed shelter for homeless veterans. US Vets is seeking to be part of the redevelopment and had expected to be able to move from Ignatia into that or another facility on the property. "Every time we thought a deal was imminent, something came up," Buckley said.
Ignatia House, once a nunnery for sisters caring for veterans and later a guesthouse, was rented to US Vets at a discounted rate on an "as is" basis, which meant that the home was not responsible for maintaining the building. US Vets did not want to spend money on improvements in a building meant as a temporary home.
The building has sunk into disrepair, with an elevator out of commission for weeks, darkened hallways, and little heat.
"Ignatia House was always intended as a step into entering into a long-term lease" at one of the other properties on the campus, said Thomas Cantwell Jr., a founder and former executive director of the US Veterans Initiative.
Cantwell also heads the for-profit Cantwell-Anderson and its subsidiary Cloudbreak, which holds the lease on Ignatia House. An audit last year by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other networks of nonprofit service organizations, said the veterans group has had a number of "less-than-arm's-length transactions" with Cantwell-Anderson. The audit also questioned whether $500,000 in grant money was spent and accounted for properly in 2006.
Black said the retirement home is aware of the audit. "It raises concerns that they're not following the rules," she said. "We don't think it's good responsibility when they ignore deadlines."
Cantwell said steps are being taken to address the concerns raised by the audit. "It certainly has nothing to do with the situation in the District of Columbia," he said.
US Vets describes itself as the largest nonprofit organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk veterans.
Cantwell said it was "unconscionable" that the retirement home could not find room for 50 homeless veterans. "It seems fundamentally wrong. Veterans are veterans."
Black said no other sites are available on the campus and suggested it was unfair for US Vets to paint the home as the villain. "It's very frustrating to have them point the finger of blame at the Armed Forces Retirement Home."
For veterans at Ignatia House, the dispute leaves them facing an uncertain future after March 31.
"Once you fall through the cracks, it's hard to get back up," said Grover Miller, 65, a Navy veteran who said he lost job as a cabdriver after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Love Smith, 64, an Air Force veteran, is resigned to leaving.
"To me, it was better than sleeping in the park," he said.
"For the homeless, keys to a home: Large-scale effort to keep many off street faces hurdles"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, February 24, 2008
For decades, governments treated homelessness as an intractable problem, relying on a patchwork of shelters and services to look after people considered too troubled or too far gone to keep permanently off the streets. Now, following a national trend, Governor Deval Patrick is proposing a radical change in the way Massachusetts deals with the indigent - giving the homeless homes.
Patrick is proposing spending $10 million to lay the foundation for placing thousands of homeless people in their own apartments over the next five years. Administration officials say taking homeless people off the street - and out of a cycle through jail and emergency rooms - could lead to better lives and lower costs to care for them.
In pilot programs, officials reported declines in costs for services from hospitalization to detox and imprisonment. They have also learned from homeless people in the program such as Burton Tainter that there may be hurdles in any large-scale effort to get the homeless off the streets.
After years of sleeping on grates behind the Boston Public Library, Tainter was given keys to his own apartment in North Quincy. It seemed a dream come true for the 61-year-old former welder from Lynn, who struggled with alcoholism and a host of physical and mental health issues.
But not long after moving in, Tainter wasn't sure he wanted to stay. The days alone were excruciating. The lure of booze and friends from the street was strong. And for weeks at a time, he would vanish from the apartment cluttered with recycled furniture, coffee cans, and cigarettes, resuming his old life of living on park benches in Boston.
"The hardest part is living alone - especially when struggling to stay sober," he said.
Officials discovered that some who had been relocated to apartments slept on the floor or in chairs, instead of their new beds. Others continued to panhandle, horde canned food, and urinate in bottles. Many had trouble coping with the boredom and isolation of living alone, and some returned to the streets.
"Some move in, and it comes naturally to them," said Juanda Furtado, who oversees a housing program for Home Start Inc. in Boston. "Then there are those who . . . have no idea what to do with themselves."
The idea to give homeless people homes has been gaining popularity nationwide, largely because it has been seen as a cost-effective way to get them off the street and into better lives.
Providing homes for those people, researchers say, will ultimately save money, because agencies spend less on housing and other services than they do now on shelter beds, emergency rooms, and other healthcare costs for the homeless. Massachusetts now pays on average $3,000 a month to house some 5,000 families and about $1,000 a month for 24,000 homeless individuals.
In his blueprint for Massachusetts, Patrick calls for an initial $10 million to pay for an array of services to help low-income renters stay in their apartments, provide services to the newly housed, and to start the process of reducing the number of individual and family shelter beds by 20 percent over the next five years. Over the same period, the goal is to provide 1,000 apartments for individuals and 800 homes for families.
Advocates for the new approach cite a study of some 4,600 homeless people in New York City that found those provided housing experienced a 35 percent drop in the use of medical services and a 38 percent decline in imprisonment.
"We're talking about changing the whole context for how we deal with homelessness," said Joe Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, which over the past two years has overseen a $1.8 million state-subsidized program to house the chronically homeless.
He and others point to the alliance's Home & Healthy for Good program - which has placed more than 230 people in apartments around the state - as evidence the effort can succeed on a larger scale. As of November, about 86 percent of the people in the program had remained in their apartments for more than a year.
The Home & Healthy program reported that costs for hospitalization plummeted from about $1,400 a month for a homeless person on the street to less than $600 a month in the program. Costs for ambulance services, respite care, and detox also dropped significantly.
Still, there were problems in the program: Twenty-two people left their housing because they couldn't handle living in an apartment or were evicted for threatening neighbors, inviting in drug users, or possessing guns. Six people were jailed after police were able to locate them at their new addresses. And three people died.
The flip side to the successes in such pilot programs are the difficulties of looking after people used to the streets. Caseworkers act as social workers and surrogate parents, encouraging the new residents to take their medications and attend medical appointments and teaching them how to cook and clean. In some cases, caseworkers have had to teach the residents to use a stove or brush their teeth.
"Burnout is something that we have to deal with," said Jessie Gaeta, a physician advocate for the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance. "There's no question it's more work to keep someone housed."
In some cases, the health outcomes did not improve. Of 28 homeless people in a two-year-old housing program run with help from Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, five people have died, which is about the same rate as if they remained on the streets, said James O'Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and a physician who delivers healthcare to homeless people on the street.
"Whatever issues that led them to become homeless, those issues have become magnified," O'Connell said. "They need way more support than we were giving them on the street. Whether the country is ready to support that kind of care worries me a lot."
Furtado, of Home Start Inc., has clients who urinate and defecate on their floors, some who have amassed piles of insect-covered trash that include raw meat and other waste. She once had to push a client into his bathroom, telling him she wouldn't leave until he showered.
One of her clients, Cassandra Hubbs, a 60-year-old former social worker from Maine who spent more than a decade coping with a heroin addiction and living under bridges along Storrow Drive, was initially placed in a Somerville apartment but was forced out by her landlord because of various problems.
"The biggest problem was not bringing my friends home, because they brought the insanity of the streets with them," she said.
Now, she lives with her cat Fatso in a tidy one-bedroom apartment in Jamaica Plain. She offsets her addiction with methadone, avoids old friends, and staves off loneliness by meditating, watching television, and reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Anais Nin.
Like Tainter, she doesn't want to go back to the streets.
"It's nice to no longer have to worry about survival," she said.
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"YMCA housing for men in need is called deplorable"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, March 6, 2008
There have been rat droppings on the old, musty carpet and frequent mouse sightings near holes in the pocked, plaster walls. For months, exterminators have fought an infestation of bedbugs, which left at least one client with bite marks so bad he was treated at a hospital. Watermarks stain the aging ceiling, and some window frames are so old and ill-fitting that duct tape was used to stop drafts. In bathrooms, many of the urinals, toilets, and sinks are out of order.
Officials at the Cardinal Medeiros Transitional Program say they have complained about the conditions for years, but they contend that the YMCA Greater Boston, their landlord in the century-old building on Huntington Avenue, has ignored them while investing in top-of-the-line equipment for its gym. They accuse the Y of neglecting the 63 formerly homeless men who live there after an effort to terminate the program's lease failed four years ago.
Now, program officials are threatening to withhold state lease payments to cover the cost of renovations, which they estimate could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"It's deplorable, an unacceptable situation, the conditions these folks are living in," said Joe McPherson, director of homeless and housing services at Kit Clark Senior Services, which supervises the Medeiros program. "This is not a way people should live. It's so disrespectful. These folks are working, saving money, and they're living in a setting that neither you nor I would accept."
In a letter sent last week to the YMCA, Joe Finn - executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, which administers about $590,000 in state and federal aid to the Medeiros program - wrote that "repeated complaints about these issues over a period of many months have not resulted in the YMCA seriously addressing the problems."
In telling the YMCA he planned to withhold rent, Finn cited a Feb. 13 city inspection that found evidence of bedbug infestation and other signs of disrepair. He called two of the program's rooms uninhabitable and said his staff found a leak in the kitchen ceiling and lack of proper ventilation there, large holes in the walls, and other issues such as "common-area furniture that is so ripped up, sitting in many of the chairs would be unadvisable."
He added: "It seems that the YMCA has been unwilling to follow the advice of exterminators and the requirements of the Department of Public Health regulations . . . by not eliminating the hiding places and breeding grounds of bedbugs in the building, thus rendering repeated spraying ineffective and an inadequate response."
Officials at the YMCA, who agreed to meet today with directors of the Medeiros program, said the letter was the first they had heard of the problems.
"There's mutual responsibility; the Medeiros program did not bring this to our attention before," said John Ferrell, president of the YMCA. "We're doing the best we can do to provide housing that is safe, clean, and meets their needs."
Ferrell said he's not trying to force out the Medeiros program, but at just under $15 a night per bed, he said, the rent the YMCA receives doesn't cover its costs. "Our costs are at least twice that," he said. "I'm not complaining. That's what we agreed to do, but there are constraints. The rent paid doesn't include money to offset capital improvements."
Kelley Rice, a YMCA spokeswoman, said Medeiros program officials are exaggerating the problems. She said they have "regular contact" with the exterminator and that she has seen no evidence of rat droppings.
"I went through work-order requests, and every request put in to us in writing has been responded to," Rice said. "We don't have any current work-order requests."
There is a history of friction between the YMCA and the Medeiros program, which has leased space there for more than a decade. In 2004, the YMCA told Medeiros program officials it would not renew the lease because of financial concerns. The YMCA argued that housing was no longer one of its core services, but ultimately renewed the lease after coming under pressure from Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Two years ago, the YMCA agreed to sell half its building to a private group that plans to build a student dormitory. The purchase agreement requires the group either to retain the Medeiros program in its future building or relocate the program to a suitable location mutually agreed upon, Ferrell said, but the YMCA and the buyer will not close until at least next year, and it could be years before construction starts.
On a recent tour of the building, John Golding, coordinator of the Medeiros program, said many of the problems are urgent. "There are things that have to be done right away," he said.
He pointed to old, nonfunctioning sinks corroded by bacteria. He opened a room and showed the wood of a bed frame that had been infested with bedbugs and caulked to close potential burrowing places. He showed dilapidated baseboards exposing rotting walls, ubiquitous peeling paint and rusting pipes, everything from tiles missing in the kitchen to old windows surrounded by weathered wood and duct tape.
Otis Holloway, a 41-year-old client living in the Medeiros program for a year, said he has seen rats "the size of a man's foot."
But he wasn't complaining. "It's a whole lot better than where I came from," he said.
Gilberto Cruz, 44, who has been in the program for six months, was not as forgiving. He said he has been to Boston Medical Center twice in recent weeks to be treated for bedbug bites.
"When I arrived here, I felt things walking on my body," he said. "I felt them biting me on my face, my arms, and my back. I would get them every night."
He has since moved rooms, but he still feels them in his sleep.
"It's like they're in my skin now," he said, adding that he still has small red dots to show for the bites.
David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
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"Community Coalition targets homelessness"
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle &
The North Adams Transcript Online
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
NORTH ADAMS -- Working toward a long-range plan to combat homelessness in Berkshire County, a coalition will share a draft of its proposal with the public this week.
The group, which includes representatives from state and local government, charity organizations and social services agencies, has been assessing the homeless situation in Berkshire County since 2005, with an eye toward moving beyond short-term solutions such as shelters to long-term, comprehensive programs.
Daniel C. Dillon, the former president of the Berkshire United Way, is chairman of the council. He estimated that there are roughly 40 to 50 people in the county who are chronically homeless, living on the street and in danger of suffering from exposure.
Then there are people who don't have housing of their own and who live on the kindness of friends and families, with occasional visits to shelters.
"That is a huge number of people, with three families living in an apartment, or someone who lives from relative to friend on a daily basis. They are not out on the street, freezing, but they have no housing," Dillon said.
The council is focusing on a 10-year plan to address both forms of homelessness. Its suggestions will likely include building long-term housing for the homeless that will be accompanied by programs to tackle the underlying issues that cause homelessness in the first place.
The coalition describes its plan as a "fundamental change in how we as a community respond to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community. It moves our service system from one that reacts and manages homelessness to one that prevents and ends cyclical homelessness."
That will cost money, Dillon said, but it also costs money to do nothing -- the chronically homeless consume a huge number of resources, from temporary housing expenses to medical costs.
"We have to have resources readily available for these individuals," Dillon said. "The public may look at that person and say, 'That's your problem,' but it's also our problem, because the homeless are going to consume services."
The public forum to discuss the plan will be held Friday, March 14, from 10 a.m. to noon at First Baptist Church on Main and Eagle streets.
For more information, call the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at [413-]663-7588.
"Renter stability at issue"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Sunday, March 16, 2008
NORTH ADAMS — The peak time for homelessness is upon us — when the weather turns warmer and heating bills come due, some pay the heating bill and not the rent and get evicted. Others who haven't been paying rent over the winter are evicted, officials say.
That was the backdrop yesterday as members of a committee dedicated to developing a long-range plan to combat homelessness convened a public discussion in North Adams.
More than 1,000 Berkshire County households face eviction two or three times a year, with at least 100 households going homeless twice a year or more, according to numbers presented yesterday. And there are plenty more at risk — almost half of county residents are paying more in rent or mortgage payments than they can afford.
'It is symptomatic of instability'
According to Brad Gordon, executive director and staff attorney for the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, since July there have been 155 eviction cases in Berkshire courts — "more than we've ever done at this point in the fiscal year, and it is symptomatic of what we're seeing with renter instability in the community."
Roughly 65 people from local relief and government agencies gathered in the basement of the First Baptist Church on Main Street to discuss the topic and review the outline of a 10-year action plan to end chronic homelessness and housing instability due to be finalized during the coming few months.
"One of the cycles we're seeing is folks are spending their rent money on food one month, and then cutting back on the food and paying rent the next month," said Al Bashevkin, executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
Among other comments were some sobering circumstances faced by students at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School in Adams.
'A scattered education'
Principal Kristen Gordon said that, since the start of the school year, of the 580 students, 119 students' families have faced housing instability, with 76 students moving into the school's attendance zone and another 43 moving out, some of them from the group that had just moved in.
"That can lead to a scattered education," Gordon said. "Each time a child moves to a different school, they lose three months of work."
"Affordable housing is diminishing nationally and regionally," Brad Gordon added, "while the homeless and those living in shelters has gone up. And the increase in foreclosures is creating a crowded rental market, and crowding out those with fewer resources."
One of the issues identified during the discussion was the "silo effect," in which the various local agencies working to help the homeless do so without coordination, duplicating services and neglecting some people who may be falling through the cracks.
According to the outline of the plan, an "implementation coordinator" will be hired to find ways to help those helping the homeless coordinate their efforts and develop quicker response times.
Gordon said such a coordinator will likely be brought in this year and be paid at a rate that will ensure he or she can afford housing locally.
Gordon noted that statistics show it takes a pay rate of at least $12.50 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the county, and $17 per hour for a three-bedroom.
He added that Gov. Deval L. Patrick's administration has shown some promising signs that this effort will see more resources coming from the state.
Members of the Berkshire County Leadership Council to End Homelessness are working to complete the 10-year plan in the coming months.
Because the effects of homelessness can be seen in the schools, on the street, and in the tax rates, "everyone is affected by this and everyone has a stake in this," Gordon said. "So we're not just talking about benefiting the homeless, we're talking about benefiting everyone in the community."
To reach Scott Stafford: firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 664-4995.
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Governor Patrick's Commission to End Homelessness was titled overoptimistically and invites skeptics to assert that the administration won't end homelessness, certainly not with the relatively modest amount budgeted for affordable housing and related programs for fiscal 2009. Semantics aside, the effort is a laudable one that takes into consideration the grim financial realities confronting the state.
At the centerpiece of the $10 million initiative recommended by the commission is the shifting of more funding of homeless shelters to government-subsidized housing. This would eliminate the problem of skyrocketing construction costs and provide easier access to services, such as substance abuse and family counseling, that many who are homeless need. State Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat and advocate of the plan, likens it to preventive medicine in that the money spent helping the homeless get off the street now will save the state money in long-term costs for housing and care.
Given the harsh economy and the dramatic increase in foreclosures, the numbers of homeless are increasing in the state. Federal cuts in housing funds have put this increased burden on the states, which can't ignore their responsibilities to all of their citizens.
Homelessness is thought of as an urban problem, but as Senator Downing told The Eagle, the problem exists in the Berkshires and will likely be exacerbated by a booming second-home market that will boost the costs of the limited amount of available affordable housing. The governor's plan won't end homelessness but it will reduce it in the short-term and pave the way for long-term solutions.
Homes for Families visited the State House. From left, Diane Sullivan, Nilaya Montalvo, Libby Hayes, Agnes Nansubuga, and Claudia Lopes. (DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF)
"Once homeless, they get lessons in pride, advocacy: Group is grooming new crop of leaders"
By Stephanie Ebbert, (Boston) Globe Staff, May 29, 2008
Nilaya Montalvo, all bright eyes and restless energy, sat at the head of the table in a Beacon Hill conference room, prodding her adult students to speak up for themselves.
Why, she asked, should state policymakers include them in meetings aimed at ending homelessness? "Let's sell ourselves," Montalvo said. "What makes us worthy of sitting up there?"
Tentatively at first, then with rising confidence, the individuals began to suggest ways to promote themselves and their qualifications. Most have been to college. They are voters who could oust their politicians from office. One is a former legal assistant at a high-powered law firm.
They were also, in the not-too-distant past, homeless, their most pertinent and unusual qualification.
The students, participants in a public policy training series run by the advocacy group Homes for Families, were learning how to become activists in a cause they know too well. As they helped craft a letter to state leaders, it became clear that the exercise was not just about the letter. Homes for Families aims to empower people who have lost their homes to find their voice.
Four of six staff members have been homeless. So have at least half the members of the board. Two interns are still homeless; one has been living in a shelter with her son for nearly 10 months.
While formerly homeless people are employees or advisers for other housing advocacy groups, at Homes for Families they are largely running the agency, which pushes for state funding for shelters and subsidized housing, and works to dispel stereotypes. In the public policy sessions, they groom the next generation of advocates to stand up for themselves, to talk to legislators, to tell the devastating stories of their lives in a way that will make policymakers believe in them.
"Do investors want to invest in something that's crumbling?" Montalvo said, prodding her charges. "No, they want to invest in something they see that every day goes up a little bit. When you tell them your story and you ask them to invest, you want them to see that you're accomplishing things. You're not going to become some absolute loser who's going to suck off the system the rest of their life."
The 28-year-old Montalvo fairly lit up the room with enthusiasm: "You are a stock that's rising," she said.
Montalvo was in constant motion, nodding and smiling, bright eyes flashing, gum cracking, silver bracelets jangling as she raised her arms in pride. She beamed as a student read aloud a passage she wrote. "Does that sound like it came from a book or what? Hello?!" she shouted.
As her advanced students completed their class, Montalvo gave each the name and description of a currently homeless person just starting the entry-level course. She encouraged them to serve as mentors, to call and offer advice on what to wear to a legislative breakfast, how to approach a speaking engagement.
"Not all of us know," she told them. "Some of us are pros up in the State House. Some of us are shaking in our boots."
It seemed impossible that Montalvo was once homeless herself.
When she was 24, she split up with the father of her daughter and could no longer afford their $1,200-a-month apartment in Revere.
Montalvo and her daughter ended up in a hotel room for a few weeks before getting into a shelter, where she continued working, going to Bunker Hill Community College, and began working for Homes For Families.
"All the while in the back of your mind is, 'If I don't get placed, they'll take my child away,' " Montalvo said in an interview.
While in a shelter, parents frustrated by their circumstances have to find a way to claw back out, most immediately, by learning how to advance up lengthy waiting lists for subsidized apartments. The strength that drives some to push through the legal and governmental systems also motivates them to work on behalf of their successors in shelter.
"For every one person that can do that," said co-worker Diane Sullivan, "there are five that can't."
Sullivan, 34, a policy advocate at Homes for Families, became homeless on Christmas Eve 2001.
She was 8 1/2 months pregnant with her fifth child. The state paid $200 a night for her family to stay in a Woburn motel, the result of a shelter system so overburdened that hotel rooms are used for overflow.
The average family costs the state about $3,000 a month in shelter, but just $532 in a subsidized apartment, advocates say. For much less, Sullivan said, the government could help families save their homes.
While she was homeless, Sullivan found herself criticizing the state's spending priorities at the first legislative breakfast she attended, where Homes for Families invites lawmakers to shelters to hear about families' individual tragedies.
"I was ignorant, really," said state Representative Carlo P. Basile, an East Boston Democrat who recently attended his first legislative breakfast with the advocacy group. "I said to myself: 'I've been living under a rock. It's heart-wrenching.' "
Homes For Families' top legislative priority this year is boosting state funding for vouchers that help families pay their rent. In recent weeks, Sullivan worked the halls of the State House, thanking legislators for their support and prodding others to join them. After Senate amendments last week, it appears that the voucher money will increase just 10 percent, but Sullivan responded with glass-half-full optimism.
"A 10 percent increase when other programs are being cut is definitely something to write home about," she said.
Sullivan's family now uses a federal Section 8 voucher to help pay the rent on their West Medford duplex. It is sparsely appointed, with a gathered sheet for a curtain and the tiniest of televisions in the living room.
All of the furniture has been donated, but none of that matters, says her husband, Andre Wise. He took over as the stay-at-home parent for their six children after Sullivan, motivated by her personal experience, went to work as an advocate.
Now, Wise describes his wife as something of a superhero, working to vanquish the demons of her past.
"It's like being able to go back in time," he said, "and save yourself over and over again."
"Family soon to be homeless in city"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
For people who have been foreclosed on, my family now knows how you feel. On Friday the 13th, we were informed that we have until July 7 to be out or we will be thrown out on the street. The credit corporation refused to take payments for months from my daughter and gave her the run-around until she was so far behind in payments we could not catch up. They don't care that two families are going to be homeless.
I have grandchildren I am raising and I need more than a month to find a place to move to. I am puzzled why there is such a long wait to get any help or hear an update on how long you have to wait for Pittsfield housing to help you find a place to live. We applied for housing in January and we have not heard from anyone since.
"Homeless rise has downtown taking notice"
By Christine Legere, (Boston) Globe Correspondent, September 11, 2008
With the homeless becoming more visible around Plymouth, merchants and downtown residents have entered the discussion on the problem.
Over the summer, the police department connected with social service groups to offer its perspective. Last week, officials and homeless advocates held their first meeting with merchants and residents of downtown, to discuss the issue, listen to their concerns, and talk about how people can contribute.
"The number of homeless has tripled in the last couple years," said acting police chief Michael Botieri, who views it from the public safety perspective. He attributed the sharp rise to the slumping economy.
"We get a good number of calls about it from residents, businesses, and even tourists," Botieri said. "People become upset simply by their appearance, and when they drink and fight among themselves, it frightens families."
Just last month, a homeless woman was severely beaten where she slept outside the Ethan Allen store on Long Pond Road. Police charged a homeless man with the crime a short time later.
"Our case workers had just talked with the woman a few days before she was beaten," said John Yazwinski, president and chief executive officer of Quincy-based Father Bill's Place and the Brockton-based MainSpring Coalition for the Homeless. The two organizations merged last year and have been working with the Plymouth Task Force on the Homeless.
After the woman was injured, case workers visited her at a Boston hospital while she was recovering and again tried to talk her into entering a program called Housing First. She resisted and has disappeared into the homeless population.
Yazwinski said there could be as many as 50 chronically homeless people in Plymouth right now. About 25 regularly hang around the downtown. A few are criminals and should be dealt with by the police, he said. The others could benefit from the Housing First program, which gets the homeless into lodging houses or apartments, then addresses the physical and mental problems that many battle.
The homeless are predominantly men, and Yazwinski said 85 percent of the total suffer from some form of mental illness. According to a November 2007 report done by the UMass-Boston McCormack Center for Social Policy, about 64 percent of the homeless have some form of substance abuse problem, and 46 percent have physical disabilities.
When the weather is warm, the homeless in Plymouth sleep under bridges and on park benches, in clearings off the bike path on Nelson Street, in the woods of north Plymouth, and on Burial Hill. In the winter, the Plymouth Task Force for the Homeless provides a meal and overnight shelter in local church halls. In the morning, the guests return to the streets.
That program began four years ago, after a homeless man in Plymouth, sleeping in a dumpster, was picked up and crushed to death in the back of a garbage truck.
"These guys have nowhere to go," said task force president Connie Melahoures.
Yazwinski's organization has assigned case workers to Plymouth to build trust and talk the homeless into coming inside. The Housing First program provides housing in lodging houses or apartments, as well as support staff to help participants along. Medical and mental health needs are addressed and often people are able to reconnect with family in the area. Father Bill's Place and MainSpring currently have more than 200 housing units from Quincy to Plymouth.
"We have taken about 14 people off the streets in Plymouth over the last year, and put them in housing with support services," Yazwinski said. He added that the program is cost effective in the long run, since the homeless will spend less time in hospitals, jails, and courts.
At last week's meeting with Botieri, Yazwinski, and task force members, businessman Ric Cone acknowledged that he has had difficulties with the homeless. "We have four hard-core 'ticking bombs' among us that we deal with," said Cone, who owns a shop on North Street. "They intimidate us and intimidate tourists."
Cone said he realized that most of the homeless are not belligerent, but there are a few who appear to be downright dangerous.
"It gets easy to stereotype," Cone said. "The half-dozen that are fighting or committing crimes give a bad impression of all of them. We have no idea, as residents and merchants, how to handle this."
Botieri agreed that getting the homeless permanently off the streets would benefit them as well as residents and merchants in downtown. "Putting them in shelters is not the end goal, and this is a problem that isn't going to be erased overnight, especially with the current economy," he added.
Melahoures says she knows just about every homeless person in Plymouth, through her work with the task force. "And I've never felt in danger when working with any of them," she said.
Melahoures agreed that the Housing First program is the best way to remedy the situation. "Our ultimate goal is to end homelessness completely," she said. But overnight shelters, such as her group's, remain critical for now, she added. "You don't want them dying on the streets."
Christine Legere can be reached at email@example.com.
"Childhood poverty on the rise in Massachusetts"
The Associated Press, Wednesday, September 17, 2008
BOSTON (AP) — A new report says the number of children living in poverty in Massachusetts is on the rise.
The report released yesterday by Massachusetts Citizens for Children claims that 182,000 children, or 13 percent of all Bay State children under 18, lived below the federal poverty lines last year. That's 4,000 more than in 2006.
The new figures, based on U.S. census data, dropped Massachusetts to 11th in the percentage of children living in poverty, down from fifth in 2006.
Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, says the state has the third widest divide between the rich and poor in the nation and the divide is growing at the fourth fastest rate.
The report says children of color are much more likely to live in poverty.
Information from: The Boston Globe, www.boston.com/globe
"Childhood poverty increasing in Massachusetts: Census data show 182,000 living in need", By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, September 17, 2008
The number of children in the state living in poverty is increasing, pushing Massachusetts lower in the ranking of states with children in need, according to a new report.
The report, released yesterday by Massachusetts Citizens for Children, highlights new data from the US Census Bureau that show 182,000 children, 13 percent of all children under age 18 in Massachusetts, lived below the federal poverty line last year, 4,000 more than in 2006.
The state last year ranked 11th in the percentage of children living in poverty, below Alaska, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. In 2006, Massachusetts ranked fifth.
"These 182,000 children would form an unbroken line the entire length of the 138-mile Massachusetts Turnpike," said Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children.
"A legislator driving on the Mass. Pike from his or her district to the State House would pass by a child who is poor every four feet, or 1,300 children every mile."
Even worse, in a state with one of the nation's highest median family incomes (about $60,000 in 2006), about 87,000 children lived in extreme poverty, or families of four earning less than $10,600 a year.
Bernier said that Massachusetts has the third widest divide between the rich and poor in the nation and that the divide is growing at the fourth fastest rate.
"The chasm is threatening to undermine our state's bright future," she said.
The report suggested that the Census Bureau focus on the federal poverty line, in effect, conceals the true number of people living in poverty.
The federal poverty level - about $20,000 for a family of four - uses a decades-old formula that doesn't take into account the rapid increase in the costs of housing, transportation, education, and fuels, among other things.
The report also noted how children of color are much more likely to live in poverty.
The percentage of the state's Latino children living in poverty last year jumped to 40 percent, up 4 percent from the year before.
At the same time, 28 percent of black children lived in poverty, down 1 percent from 2006.
About 7 percent of white children lived in poverty, the same as the year before.
The report linked the rising poverty rates to healthcare problems, unemployment, high school dropouts, teen pregnancies, crime, and prison costs.
"It takes more money to live here," said Benita Danzing, director of the Massachusetts Kids Count Project, "so even families at less extreme levels of poverty still struggle."
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Poverty, by outdated numbers"
September 20, 2008
IT'S TIME for a new look at poverty, one that doesn't presume a Beatles-era economy.
It was the 1960s when Mollie Orshansky, a federal government worker, used the price of food to come up with an estimate for the minimal cost of living. This work became the basis for the federal poverty line.
The world has changed, but the official definition of poverty is woefully antiquated. This year, the federal poverty level for a family of four is $21,200. That's a pittance for many parents who are trying to provide for themselves and their children - especially in Boston and other high-cost cities. The price of housing, healthcare, transportation, and child care - which have soared over the years - are not included.
Fortunately, efforts to modernize federal measures of poverty are percolating in Congress. A bill filed Thursday by Representative Jim McDermott, a Washington state Democrat, calls on the US Census Bureau to work with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to devise new ways to measure poverty.
This approach would include the costs of housing and clothes as well as food. It would account for the ways that prices of goods and services vary across states. And rather than letting a new poverty tool gradually wizen into uselessness, the bill calls on the two agencies to review and improve the measurement on a regular basis.
Getting an accurate poverty level is critical because it triggers eligibility for many federal aid programs, from Head Start to heating assistance. And the more Americans understand about 21st-century poverty, the more pressure there will be to fight it by modernizing antipoverty programs.
This won't be easy. In Boston, for example, the Crittenton Women's Union, a local nonprofit, uses a self-sufficiency standard to estimate that a family of four with one toddler and one school-aged child actually needs $62,000 a year to pay for housing, healthcare, food, transportation, child care, and other costs.
Implicit in this calculation is a daunting challenge: Government shouldn't just try to push people out of poverty. Instead, public policy should push people above the line of self-sufficiency. This could mean helping hard-working people find higher-paying work. It also means helping people who can seem hard to help, including single mothers, high school dropouts, former drug addicts, and people mired in several generations of poverty.
The first step, however, is to update federal poverty guidelines, so that the country can see what poverty actually looks like today. Then efforts can be made to pave new roads to prosperity.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, -BRUCE MARKS-
"Bailout must address the foreclosure crisis"
By Bruce Marks, September 24, 2008
CONGRESS and the Bush administration must address the underlying issue in the financial crisis - foreclosures. The only real solution is to restructure mortgages based on what the homeowners can afford. This solution can be achieved on scale with little or no taxpayer money.
This unprecedented bailout of the predators is beyond comprehension. Wall Street and its advocates say the crisis is so complicated that no one could have predicted it. Yet now the administration is so sure of the solution that the American taxpayer must sign a blank check for $700 billion to purchase these "toxic" mortgages and bail out these companies. We have trusted the government before and are still paying the price in Iraq. Now Congress is ready to support it on a second request for a blank check.
It is unacceptable to provide such a huge amount of taxpayer money to be used under the sole discretion of decision makers who use the "idiot" defense.
It is ironic that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who was chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, could not have predicted this crisis, even though eight years ago I predicted this economic devastation. As the CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, I testified in Congress on the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in subprime lending and proposed regulatory legislation (HR 3703): "Without such controls Fannie Mae will continue to expand its reach into the subprime market and might itself become a predatory lender . . . Participation in these schemes by GSEs (government sponsored enterprises) poses potential risks for the housing and banking industry and for the economy in general."
The reason for this financial meltdown is greed. Wall Street and all the affiliated entities made massive amounts of money, but created a "toxic" hangover.
Mortgage lending didn't have to be done this way and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America is the best example. We have been lending to the people the industry considers "subprime" borrowers for more than 20 years with a $10 billion commitment. Because NACA did it the right way, by providing true homeownership with a fixed-rate mortgage, no down payment and no closing costs, our performance has been one of the best and not touched by this crisis. We have destroyed the myth that in order to compensate for the "risk" of lending to subprime borrowers, you need to get a higher return.
NACA is also demonstrating the solution to this mortgage crisis. We are in the forefront of providing real solutions for at-risk borrowers by restructuring their mortgage to what they can afford. The interest rate and/or outstanding mortgage amount is reduced to achieve this affordable mortgage payment.
This can be accomplished for millions of at-risk homeowners if the government utilizes its power of regulation and, if necessary, provides incentives (tax incentives, bond returns, or other economic benefits) to make the mortgages affordable.
We are now committing over a trillion dollars of taxpayers' money to bail out the very institutions that created the crisis. This is truly the moral hazard bearing its ugly head. The previous taxpayer bailouts of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG have not opened up the credit markets because they have not addressed the foreclosure epidemic. Worse, Fannie and Freddie - now owned by the American people - continue to foreclose and refuse to restructure mortgages on affordable terms.
Taxpayers must tell Congress and the administration that "it's the foreclosures, stupid" and have them address this underlying issue. They must immediately put a moratorium on foreclosures for owner-occupant homeowners. Then through regulation, legislation, and/or economic incentives, they must demand that homeowners' mortgages be restructured to make them affordable for the remaining term of the loan. If the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America - as a nonprofit - can achieve affordable solutions for thousands of at-risk homeowners, the government - with its regulatory and legislative power - can achieve the same results from these servicers and investors.
Bruce Marks is CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
Jonathan Santiago daydreams outside the House of Hope homeless shelter in Lowell, where he lives with his mother, Frances. (Ellen Harasimowicz for The Boston Globe/File 2008)
"Homelessness hits record high: Advocates expect numbers to grow amid economic downturn and ask for state aid"
By Connie Paige, Boston Globe Correspondent, October 6, 2008
Despite a pledge by Governor Deval Patrick to end homelessness, the number of homeless people in the state is at a record high and likely to rise because of the mortgage crisis and continuing surge in foreclosures.
With homeless shelters filled to capacity, more than 500 families across the Commonwealth are being put up in hotels and motels - a drastic increase from last year at this time, when 27 were housed in motels.
Advocates are asking the state to come up with emergency financial assistance to help the expected spike of additional homeless people make it through the winter.
"We don't want to turn people away in the winter, and we don't want to have people die outside," said John Yazwinski, executive director of Father Bills & MainSpring, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter for the homeless and affordable housing on the South Shore. "We're afraid we may not have the capacity to get everybody indoors."
Massachusetts has about 2,000 families and 2,900 individuals in shelters. That is an increase of 143 families and 93 individuals from last year at this time, according to the state Department of Transitional Assistance. Their average length of stay, as of August, was about 17 days.
Moreover, as of Sept. 29, 574 families that could not find shelter space were housed in hotels and motels in 18 communities across the Commonwealth, state tallies show. By contrast, there were 467 families in hotels and motels less than a month ago.
Among those communities with homeless put up in hotels and motels were Cambridge, with 71 at the Gateway Inn; Malden, with 56 at the Town Line Inn; Saugus, with 22 at the Colonial Traveler Motor Court; Somerset, with 10 at the Super 8 motel; and Worcester, with 76 at the Quality Inn and Suites. In Holyoke, 63 families were staying at the Economy Inn, Holiday Inn, and Super 8 Motel.
The state pays for those stays. But it costs less for the state to use the hotels and motels, at an average of $85 per night per family, than shelters, at an average nightly rate of $99, according to Juan Martinez, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services.
But the placement can relocate families miles away from their former homes and disrupt their children's education, advocates say.
Under governor Mitt Romney's administration, the state moved homeless people out of hotels and motels, but last year the Patrick administration turned to them again because of the increase in homelessness.
Officials have been in "crisis mode" since the numbers of homeless increased dramatically, said Marilyn Anderson Chase, assistant secretary for children, youth, and families in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
"We all agree it's unfortunate that families, for whatever reason, are finding themselves in situations where they're having to turn to the state emergency shelter system for housing," Chase said. "We're doing all we can to accommodate the increase and, at the same time, identify permanent housing options for people."
Chase said although she cannot promise that more funding will be available, officials are trying to intervene by finding permanent housing for those in shelters and keeping families from becoming homeless.
In housing courts in Springfield and Holyoke, for example, officials are identifying people at risk of becoming homeless and helping those whom they deem responsible to pay back rent.
The budget this fiscal year for emergency assistance for the homeless is $87 million, up from $85.4 million last fiscal year. The Legislature also approved Patrick's request for $10 million to place homeless people in permanent housing as part of his pledge to end homelessness.
In Boston, the rise in homelessness has meant shelters are overflowing, said Jim Greene, director of the city's Emergency Shelter Commission.
"Over the past three years, family homeless numbers have increased by double-digit percentages," Greene said. "There are more families in hotels and motels. And for every family that makes it into hotels and motels, there are others struggling to hold their ground."
Greene said the commission does not perform a census of homeless in the city until December, but street workers have reported the numbers are growing. He also said a City Hall 24-hour hotline has been deluged with calls from people all over the state who have lost their homes and need a place to sleep.
The "double whammy" of the high cost of fuel and food "can put families at risk for homelessness that otherwise might not be," Greene said. "It's a very disconcerting time."
Likewise, on the South Shore, shelters are being swamped, Yazwinski said. Two shelters run by Father Bills in Quincy and Brockton have 25 percent more homeless people than at this time last year, he said.
On a night late last month, for example, 88 people slept on cots or on the floor, after 214 people sought shelter with only 126 beds available. He said 55 percent of the new intakes were coming from apartments they could no longer rent. "That got us very concerned," he said.
Last week, Yazwinski met with his board of directors to try to figure out ways to raise money to help an even larger expected influx of homeless get through the winter. Yazwinski said they are planning to approach churches for help, and ask the state for more emergency funding.
After the number of homeless spiked last September, the Patrick administration added 300 beds and family units in shelters, but predicting how much more shelter space might be needed is difficult. "It's always changing," Martinez said.
But the underlying problem is that not enough affordable housing exists for poor people, and the federal government is not providing enough rent assistance through vouchers, said Robyn D. Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
"There's not enough affordable housing in our state, and there's not enough vouchers in our nation," she said.
Public housing is also scarce. Many of the 19,666 people on the Boston Housing Authority's waiting list are homeless, said Communications Director Lydia Agro. Agro said the homeless are given a priority as apartments become available.
In Lowell, the numbers on the waiting list for public housing, at 4,800 at the beginning of last month, "just keep climbing," said Lowell Public Housing Program director William D. Sheehan.
Some see the crisis as a challenge to eradicate homelessness and the need for shelters.
"I've never met a family that said a trip to the shelter is what I want," said Susanne Beaton, acting director of Boston's One Family Campaign.
Still, with some analysts predicting the economy could get worse, advocates for the homeless say they worry that the future could find even more people on the streets.
"If anything, we're going into a time of greater uncertainty," Frost said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg because a lot of people have yet to lose their housing. This issue is only going to get worse."
Connie Paige can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Annual walk will put focus on homelessness"
The Berkshire Eagle - Community, Thursday, October 16, 2008
GREAT BARRINGTON — Construct Inc. will celebrate its 20th annual walk to prevent homelessness on Sunday.
With registration beginning at noon, the four-mile walk will start at Ski Butternut on State Road, go through town and end at Construct Inc.'s headquarters at 41 Mahaiwe St.
At the end of the walk, there will be an opportunity for all participants to write a message of hope and support on "community ties." These colorful cloths will be flown around the perimeter in a visible show of support and understanding for neighbors who face a housing crisis this winter. Refreshments will be donated by the local interfaith community. Sammy Brown will provide live music at the end point. A free T-shirt will be awarded to walkers who bring in $200 or more.
The Reverend Kathy Duhon, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire, has been named grand marshall of the walk. Rev. Duhon, a longtime friend and supporter of Construct Inc., Habitat for Humanity volunteer and an affordable housing advocate, coordinated the very first walk for Construct Inc. 20 years ago.
In celebration of 20 years of walking to prevent homelessness, Construct will also sponsor a special 20-K walk at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. For those preferring the challenge of a long walk as an alternative to or in addition to the traditional Sunday walk, this event begins at the Lake Mansfield public swim area.
Construct Inc.'s walk to prevent homelessness is an annual fundraising event. Last year, Construct helped over 1,000 people in South County. To meet our goal of $40,000 and to honor this 20th anniversary, 20 teams have been formed with 20 team members who are asking 10 people they know for a $20 donation.
New this year are "Virtual Walkers." These are individuals who want to participate but cannot walk in the event. Virtual walkers should call Construct Inc.'s office to make a contribution and ask for a surrogate to walk in their stead.
For more information about either walk, call Cara Davis, executive director of construct at (413) 528-1985 or Susie Weekes, chair of the walk at (413) 429-7734.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Tough test for homeless policy"
November 3, 2008
THE NUMBER of homeless families has surged to a record high in Massachusetts. Some 2,500 families are homeless, up from about 1,500 two years ago. And more than 600 homeless families are staying in motels, caring for children in rooms, often far from school, with little more than beds, a TV, and maybe a hotplate. Given the faltering economy, even more families could end up in shelters.
This renewed dependence on putting homeless families in temporary quarters represents a step backward for Massachusetts. Especially under the Patrick administration, the state had sought to end homelessness by 2013 by moving people out of shelters and toward the stability of economic self-sufficiency and permanent housing.
While the number of households falling into economic jeopardy will test the state's ability to handle each case in a comprehensive way, this far-reaching approach remains the best way to make sure families stay off the streets in the long term.
Shelter alone may not be enough to keep the homeless off the streets. What they may really need is help paying back rent, finding a new job, or getting treatment for an addiction. And families who are already in shelters need help moving out more quickly.
Fortunately, Massachusetts is still working on transforming its homelessness efforts to provide the "right resources to the right people at the right time," as the Massachusetts Commission to End Homelessness called for earlier this year. Armed with $10 million in state funds, the state's Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness plans to start a sweeping experiment: Instead of automatic placement in shelters, homeless families will be able to get a personalized response to their problems. This might be a short shelter stay, but it might also be rent money or a referral for mental health counseling. Some of the interagency council's money will also fund job training.
State officials are looking for private funding to boost this effort, and they will track the outcomes and figure out how to expand the programs that work best.
"If we weren't doing this now, it would be worse," Robert Pulster, the interagency council's executive director, says of the state's homelessness problem.
For now, Massachusetts has to keep its shelters open, to cope with current housing emergencies. But over the next few years, some of the money that the state now spends on shelters should be shifted to programs that help people develop the skills to support themselves in permanent housing. The state's overburdened shelter system is a relic that has to give way to more modern and effective solutions.
"Homeless advocates look to Hub: Seniors program a national model"
By Brian R. Ballou, Boston Globe Staff, November 12, 2008
In the lobby of the Anna Bissonnette House in the South End, several senior citizens sat at a table yesterday afternoon and studied their bingo cards. In an elevator, a man with gray hair and creased skin complained about the cost of a flight to Europe. And in her one-bedroom apartment, Estella Morris, a 65-year-old who spent five years sleeping on park benches and under bridges, held up colorful tapestries that she weaved.
The residents of the 40-unit, red-brick house on Washington Street share similar backgrounds. They are all older than 50 and were once homeless in Boston. But now, they benefit from a program that has drawn the attention of homeless advocates in Los Angeles and other cities grappling with significant senior citizen homeless populations.
Hearth Inc. provides living space for senior citizens at seven facilities throughout Boston and provides on-site elder care and other services, said Mark Hinderlie, Hearth's chief executive officer. "We've looked around, and there really isn't anyone else out there with our focus on providing housing along with healthcare, personal care, and other things. That has gotten us a lot of national attention."
Hearth will hold its annual meeting today, and Ruth Schwartz, the executive director of Shelter Partnership Inc. in Los Angeles, will attend via videoconference.
In 2002, while on a brief visit to thank a major donor in the area, Schwartz said she was surprised to learn about efforts for the homeless in Boston.
"We have done case studies on projects in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle, and other cities, but we didn't find any other organization that was focused solely on older homeless adults in the exhaustive way that Hearth is," Schwartz said. "Because of the excitement generated by the Hearth model, we've started moving on several projects here."
There are about 6,900 homeless people in Boston. In the city's annual homelessness census in 2004, the first time researchers categorized senior citizens in its street count, the findings indicated that about a fourth of the homeless population was at least 55, said Jim Greene, the director of the city's Emergency Shelter Commission. He said the rate has now dropped to about 18 percent because of increased outreach linked to housing.
Hearth operates seven complexes in Boston that provide housing to 136 clients. Since it was created in 1991, Hearth has served about 1,300 people through a combination of outreach and housing.
At each location there are nurses, property managers, resident assistants, personal care homemakers, overnight managers, and activity staffers. The Ruggles Affordable Assisted Living Community in Roxbury is the first such facility in the state exclusively for low-income and frail senior citizens who had been homeless. Hearth also operates two homes in Jamaica Plain that operate as cooperatives.
The organization relies on a $5 million budget, of which about a quarter goes to administrative costs. The rest goes toward creating a more comfortable life for the clients in their "twilight years," Hinderlie said.
Morris plans her days around making quilts, crocheting, and playing bingo at the house in the South End. With the exception of a large-screen television that dominates her living room, home is a mixture of creature comforts.
She was evicted from her home about six years ago and had to give away all her possessions because she couldn't carry them and couldn't afford to keep them in storage.
"When you're homeless, people think you're nobody." she said. "No one plans to be homeless."
"MCLA Students Raise Awareness of Homelessness"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, November 18, 2008
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Students bundled in layers of clothing huddled around an open barbecue on a frigid Monday night, their impromptu cardboard shantytown radiating outward.
A dozen or so planned to spend the night in the middle of the Quad at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to get a taste of what it's like to have nothing.
The idea is to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless, said Keifer Gammell, president of the class of 2011, who was organizing the event through the college's Center for Service. "This is the first night of several events this week. The students who do this will talk about their experience with a speaker on housing issues [Tuesday]."
As the temperatures dropped below freezing, they heated up a pot of chicken soup donated by the Aramark, the college's dining service, in large tins on the barbecue. The Center for Service donated hot chocolate.
Senior Karen Widrick of Adams, N.Y., and junior Lois Springer of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., were hoping layers of clothing, gloves and hats would keep them warm through the night.
"We just wanted to help out," said Widrick. "I'v done one before in upstate New York. It was was a lot colder than this, but it's definitely a learning experience."
"I just want to do the experience because I thought it would be a good experience," said Springer.
Pittsfield native Madeline Howe was duct taping two appliance boxes together to create snug home for the night. The sophomore had moved from the area years ago but jumped at the chance to come back to the Berkshires to go to college.
I think it's really important to raise people's awareness to the fact that we don't all have a warm bed to go to at night," she said. "I think we take a lot of things for granted, especially people my age."
She didn't think her generation was cognizant of the difficulties past generations had faced, such as the Great Depression. "We may be facing that now. We're going into a recession," she continued. "I think we've grown up in a very pleasureable lifestyle and I think we take for granted food and a warm bad.
The students will share their experience tonight at 7 in Murdock Hall 218 along with an advocate for the homeless. On Wednesday, a group of students will help at the Berkshire Food Project at 1st Congregational Church and a concert at 9 that evening in Sullivan Lounge will benefit the project. A can collection will be held Friday and students will write letters to congressmen in the Centennial Room.
Gammell said the letters will be given to college President Mary Grant, who will present them to a local lawmaker.
Junior John Delsordo of Richmond speculated that many might find cases of homelessness in their own families if they looked back. "That's just sad to think about."
Participating in the event was a way of seeing other's way of life, he said. "You take things for granted every day, even sleeping."
"Just taking a step in other people's shoes just flips you around."
John Delsordo of Richmond shows off his cardboard shelter.
"Economy Threatens Cities' Fights Vs. Homelessness: Recession threatens cities' pioneering 10-year plans to curb homelessness, could undo progress"
By DIONNE WALKER, The Associated Press, ATLANTA
Beneath the glowing red curlicues of the Coca-Cola headquarters sign, case worker Hylda Jackson bargains with one of Atlanta's left behind.
"Are you ready, right now, this morning?" she says, kneeling beside a white-bearded man.
Harry Byrd's rumpled form is enveloped by the odor of stale beer, even before dawn.
"To do what?" he drawls.
"To go to a place to live. Are you ready right now?" Jackson presses.
A yes would land Byrd in his own apartment, surrounded by people ready to smooth his life's kinks. No, and he'll remain among the 750,000 homeless sprinkled across the nation's streets and shelters each night.
He stirs, but doesn't get up. Jackson moves on. She has other sidewalks to cover, other parks to check, other bridges to pause beneath. This tug-of-war is bound to increase as the economy pushes more people into homelessness.
In Atlanta and other top destinations for the homeless, a sense of urgency has settled over the efforts of advocates such as Jackson.
The recession is catching many of the nation's largest cities in the middle of pioneering 10-year plans to drastically reduce the number of chronically homeless, city by city, by sweeping parks and alleys for men and women and channeling them into apartments with built-in case workers.
Weary Wall Street donors have grown reluctant to open their pocketbooks to charity, and budget cuts have choked state support. By the time those dollars start flowing again, cities could be looking at starting from scratch.
Rampant foreclosures, meanwhile, mean more Americans without a house, pressuring agencies with new cases as they struggle to reach the long-term homeless that so dramatically drain resources.
"This is the start of tough times," says Protip Biswas, executive director of United Way Atlanta's Regional Commission on Homelessness, a coalition of partner groups that includes Jackson, who works in the city's Gateway Center shelter. Biswas is asking his own case workers to nearly double their load.
The economy is hitting all sectors hard. When your goal is eroding a phenomenon directly linked to poverty, however, a crisis this deep delivers an extra gut punch.
"We're sort of holding our breath," says Steve Berg, with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a leader in forming the anti-homelessness plans.
"Despite the good work a lot of these communities have done with their 10-year plans, we're probably going to have a time when there's more pressure on homelessness."
Five years ago, Philip Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, got fed up with homeless numbers that had risen for decades.
"How many homeless people (there were), where they came from, how long they stayed homeless, what were the initiatives that actually worked to reduce homelessness — we didn't know," Mangano says. "We were groping in the dark."
So he urged 100 mayors in 2003 to formulate plans to end homelessness within a decade. They would focus on the chronic homeless, defined as those with a disabling condition experiencing long-term or multiple instances of homelessness and who, activists say, suck up half of available resources.
Leaders would measure progress through benchmarks of people staying off the streets, rather than shelter beds filled. Regions began adopting a strategy placing homeless into their own apartments, then offering help, rather than vice versa.
Immediate housing calms some of the most troubled clients, according to the National Alliance, and double-digit drops in homelessness reported in Chicago, Denver, New York and Norfolk, Va., among other cities, seem to back them up.
"We have some remarkable accomplishments here," says New York Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess, pointing to a 25 percent reduction in street homeless since 2005.
Mangano says more than 50,000 units of housing targeting the homeless have been created over the past five years; the goal is 150,000 units by 2014.
Atlanta's 5-year-old program is considered one of the most successful — it's created 1,600 units of supportive housing for the chronically homeless. Of 750 people recently tracked through the program, 90 percent remained housed after a year.
In turn, chronic homelessness is down 16 percent in the metro area, the United Way reports.
About once a month at the Coca Cola park, a bus idles along the sidewalk, ready to carry all the down-and-out men and women whom volunteers like Jackson can round up. They'll go to Leonard House, a complex of modest apartments where groups share bedrooms, kitchens and a new start.
More case workers will work on their deeper issues, reuniting clients with family members, connecting them with drug treatment or helping obtain disability benefits. The most responsive participants can eventually earn a one-bedroom apartment, and organizers say some are on their own within a year.
Atlanta secured more than $50 million in federal funds earmarked for homeless efforts within the past five years.
"Atlanta has been doing a good job — that's why the resources have been increasing," Mangano says.
At United Way, however, Biswas worries about how precarious that progress is considering how quickly the money could run out. The organization spends about $10,000 a year supporting each person in its shelter-to-home programs, using a combination of federal, state and private funding.
United Way Atlanta has roughly $9 million in reserve funds to fund operational expenses, grants and the "Street to Home" program, projected to serve more than 250 people at a cost of nearly $4 million during the next two years.
State funds are often used to hire case managers, and private funds fill in the gaps. Both sources are on the decline: The state recently cut $300,000 allocated for case managers, and while community donations have helped sustain the program beyond its seed fund, the group also is bracing for cuts there.
"Right now we have a challenge grant where one donor has offered us a half-million dollars, provided we can do a one-to-one match," Biswas says. "But the normal foundations are telling us they won't have that much to give."
The bottom line isn't on Jackson's mind as she tramps across the grass of a small park in downtown Atlanta, determined to get people off the streets.
Byrd, the homeless man Jackson has approached, doesn't know or trust the nosy woman with the clipboard. He takes her number scribbled on a tattered slip of paper and promises to call.
This morning, he isn't ready to go home.
Anthony Johnson, left, an Air Force Veteran who has been living in Coca-Cola Park in Atlanta for three weeks, talks with Tony Stone, right, the outreach coordinator for the Gateway Center on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 about the "Street to Home" program.
(Jenni Girtman/AP Photo)
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed
By Chris Bohjalian, December 31, 2008
There are a great many reasons why I was downright jubilant back on Nov. 5 and have vacillated between unrestrained giddiness and a more appropriate middle-aged optimism ever since. Part of my exhilaration was the election of Barack Obama and the signal to the world that America's moral compass is sound, after all. And, yes, it will be nice to know that for at least the next four years the White House will no longer be mired in the Love Canal of Verbal Gibberish.
But part of my excitement was simply relief that a campaign that began when trilobites were the lobsters of the seas and John and Cindy McCain owned merely a half-dozen cars was over. No more pandering, no more attack ads, no more fairy tale-like juxtaposition of the words "clean" and "coal."
Nevertheless, here are two more words that we rarely heard spoken in the same sentence in the long campaign and that haven't been linked with any frequency since it ended: "homeless" and "children." In all the debates about whom to bail out (pre- and post-election), in all the discussions of recession and depression, Wall Street and Main Street, there hasn't been a whole lot of focus on homelessness in America.
Even now if you visit the website for the Office of the President-Elect and search "homeless children" you won't find them on the agenda. You will find a pledge to combat homelessness among our nation's veterans, which I applaud. But just as we should judge ourselves by how we care for our sick and elderly, we should judge ourselves by how we embrace and lift up the poorest among us. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 1.35 million children were homeless at some point this year; on any given night, at least 200,000 have no place to live.
Obama has monumental tasks before him. The truth is, we all do. We all must roll up our sleeves as we haven't in generations. There probably hasn't been a better time for us to add two more words - and one more task - to our agenda.
Chris Bohjalian's novels include "Midwives," "The Double Bind," and "Skeletons at the Feast."
"Homeless families rise 22% in a year: Children hit particularly hard, Hub census says"
By Milton J. Valencia, Boston Globe Staff, January 6, 2009
The number of homeless families living in Boston has jumped for the fourth straight year, making children without a home the fastest-growing group, according to results from the mayor's annual census.
The Homeless Census showed that the number of families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or even in motels jumped 22 percent in the past year, from 3,175 in 2007 to 3,870 in December. The number of children without a home soared 24 percent in 2008, from 1,850 to 2,288.
As past programs have targeted the elderly and people with drug addictions and mental illnesses, city officials said a new, concerted effort is needed to assist homeless families as their numbers climb during tough economic times.
"For families, it's really about insufficient income to afford a place to live," said Jim Greene, director of the city's Emergency Shelter Commission. "Family homelessness is caused by the divide between people's incomes and housing costs, and when the gap is too great the problem gets worse."
The Homeless Census, required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, is based on a count of the overall number of people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hospitals and medical facilities, hotels and motels, and on the streets on one given night.
On Dec. 15, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and about 350 volunteers including city and state officials went into Boston's neighborhoods, reaching out to people living in alleys and under bridges and referring them to shelters and programs.
City officials counted an overall total of 7,681 homeless people that night - which included individuals and family members - up from 6,930 last year, an 11 percent jump.
The census, however, also showed that while the number of families without homes has climbed, the count of homeless individuals only - those considered unaccompanied by anyone - has held steady over the last several years, a tribute to new strategies in reaching out to people living on the streets.
According to the census, the city counted 3,811 homeless individuals, compared with 3,705 last year, a 3 percent increase.
A positive sign of the survey was that the number of elderly people living on the street dropped from a high of 77 in 2004 to fewer than 30 last month.
"We have made some progress, but more needs to be done," Menino said in a statement, adding, "this census reflects the growing challenge that low-income families, especially young mothers, are facing during tough economic times."
Joe Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, said the stable number of homeless individuals is a credit to Menino's strategy to find people homes before treatment is discussed.
Only then, he said, can officials work with someone to address the root problems that caused them to be homeless - mental illness, substance abuse, or economic woes.
Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the Pine Street Inn, a Boston homeless shelter, said the increase in the number of families without homes is an ugly sign of the touch economic times.
"I think it's part of a trend across the country, where a combination of so many things going on with the economy are really hitting families in every way," she said.
Greene said that the homeless families often include a single parent who lost a job. In other cases, parents have jobs but still can't afford housing. Meantime, funding for housing vouchers has plunged, he said.
"We need more than just what the city can do," Greene said. "We need the state and federal government to look at the housing crisis for families. We need every level of government and the private and nonprofit sector aligning their resources to address this housing crisis."
Milton Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE • January 2009 • Affordable Housing and Community Development
SPECIAL FOCUS: "The Nation's Hardest to House: An Army of Homeless"
One out of four homeless males is a veteran
BY DONNA KIMURA
Paul Livingston was just 18 and fresh out of high school in 1979. He and his older brother applied for the same job. The factory hired his brother, so Livingston joined the Marines. He served for three years. Now 47, he’s made some mistakes and had some hard luck. He was about to be on the streets when he recently got a room at a new development for homeless veterans in Kent, Ohio. The first in his family to enter the military, Livingston has two sons serving in the National Guard, with the youngest recently returning home from Iraq.
Carisa Dogen served in the Army for a year and 26 days. She was supposed to go to Desert Storm but was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and discharged. The former electronic technician was recently sleeping in a park and scavenging for food. The worst days were when it rained, says the 38-year-old. Clean and sober for about three months, she is one of the first residents of a new housing complex for women in Dayton, Ohio.
Jonathan Parker served in the Air Force for four years, working in aircraft maintenance and holding the rank of sergeant. He recently lost his apartment and had run out of options. After being diagnosed as bipolar, the 47-year-old is getting treatment and putting his life back together at a new development for veterans in Bedford, Mass.
Count them among the nation’s army of recently homeless men and women, a population overrepresented by vets. There’s about a one-in-four chance that the homeless man you pass on the street served in the military. Those are striking odds considering that vets make up only about 11 percent of the adult civilian population.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 vets are estimated to be homeless on any given night, and about a million more struggle to pay the rent each month.
In 2005, about 2.3 million veteran renter households had low incomes. An estimated 1.3 million, or about 56 percent of these low-income veteran households, had housing affordability problems, meaning they were paying more than 30 percent of their household income for rent, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
“We’re turning a veteran away every day,” says Matthew Slater, program manager at Freedom House, the 14-bed development where Livingston now resides. The project, which replaced a smaller eight-bed facility, was full two weeks after opening last spring.
In the program’s first three years, Freedom House averaged about 100 phone calls a year from needy veterans, says Slater, noting that there’s only about 150,000 people in Portage County, where Kent is located. In 2008, he was well over that number heading into November.
The vets can stay for up to two years at Freedom House, a program of local nonprofit agency Family and Community Services. The new building was financed with approximately $400,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) grant and per diem program and about $300,000 in money and in-kind donations. Most of the residents are from the Vietnam era, but Slater has begun to see soldiers from the recent battles.
Freedom House is a hybrid of sorts, combining transitional housing elements with those of a shelter. “All of our residents had been in emergency situations,” Slater says. “They were on the streets, couch surfing, or in a shelter.”
There are two case workers—a veterans’ advocate who serves as a link to the community and another who focuses on drug counseling.
“When I got to Freedom House, I was impressed,” says Livingston, explaining that staff members help the residents sort through legal, financial, and other problems while trying to get them into permanent housing.
He was doing roofing and siding work but was involved in a car accident that left him unable to work for a while. As a result, he says he fell behind on his rent. Livingston also admits that his past includes an arrest for assault.
He is hopeful and confident that he will move past these troubles, a sign of the new outlook and support found at Freedom House. As the holidays approached, Livingston had volunteered to pass out food baskets and collect toys for the poor. He was also looking for a permanent job.
The number of veterans on the streets is already high, but there are growing fears it will increase as soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re seeing more of them,” says Michael Blecker, a Vietnam veteran and executive director of Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, one of the nation’s premier organizations providing housing and social services to veterans. The group houses approximately 200 people at a given time in its transitional and permanent housing units, including a handful of formerly homeless Iraq and Afghanistan vets.
It often takes time for issues to surface because when vets return home they are still young and have connections to their communities. According to reports, it took an average of nine years postdeployment for Vietnam vets to fall into homelessness. There’s concern that it’s happening much sooner for the recent vets, says Blecker.
One estimate counts 1,500 homeless vets from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but others say the number may be higher.
There are several reasons why veterans are overrepresented among the homeless. For many, there are health issues, including posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, or substanceabuse problems, says Cheryl Beversdorf, a former Army nurse and president and CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
There are also economic issues. A study prepared for the VA found that 18 percent of “recently separated servicemembers” are unemployed. In comparison, the national jobless rate was 6.5 percent in October 2008. A quarter of the vets that did find work weren’t earning enough to live on, making less than $21,840 a year.
It’s challenging for many vets to find work because the skills they learned in the military fail to transfer into the civilian sector, says Beversdorf. Livingston is a good example. He worked in artillery, a field that doesn’t have much demand outside of the military.
In addition, it may take six months or more for a vet’s benefits to come through. “You still have to eat and sleep somewhere for those six months,” says Beversdorf. Others point out that many veterans come from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds.
There’s also the overall lack of affordable housing. There’s a shortfall of about 6 million affordable units in the country, meaning there are only 38 affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income households.
On the street, the need feels as great as ever. “There’s no decline in demand,” Blecker says. “I think demand is ratcheting up from people barely hanging on.”
In response, Swords to Plowshares has begun plans to develop about 90 more units of housing for vets in San Francisco in cooperation with Chinatown Community Development Center, a local nonprofit organization.
Another issue of growing concern for Swords to Plowshares and other organizations is the number of female veterans in need of assistance. The number of those who are homeless is estimated to be about 7,000.
“Women are being deployed at much higher rates than ever before,” says Blecker. Women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million people on active duty, and women vets are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population. They make up about 7 percent of the total vet population but will comprise an estimated 10 percent by 2020.
An increase in the HUD-VASH program in 2008 is the most notable action on the veterans housing front.
Between 1992 and 1994, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the VA released 1,700 HUD-VASH vouchers, which provided housing assistance modeled after the Sec. 8 voucher program and case management through local VA medical centers. The fiscal year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act allocated $75 million for HUD-VASH vouchers to serve an estimated 10,000 vets.
The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2009 budget requests an additional $75 million for the program.
“I think it’s very significant,” says Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “We’ve seen in the general homeless system that people who have been homeless for a long time get detached from the mainstream. It takes specific and intensive intervention to get them off the street and back into housing with supportive services.”
The HUD-VASH program provides a means to permanent supportive housing. The VA’s other housing efforts have focused on transitional housing.
Deborah DeSantis, president of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, says there’s an opportunity to make a signifi cant impact in the area of housing for veterans. “There’s bipartisan support related to creating housing opportunity for that population,” she says.
Many are eager to see what the new administration will do after Presidentelect Barack Obama pledged a zero-tolerance policy on the issue of homeless veterans. As a senator, he sponsored the Homes for Heroes Act in 2007, which passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. The bill would have established a $200 million assistance program for supportive housing and services for low-income vets.
New moves, old challenges
There’s hope that more housing for vets is on the way as interest in the issue grows and recent legislative moves ease some of the hurdles to developing special-needs housing.
The Local Initiatives Support Corp. and National Equity Fund, Inc. (NEF), have launched a veterans’ housing initiative that provides predevelopment loans and grants as well as technical assistance to support developers of these projects from the early stages of development.
The effort began with the development of St. Leo Residence, a 141-unit project for homeless veterans that opened a few years ago in Chicago. Created by Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp., the $20 million project used about 10 layers of financing, including lowincome housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity from NEF and a VA loan. Several more deals are in the works under the initiative, says Debbie Burkart, national vice president of supportive housing at NEF.
“The goal of this initiative has been to create an environment to help more of these deals move forward,” she says, noting that the effort goes beyond a “tax credit approach.”
Still, LIHTCs are the main tool for producing new affordable housing in the country, and every state has some type of incentive for creating special-needs housing, although not necessarily for veterans, in their tax credit allocation plans.
The combining of tax credits with VA financing has been uncommon, but the door has opened a little more thanks to the recent Housing and Economic Recovery Act, according to Burkart.
Among several modifications to the LIHTC program, the bill clarified that ongoing rent and operating subsidies from a federal source will not cause a reduction in eligible basis. This will benefit projects serving the homeless and special-needs populations that rely on these subsidies.
The legislation also addressed the general public use requirement, clarifying that occupancy preferences and restrictions are permitted to favor tenants with special needs or members of a specifi ed group, as long as it complies with fair housing. This clarification, which applies to both existing and future LIHTC housing, is important because program auditors began to challenge the targeting of units to special groups.
At a time when many LIHTC deals are stalling due to a shortage of tax credit capital in the market, there is concern that supportive-housing deals, such as those targeting veterans, may get passed over for more straightforward affordable housing projects.
“The challenge is that for supportive housing to be successful you need three things,” says Burkart. “You have to have soft debt on the capital side to keep rents low, you need some rent subsidies because the operating expenses are often more than the residents’ ability to pay, and you need social services funding.”
The problem is that project-based Sec. 8 rent subsidies, a common rent subsidy source in supportive housing, are subject to annual appropriations. As a result, some investors have been wary of viewing them as a guaranteed income source even though there have been few problems with Sec. 8 and other rent subsidy programs being reauthorized.
To address any issues with rent subsidies, developers and state housing finance agencies need to be prepared and flexible, according to Burkart. For example, projects should carry sufficient revenue deficit reserves if a contract is canceled or substantially reduced.
Sponsors and state officials should also think about what would happen in a worst-case scenario if there is a change in rent subsidies or other financing, but the project’s regulatory or loan agreements require units to serve homeless or extremely low-income households long term. For instance, in the event Sec. 8 funds are not appropriated for a 15-year contract, one strategy to reduce a potential revenue shortfall may be for tax credit agencies and/or lenders to waive targeting, rent, and extremely lowincome restrictions (but only in the event that Sec. 8 is discontinued through no fault of the property owner and only to the extent possible to maintain the viability of the project). Waiver language would allow some of the apartments in a project to target residents earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) instead of 30 percent of the AMI to maintain project viability through a smaller deficit reserve that does not drain soft financing resources, says Burkart.
On the other side, supportivehousing projects have many attractive qualities, according to Burkart, who has recently closed several such deals. For one, these deals often carry little or no hard debt, which is very appealing to investors. The projects also typically have many public partners and have a strong fundraising support network behind them. In addition, they have little market risk in a softening real estate market because they have rents well below tax credit maximum rents.
Paul Livingston, Jonathan Parker, and Carisa Dogen are the fortunate ones. They have a roof over their heads at either a transitional or permanent supportivehousing development.
“I was going to be homeless,” Livingston says. “I lucked out. The day that I was supposed to be out of my home, Freedom House had a bed open.” It is now up to him to get a job and find a place of his own, so the next soldier can move in.
Parker says the Bedford Veterans Quarters has helped him through depression and alcoholism. “I hope they continue to develop more of these,” he says.
Dogen is thinking about going back to school. “I’m just glad I got a second chance,” she says. “Second chances are hard to come by.”
Veterans at a Glance
• There are between 150,000 and 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night. Approximately 44,000 to 66,000 vets are chronically homeless.
• Vets are overrepresented in the homeless population, making up roughly 26 percent of homeless people, but only 11 percent of the civilian population 18 years and older.
• The Department of Veterans Affairs reported in 2008 that the number of homeless vets dropped 21 percent, from about 195,000 to 154,000. However, advocates point out that the decline is attributable to changes in data collection methods.
• In 2005, an estimated 2.3 million veteran renter households were low-income. More than half of these households had problems affording their rent.
Sources: National Alliance to End Homelessness, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Government Accountability Office.
Air Force veteran Jonathan Parker says he lost his apartment and was out of options before moving into the Bedford Veterans Quarters in Bedford, Mass. Caritas Communities developed the $3.6 million project on the campus of the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital. (Photos by Bruce T. Martin Photography)
Catholic Charities Housing Development Corp. developed St. Leo Residence for Chicago’s homeless veterans in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities)
Paintings provided by The Art Connection, a nonprofit organization, grace the walls of Bedford Veterans Quarters. Resident Jonathan Parker, who was a member of a committee that helped select the pieces, is in front of a painting by Suzanne Hodes. (Photos by Bruce T. Martin Photography)
"Out of Work and Challenged on Benefits, Too: In Record Numbers, Employers Move to Block Unemployment Payouts"
By Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, February 12, 2009; A01
It's hard enough to lose a job. But for a growing proportion of U.S. workers, the troubles really set in when they apply for unemployment benefits.
More than a quarter of people applying for such claims have their rights to the benefit challenged as employers increasingly act to block payouts to former workers.
The proportion of claims disputed by former employers and state agencies has reached record levels in recent years, according to the Labor Department numbers tallied by the Urban Institute.
Under state and federal laws, employees who are fired for misbehavior or quit voluntarily are ineligible for unemployment compensation. When jobless claims are blocked, employers save money because their unemployment insurance rates are based on the amount of the benefits their workers collect.
As unemployment rolls swell in the recession, many workers seem surprised to find their benefits challenged, their former bosses providing testimony against them. On one recent morning in what amounts to one of Maryland's unemployment courts, employees and employers squared off at conference tables to rehash reports of bad customer service, anger management and absenteeism.
"I couldn't believe it," said Kenneth M. Brown, who lost his job as a hotel electrician in October.
He began collecting benefits of $380 a week but then discovered that his former employer, the owners of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, were appealing to block his unemployment benefits. The hotel alleged that he had been fired for being deceptive with a supervisor.
"A big corporation like that. . . . It was hard enough to be terminated," he said. "But for them to try to take away the unemployment benefits -- I just thought that was heartless."
After a Post reporter turned up at the hearing, the hotel's representative withdrew the appeal and declined to comment. A hotel spokesperson later said the company does not comment on legal matters. Brown will continue to collect benefits, which he, his wife and three young children rely on to make monthly mortgage payments on their Upper Marlboro home.
Unemployment compensation programs are administered by the states and funded by payroll taxes that employers pay. In 2007, employers put up about $31.5 billion in such taxes, and those taxes typically rise during and after recessions, as states seek to replenish the funds.
With each successful claim raising a company's costs, many firms resist letting employees collect the benefit if they consider it undeserved.
"In some of these cases, employers feel like there's some matter of principle involved," said Coleman Walsh, chief administrative law judge in Virginia, who has handled many such disputes. But, he said, "nowadays it appears their motivation has more to do with the impact on their unemployment insurance tax rate. Employers by and large are more aware of unemployment as a cost of business."
The cost of unemployment insurance has created an industry of "third-party agents" -- companies that specialize in helping employers deal with the unemployment insurance administration. These firms represent employers in disputes with former employees over jobless benefits.
One of the largest is TALX, a St. Louis company active in the Washington area, which claims more than 8,000 clients.
The company's Web site says that it removes "over $6 billion in unemployment claims liability annually."
Joyce Dear, chief operations officer for tax management services at TALX, said firms such as hers help bring to light the issues surrounding an employee's departure.
"You are limited to what is permissible," she said. "What an employer can do is provide the facts around a separation. The awarding of the benefits is in the hands of the state."
Wayne Vroman, a researcher at the Urban Institute, has documented the rise of challenges to unemployment claims using the Labor Department data. He found that the proportion of claims challenged on the basis of misconduct has more than doubled, to 16 percent, since the late 1980s. Claims disputed on the grounds that the worker simply quit represent about 10 percent of the otherwise eligible applications.
Even as more employers have alleged employee misconduct, their success rate has stayed relatively stable -- they lose on such issues about two-thirds of the time.
"What is clear is that employers have become more willing to contest claims from claimants," Vroman said of the data.
Hearing officers and others in the industry said it isn't clear why the number of challenges to unemployment claims has grown. The labor force has changed over the years, with less of it devoted to manufacturing and more of it from the service sector.
Some suggested the rise in disputed benefits stems from the fact that it is easier today for employers to track claims and try to block those they consider unwarranted.
"Automation has contributed to the ease with which protests from the employer can be filed," said Doug Holmes, president of UWC Strategy, a group that claims large and small employers among its members and represents their interests in unemployment matters.
Others speculated that changes in the law have made it easier for employers to block unemployment claims.
Rick McHugh, a staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project who began handling such cases in the 1970s, said court rulings have slowly enlarged the definition of employee misconduct, making it easier for employers to say they rightfully fired a worker.
"The courts are just not showing as much sympathy for employees who get fired," he said. "There's a higher standard of behavior that is expected of employees."
For example, back in 1941, the Wisconsin Supreme Court considered the case of a cab driver who'd had three accidents in two weeks and also shorted the company on a 40 cent fare, turning in only 25 cents.
The court ruled that the driver was entitled to unemployment benefits because unintentionally careless or shoddy work did not constitute misconduct. It's unlikely, McHugh said, that the case would be determined the same way today.
In many states, hearings are held daily on unemployment claims. The outcome most often turns on whether the former employee was guilty of misconduct.
With employees and employers as adversaries, it's often difficult to determine the facts of a case, and just as difficult at times to separate misconduct from incompetence, which is not a reason to withhold the benefits.
During a day of hearings this week in Wheaton, human resources personnel sat across tables from former employees, and the discussion often turned to written warnings, company handbooks and who-told-what-to-whom.
A former assistant manager at Ri Ra, an Irish Bar in Bethesda, fended off complaints that, among other things, he'd failed to greet guests at the door and one time poured a beer for himself after hours.
A Verizon technician was charged with, in company terms, "detour and frolic."
And a former salesman at Ethan Allen complained that there was no way he could have made his $35,000 sales quota -- and that's why he quit.
"It's almost like a daily soap opera -- but it's real life," veteran hearing examiner Scott Karp said. "In this economic climate, the threshold for what employers consider minimum acceptable behavior has changed. They decide they're not going to put up with it anymore, so they start documenting the employee's behavior and often enough, the issue winds up here."
''It's a catch-22,'' Grace Monteiro, with her son Keegan, said of housing regulations for the city's homeless. Monteiro, 28, has been in and out of shelters and apartments for several years. (John Bohn/Boston Globe Staff)
"Homeless families face strict new rules: Firm standards set for work, behavior; Some say many will be forced into streets"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, February 17, 2009
Less than two years after vowing to end homelessness in Massachusetts, the Patrick administration has proposed new regulations that it acknowledges could force hundreds of homeless families back on the street.
The regulations, scheduled to take effect April 1, would deny shelter to families who in the last three years had been evicted from or had abandoned public or subsidized housing without good cause, and to those who fail to meet a new 30-hour per week work requirement and save 30 percent of their income.
They also would reduce from six months to three months the period families can remain in shelters after their incomes rise above state limits; force out families absent from shelters for at least two consecutive nights as well as those who reject one offer of housing without good reason; and deny benefits for families whose members have outstanding default or arrest warrants as well as those whose only child is between ages 18 and 21, unless the child has a disability or is in high school.
Advocates for the homeless decried the proposal, which comes at a time when more homeless families are seeking beds in state shelters and remaining there longer. This month, the state is providing shelter for a record of nearly 2,700 families - one-quarter of them cramming for weeks at a time in expensive, often unsuitable motel rooms.
"This is not the time to change the safety net," said Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. "The number of people in need of shelter is like nothing we've ever seen. There's never been such a desperate need for housing, and these changes could be devastating. They couldn't come at a worse time."
Julia E. Kehoe, the commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance, which oversees state shelters, said the system is "overburdened" and must change to provide services more equitably.
"It is certainly not our intent to be punitive, and we understand the difficulties families are facing," Kehoe said. "But we are responsible for transforming the system, and particularly at a challenging time, it is absolutely critical that all stake holders need to work together to make sure that families have the greatest chance of moving out of shelter and poverty."
While hundreds of families will likely lose their shelter beds, she said the changes would open space for qualifying families, many of whom the state is now paying an average of $85 a night to stay in motels. Last week, more than 630 families, including about 1,000 children, were staying at motels, waiting an average 22 days for a spot at the state's 59 shelters.
By reducing those eligible for shelter, Kehoe said the new regulations would save the state $520,000 this fiscal year and more than $11 million in fiscal 2010. "Given our limited resources, we wanted to encourage people to find housing or stay where they are, rather than encouraging them to come into the system," she said.
But those who work with the state's neediest residents said the new "harsh restrictions" will only make it harder for the homeless to find a way out of poverty.
They said many of the regulations are open to interpretation and risk being applied unfairly if a shelter director doesn't consider an explanation reasonable. Other regulations, such as the work and income requirements, would replace individual plans with uniform policies that might not take into account a family's unique challenges. And they worried that many of the families' older children - who are eligible to stay in state shelters until age 21 - will end up alone in often more dangerous shelters for individual adults.
Tom Lorello, executive director of Heading Home, which houses about 110 families in shelters and apartments throughout the Boston area, said many of the new regulations "put the blame in the wrong place."
"I don't understand the idea of excluding people in need from shelters," he said. "There has to be flexibility in a system like this. For example, some people can't save their income because they have debts to pay. We shouldn't be putting any unnecessary strains on already strained families."
But Kehoe insisted the regulations will be applied fairly and noted they provide exceptions for families trying to pay down their debt, for those who hold jobs that might make them reluctant to accept a housing opportunity too far away, and for others who can't find affordable housing after their income rises above welfare limits
She and other state officials said the regulations are part of the administration's effort to overhaul the shelter system by more quickly moving the homeless into more permanent housing. In 2007, state officials moved the last homeless family out of a motel and heralded it as part of their new strategy to help all of the state's homeless find permanent housing.
As part of that plan, the state recently merged the welfare agency's emergency shelter programs with housing programs run by the Department of Housing and Community Development and is now planning eight regional networks to better coordinate homeless services and housing.
And this month, the state revised the way it pays shelters, holding back thousands of dollars in payments until homeless families are housed. The state now withholds its final payments for a year after the family leaves the system, as part of an incentive for shelters to extend their services to help keep the families housed.
"We know the severity of the problem, and we're trying to provide a comprehensive approach," said Bob Pulster, executive director of the state's Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.
He and others said they expect to receive millions of dollars from the federal stimulus package, which they hope will ease the state's growing burden.
But they said federal money won't stop the new regulations from taking effect - and the imminent changes have Grace Monteiro worried.
The 28-year-old mother of a toddler has been in and out of shelters and apartments for several years. In the fall of 2007, six months after landing a $15-an-hour job as an administrative assistant, she was forced to move out of a shelter because she exceeded the income requirements, which is now an income of $1,578 a month for a family of two.
So she moved into an expensive studio apartment - she couldn't find affordable housing in time - but she had trouble balancing the rent with her other expenses. Within a few months, Monteiro lost her job and she and her son moved into a state-subsidized motel room and then back into the shelter system.
She says three months isn't long enough for many families to find affordable apartments, which are increasingly scarce. As a result, she thinks the new regulations will just encourage more parents to avoid working.
"It's a catch-22," she said. "I want to get a job, but I'm afraid to get a job. I don't want to repeat what happened last time. Because if I don't have housing after three months, then what? This just makes it harder to do the right thing."
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Advocates decry proposed homeless rules in Massachusetts"
boston.com/news/local/massachusetts, February 17, 2009
BOSTON --Advocates for the poor claim new rules for people seeking state housing assistance could cause more homelessness.
Regulations scheduled to take effect April 1 would deny shelter to families who in the last three years had been evicted from public or subsidized housing, and to those who fail to meet a 30-hour per week work requirement.
The rules would reduce from six months to three months the time families can remain in shelters after income rises above state limits; force out families who reject one offer of housing without good reason; and deny benefits for families whose members have outstanding arrest warrants.
Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, tells The Boston Globe that the changes could be "devastating."
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"More than homes for homeless"
February 19, 2009
THE PATRICK administration's aim to radically alter the state's approach to homelessness is laudable - provided its motivation is to renew lives and not simply to save money. New regulations filed this month could help homeless families prepare for stable lives in permanent housing, or they could drive desperate people further into despair.
The proposed regulations, scheduled to take effect April 1, are part of a strategy to move families more quickly through the shelter system or avoid it altogether. But they also include time limits and punitive measures that could send families back onto the street if they don't comply.
For example, a requirement that families save 30 percent of their income is designed to help them accumulate enough for a security deposit and a month's rent. But the average savings rate for all Americans was less than 1 percent last year. It's unlikely that these families - frequently headed by single mothers with little work history or even a high school diploma - would earn enough to pay for rent, utilities, transportation, and child care all on their own. The state will need to provide rental subsidies and other economic supports, otherwise such fragile arrangements frequently dissolve and the families end up on a relative's couch, living in a car, or back at the shelter door.
The state should work closely with social-service agency staffers whose relationships with local landlords will be invaluable in placing needy families in apartments. And it should be flexible: As with most human-service challenges, one size doesn't fit all.
If the aim is stable, permanent housing, most homeless families need more than just a roof over their heads. A successful policy will include services individually tailored to each family, from adult education and skills training to child care to counseling for domestic violence or other abuse. A 30-hour work requirement as a condition to stay in a shelter seems particularly difficult in the current job market; fortunately, hours spent in school or in job-training programs will count toward the total.
Governor Deval Patrick plans to move all the state's homeless programs out of the welfare department and into the Office of Housing and Community Development. Philosophically this makes sense, but the housing department historically has had little experience serving the homeless population. The merger and new regulations need to be implemented thoughtfully and with individual attention. Why the rush to April 1, 2009?
The idea that homelessness need not be merely managed or accommodated but can be eliminated is a powerful one. But it won't happen overnight, or on the cheap. We hope the complex bureaucracy about to revamp aid to the homeless is ready for the task.
Today, one billion of the world's people live in slums such as Dharavi, in Mumbai, India. (Scott Eells/Bloomberg News)
The Boston Globe: Ideas
"Learning from slums: The world's slums are overcrowded, unhealthy - and increasingly seen as resourceful communities that can offer lessons to modern cities."
By Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, March 1, 2009
NOT EVERYBODY LIKED "Slumdog Millionaire" as much as the Oscar committee did. Aside from slum dwellers offended by the title, some critics lambasted its portrait of life in Dharavi, the biggest slum in Mumbai, as exploitative. A Times of London columnist dubbed it "poverty porn" for inviting viewers to gawk at the squalor and violence of its setting.
But according to a less widely noticed perspective, the problem is not just voyeurism; it's the limited conception of slums, in that movie and in the public mind. No one denies that slums - also known as shantytowns, squatter cities, and informal settlements - have serious problems. They are as a rule overcrowded, unhealthy, and emblems of profound inequality. But among architects, planners, and other thinkers, there is a growing realization that they also possess unique strengths, and may even hold lessons in successful urban development.
The appreciation can come from unlikely quarters: In a recent speech, Prince Charles of England, who founded an organization called the Foundation for the Built Environment, praised Dharavi (which he visited in 2003) for its "underlying, intuitive 'grammar of design' " and "the timeless quality and resilience of vernacular settlements." He predicted that "in a few years' time such communities will be perceived as best equipped to face the challenges that confront us because they have built-in resilience and genuinely durable ways of living."
He echoes development specialists and slum dwellers themselves in arguing that slums have assets along with their obvious shortcomings. Their humming economic activity and proximity to city centers represent big advantages over the subsistence farming that many slum dwellers have fled. Numerous observers have noted the enterprising spirit of these places, evident not only in their countless tiny businesses, but also in the constant upgrading and expansion of homes. Longstanding slum communities tend to be much more tightknit than many prosperous parts of the developed world, where neighbors hardly know one another. Indeed, slums embody many of the principles frequently invoked by urban planners: They are walkable, high-density, and mixed-use, meaning that housing and commerce mingle. Consider too that the buildings are often made of materials that would otherwise be piling up in landfills, and slums are by some measures exceptionally ecologically friendly. Some countries have begun trying to mitigate the problems with slums rather than eliminate the slums themselves. Cable cars are being installed as transit in a few Latin American shantytowns, and some municipal governments have struck arrangements with squatters to connect them with electricity and sanitation services.
And there are thinkers who take the idea a step further, arguing that slums should prompt the rest of us to reconsider our own cities. While the idea of emulating slums may seem absurd, a number of planners and environmentalists say that we would do well to incorporate their promising elements. One architect, Teddy Cruz, has taken the shantytowns of Tijuana as inspiration for his own designs; he is currently working on a development in Hudson, N.Y., that draws on their organically formed density.
"We should not dismiss them because they look ugly, they look messy," says Cruz, a professor at UC San Diego. "They have sophisticated, participatory practices, a light way of occupying the land. Because people are trying to survive, creativity flourishes."
To be sure, there is something unseemly in privileged people rhapsodizing about such places. Prince Charles, for all his praise, does not appear poised to move to a shack in Dharavi. Identifying the positive aspects of poverty risks glorifying it or rationalizing it. Moreover, some of the qualities extolled by analysts are direct results of deprivation. Low resource consumption may be good for the earth, but it is not the residents' choice. Most proponents of this thinking agree that it's crucial to address the conflict between improving standards of living and preserving the benefits of shantytowns.
But given the reality that poverty exists and seems unlikely to disappear soon, squatter cities can also be seen as a remarkably successful response to adversity - more successful, in fact, than the alternatives governments have tried to devise over the years. They also represent the future. An estimated 1 billion people now live in them, a number that is projected to double by 2030. The global urban population recently exceeded the rural for the first time, and the majority of that growth has occurred in slums. According to Stewart Brand, founder of the Long Now Foundation and author of the forthcoming book "Whole Earth Discipline," which covers these issues, "It's a clear-eyed, direct view we're calling for - neither romanticizing squatter cities or regarding them as a pestilence. These things are more solution than problem."
The word "slum" itself is controversial and slippery. In the United States, it is often used to refer simply to marginalized neighborhoods, but in developing countries, it usually means a settlement built in or near a city by the residents themselves, without official authorization or regulation. Housing is typically substandard, and the infrastructure and services range from nonexistent to improvised.
There is nearly as much diversity among informal settlements (a term sometimes used in preference to the more loaded "slum") as in their formal counterparts. They include a wide range of economic levels and precariousness. In Kenya, about a million people live in Kibera, outside the city center of Nairobi. Its huts are built of mud and corrugated metal, trash is everywhere underfoot, and "flying toilets" - plastic bags used for defecation and then tossed - substitute for a sanitation system. In Istanbul, by contrast, where the city government has been more sympathetic, some squatter areas have water piped into every home.
Without some degree of government support, slums tend to be fetid and disease ridden, and until a few decades ago, the most popular approach to solving their problems was to demolish them. In the 1960s and 1970s, Brazil, for example, razed many of its slums, called favelas, and relocated residents to government housing. But since then, a new idea has emerged in development circles: that such settlements are more than eyesores; they are the product of years of residents' labor, and legitimate communities that should be improved rather than erased.
"One of the misconceptions is that they're endless seas of mud huts," says Robert Neuwirth, author of "Shadow Cities: a Billion Squatters, a New Urban World," who spent two years living in squatter communities. "There's a tremendous amount of economic activity - stores, bars, hairdressers, everything."
An early reappraisal came in the book "Freedom to Build: Dweller Control of the Housing Process" (1972), edited by John F. C. Turner and Robert Fichter. Some of the contributors had closely studied squatter communities in the developing world, and the book argued that when people had autonomy over their housing and their environments, the residents and the settlements thrived. The development community began to recognize the drawbacks of evicting people and relocating them, which can be "incredibly traumatic," says Diana Mitlin, senior research associate at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the UK. In 1975, the World Bank officially changed its position to endorse upgrading instead of new site development for squatters.
More recently, shantytowns have been reassessed in light of the growing awareness of the benefits of urbanization. Cities provide myriad economic opportunities that are lacking in the countryside, which is why millions of people stream in every month. They also offer freedom - especially, notes Brand, for women, who find greater access to jobs and education, as well as healthcare. Birthrates tend to fall when families move from villages to cities, not only thanks to family planning services, but also because more children, an asset on the farm, are a burden in the city.
What's more, cities are increasingly seen as good for the planet. Aside from slowing population growth, they're also more efficient in their use of resources, and allow abandoned land in the country to regenerate.
Most of these benefits, of course, would accrue even if migrants were moving to apartments in fashionable districts. But in practice, urbanization means the movement of poor people into slums. And while this reality certainly poses challenges, in the past few years, some analysts have begun to see slums as not simply the only realistic option, but as having certain advantages over formal settlements, especially the government-built high-rise projects where the poor are often housed.
Shantytowns are "pedestrian-friendly. There are small alleyways, the streets are narrow. Children can play in the streets," says Christian Werthmann, a professor of landscape architecture at Harvard. Some frustrating parts of slum life - the close quarters and the need to cooperate with neighbors in endeavors like obtaining services - have an upside: they can contribute to a strong sense of community. And although many shantytowns are dangerous, some actually have very low crime rates. Writing recently in the New York Times, two researchers affiliated with the Indian nonprofit Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research defended the highly developed slum of Dharavi as "perhaps safer than most American cities," protected by the watchful eyes of close-knit neighbors.
There is an ethos of self-reliance in communities independently built and continually rebuilt by their residents. Over the course of years or decades, residents may upgrade from cardboard to corrugated metal to brick, add floors on top of the roof. They are invested in their creations, and typically prefer them to the feasible alternatives. "When people are relocated to places where government thinks they can be housed in a better way, they often move back," says Hank Dittmar, chief executive of Prince Charles's Foundation for the Built Environment. Living in a legal neighborhood would usually mean more money for less space, without the prospect of improving or expanding. And it might entail constraints that don't apply in the slums - for instance, zoning laws about where it's acceptable to operate businesses.
Another major concern of contemporary urban planners is ecological sustainability, and shantytowns get high marks for that, too. Teddy Cruz, who has spent a great deal of time in Tijuana, says, "These slums have been made with the waste of San Diego. . . . Aluminum windows, garage doors. Debris is building these slums."
Still, most shantytowns remain difficult and unhealthy places for people to live and grow up. They are also reviled by their wealthier neighbors, and as cities expand, sometimes they find themselves in the crosshairs of developers eager to build on their prime real estate. Some countries continue to clear slums: In 2005, Zimbabwe perpetrated brutal demolitions, called Operation Drive Out Trash, which left hundreds of thousands of settlers homeless. Dharavi is located in the heart of Mumbai, and plans have been underway to develop high-rises and high-end commercial ventures in that area. Following protests, the plans will now be reviewed by an advisory group that includes some residents.
In a number of countries, government and aid organizations have been working with squatters to retrofit slums. Brazilian favela dwellers, who are voters, have obtained concessions such as hookups to water mains and electricity. Squatters in many cities have established their own activist organizations, which work together under an umbrella group called Shack/Slum Dwellers International. Jockin Arputham, the group's president (and head of India's national slum-dweller organization) recalled in a published interview that years ago he led a large group of children in collecting garbage in their community and depositing it in front of the municipal council's offices. "[W]e showed them the garbage problem in our settlement and began a negotiation," he told the journal Environment & Urbanization. "We said that we would organize the garbage collection if the municipality would provide the truck to collect it regularly." The gambit worked.
There is debate about whether the informality itself is a plus or a minus. Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist, has argued that slum dwellers should be given title deeds for their plots, in order to liberate the "dead capital" they are sitting on - to enable them to get loans from banks. But many analysts are skeptical of this proposal. One problem is that individual property rights could disrupt the stable system of communal control that has evolved in many slums. Another possibility is that residents might quickly sell their new deeds for cash, and thus lose the rights to their longtime homes.
There are also downsides to retrofitting slums. According to Ciro Biderman, a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, upgrading is much more expensive than building a new settlement with infrastructure in place from the outset, and amounts to a subsidy he considers unfair to poor people who do not live in slums. Another concern is that shantytowns are sometimes built on environmentally fragile terrain, such as steep hillsides or wetland areas - in those cases, helping residents stay in place can be both dangerous for the inhabitants and ecologically damaging.
Meanwhile, some observers in the developed world have been asking, what if the laudable aspects of these informal communities could be disentangled from the unfortunate parts? To build housing for low-income people, Cruz has drawn inspiration from Tijuana shantytowns for developments in Southern California, and is currently working on the one in Hudson. It will include communal porches and terraces, and spaces meant to encourage small start-up businesses - for example, providing room to store sewing machines. The intention is to integrate a poorer immigrant population into the area by creating openings for a community to evolve. He calls his vision "club sandwich urbanism - layering. It occurs through time. Our planning institutions never think about time."
Cruz and Neuwirth say we can also learn from the spirit of collaboration in informal settlements, and their ingenuity in the use of space. Their richness suggests to some that the dominant American mode of living, for all its suburban comforts, has come at a price. Municipalities might want to reconsider zoning laws to allow residences to double as businesses, says Cruz: he imagines small enterprises being run out of garages. In Werthmann's view, we might also emulate the low-rise, high-density model, which is conducive to neighborliness and requires no elevators.
On a more basic level, these places can teach us about where, for better or worse, urban life appears to be headed. "Squatters are the world's dominant builders," says Brand. "If you want to understand what's going on in cities, look at squatters."
Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow is a contributing writer for Ideas. She can be reached at email@example.com.
My Daily Work: "Bailout beggar"
Posted by Dan Wasserman, boston.com, March 5, 2009, 4:54 P.M.
Some of Sacramento's homeless have set up this encampment. Last week the city announced that it could clear out the tent city in 14 days, but backed off after the mayor called an emergency summit meeting among city officials and homeless advocates. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
"Many of Sacramento's homeless set up lives in tents"
By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2009
SACRAMENTO - The capital's tent city, sprawling messily on a grassed-over landfill, is home to some 200 men and women with nowhere else to go.
It has been here for more than a year, but in the last three weeks it has been transformed into a vivid symbol of a financial crisis otherwise invisible to many Americans.
The Depression had Hoovervilles. The energy crisis had snaking gas lines. The state's droughts have empty reservoirs and brown lawns. But today's deep recession is about disappearing wealth - painful, yes, but difficult to see.
Then this tattered encampment along the American River showed up on Oprah Winfrey's show, Al-Jazeera, and other news outlets around the world. On Thursday, city officials announced they would shut down the tent city within a month.
"We're finding other places to go," said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The camp is "not safe. It's not humane. But we're not going in with a bulldozer."
On a recent chilly morning in the tent city, traffic whined along the adjacent freeway. Cats criss-crossed the encampment. As the sky slowly brightened, shadowy figures emerged and headed for the bushes along the riverbank. There were no portable toilets. The dumpster was a new arrival.
Jim Gibson walked to a neighboring tent, where two of his friends - an unemployed car salesman married to a onetime truck driver - were brewing coffee on a propane stove.
Gibson looked like anybody's suburban dad, all jeans, polar fleece and sleepy eyes, his neatly trimmed hair covered by a ball cap. Seven months ago, Gibson, 50, a contractor, had a job and an apartment in Sacramento. Today, he struggles to stay clean and fed. A former owner of the American dream, Gibson is living the American nightmare.
"The only work I've found is holding an advertising sign on a street corner," he said.
Survival is the biggest time-filler here. Tents must be shored up against wind and rain. The schedule for meals, clothing giveaways, and shower times at local agencies must be strictly followed.
CeCe Walker, 48, back from coffee, breakfast, and a shower at Maryhouse, a daytime shelter for women, lugged a bag of ice for a half-mile.
"I've never camped in my life," she said, sorting through supplies damp from yesterday's melted ice.
The tent city sprawls along the river in small clusters of "neighborhoods." Walker and her neighbor, Charly Hine, 38, pitched their tents at the distant edge to stay away from noise and trouble.
One neighbor displays an American flag and a goose with the word "welcome" written on its breast. It is a favorite subject, its owner said, of news photographers. Another has a mailbox and a gate. The largest and most raucous neighborhood has some 70 tents pitched closest to the street. Near noon, Tammie and Keith Day were drinking beer around a cold fire pit, worrying about how she would get her diabetes medication and fretting about whether officials would shutter the tent city.
"We're homeless and being evicted?" Tammie fumed. "Now I've heard everything."
Keith has rheumatoid arthritis. Tammie said they both battle mental illness and alcoholism.
One downside to the media attention, Tammie said, was that her family no longer pays for her prescription. They saw the news about the tent city. Her brother was "disgusted." And her mother "doesn't even talk to me now."
Last week, the city of Sacramento announced that it could clear out the tent city in 14 days, but backed off after the mayor called an emergency summit meeting among city officials, homeless advocates, and leaders in the homeless population.
"State revises regulations on homeless: Aim is to keep families from losing shelter"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, March 28, 2009
After an uproar by homeless advocates over proposed regulations that would have forced hundreds of families out of emergency housing and back on the street, state welfare officials yesterday released revised rules that may make it less likely that many of those families will lose their shelter.
But the officials said the regulations, scheduled to take effect Wednesday, will still cut the budget for homeless families by $400,000 this fiscal year and more than $10 million next fiscal year, raising advocates' concerns that many of the families will still be left without shelter.
State officials insisted that the regulation changes are necessary to plug a $3.4 million deficit in the fiscal 2009 budget for homeless families and an otherwise larger deficit next fiscal year.
"While we are required to make difficult decisions to address the deficiency, these changes are sensible and designed to meet these goals," said Julia E. Kehoe, the commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance, which oversees state shelters, in a statement. "It is absolutely critical during such difficult times that everyone involved in the housing and homeless system does business differently."
The cuts come at a time when more homeless families are seeking beds in state shelters and remaining longer. This week, the state is providing shelter for 2,546 families - one-quarter of them cramming for weeks at a time in expensive, small, and unsuitable motel rooms that usually lack kitchens. There are 4,446 children living in state shelters and motels.
Advocates urged the state to use money from the federal stimulus package rather than cut the budget for homeless families. They noted that Massachusetts has received $17 million for families with dependent children for fiscal 2009 and $24 million for next fiscal year, more than enough to cover the deficit.
"We're really grateful that the administration did make significant changes in these rules, but we're still worried that a number of children will still be denied shelter with the remaining rules, especially when there's federal stimulus money available," said Leslie Lawrence, associate director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. "We feel that no child should be left without a safe place to stay while there's federal money available to assure their protection."
Jennifer Kritz, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, declined to respond to questions about why the agency is not using the stimulus money to cover the homeless families.
The proposed regulations released earlier this year would have denied shelter to families who in the past three years had been evicted from or had abandoned public or subsidized housing without good cause, and to those who failed to meet a new 30-hour per week work requirement or save 30 percent of their income.
They also would have reduced from six months to three months the period that families can remain in shelters after their incomes rise above state limits; forced out families absent from shelters for at least two consecutive nights as well as those who rejected one offer of housing without good reason; and denied benefits for families whose members have outstanding default or arrest warrants as well as those whose only child is between ages 18 and 21, unless the child had a disability or was in high school.
Advocates called the rules harsh and argued that it would only make it harder for the homeless to find a way out of poverty.
They also said many of the regulations were open to interpretation, failed to take into account some family's unique circumstances, and risked being applied unfairly if shelter directors didn't consider an explanation reasonable.
To allay those concerns, the welfare agency defined "good cause" for exceptions to why families could decline a housing offer, avoid working 30 hours a week, or skip saving 30 percent of their income. Such exceptions include a job that would make it difficult for them to move to a distant location; medical issues that would prevent them from working, which they redefined as "work-related activities that lead to self sufficiency;" and debts they are repaying instead of saving.
Among the other changes, the agency dropped provisions lowering the age requirements - meaning children 21 and younger will be able to stay with their families - and those that would have reduced the number of months families exceeding income guidelines could stay in shelters. Those with an arrest warrant or default warning will also be given a month to clear their record before being removed from a shelter.
Ruth Bourquin, a lawyer at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said that while she appreciates the changes, she thinks the regulations remain unfair, tilted against the state's most needy.
"Even with these changes, hundreds of additional homeless children will be rendered ineligible for shelter over the coming year," she said. "We think this is unacceptable, because after all, where will the children go?"
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed
"More to homelessness than needing a home"
By Elissa Ely, March 29, 2009
YOU MIGHT think that what homeless men and women need above all else are homes. An expert I know, though, says that there is something they need even more. He says the answer to homelessness is nationalized health insurance.
He is not an economist or an academician. Where he works, there are no endowed chairs. In order to sit in his office, you usually have to move a few garbage bags full of belongings that are waiting, like their owners, for someplace permanent to settle. His limited view overlooks a turnpike. When the office gets hot and he wants to open the window, he reaches above him without turning around, pulls down a pole handle until it cracks a slit overhead, and traffic sounds flow in. Pretty soon the office gets cold and he reaches above him to push the handle up. Then there is silence until it gets hot again.
He is an expert at tidying the chaos that comes from leaving one place for another. People leave for all kinds of reasons. But it is his professional observation that they too frequently leave because they have bad healthcare coverage and believe, or have heard, that there is better coverage somewhere else.
I saw this once in a ridiculous form. I was evaluating someone in the shelter who had moved from the other side of the country. He kept insisting, in a deep voice, that he needed our services in order to complete his treatment. I thought his treatment was for depression. It turned out that his treatment was for gender reassignment; someone had assured him Massachusetts insurance would cover the sex change operation inconsiderately uncovered where he had come from.
My expert has seen this in less ridiculous, more poignant forms; mothers dragging children, children dragging parents, looking for medical opportunity, taking buses across the country with healthcare hopes. Recently he told me of someone he had met. She was an elderly woman who had picked cotton down South since childhood. She lived and raised her own children in huts on various farms, squatting and relocating to follow her profession. But in the places where she squatted, there was family, church, and close community.
With age came medical diminishment. The many decades of stooping caused painful spinal problems. Where she lived, she had no insurance and the quality of public healthcare was poor. Her family encouraged her to come North to Boston, where doctors were famous, hospitals were first-rate, and insurance was easy to get. So she took a bus to South Station.
That was some time ago. She is living in the wet shelter (though she is a sober woman), still in great pain, and without insurance yet.
There is a devout network of health care practitioners for the homeless in the shelter itself, and she has been led to it.
But she is without her family, church, and community. Who brings her around? Who helps her get the pain medications? Who protects her when her back is turned? Who waits with her to feel better? Who knows that she exists? In the South, she was surrounded. She was stooped, but upheld. Here there are clinics and specialists, but she is utterly alone.
My expert shakes his head and reaches above him to shut the window he cracked open a few minutes earlier. He has seen this story many times. He could tell anyone, if they were listening, that there is more to homelessness than needing a home.
Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITOIRAL
"A roof of one's own"
March 29, 2009
A CHRONICALLY homeless woman in her late 50s has emphysema from years of smoking, her condition aggravated by life on the streets or in cramped shelters where respiratory contagions flourish. Several times a year she collapses and needs to be rushed to the emergency room for oxygen, intravenous antibiotics, or other treatments. She costs the state Medicaid program an average of $26,000 a year.
Then a new pilot project finds her a permanent living situation, say, in a staffed group home or one of many single units scattered about the state. Caseworkers or nurses check in on her regularly. Soon, the chaos of homelessness gives way to order, so that she can keep track of her medications and learn how to use an inhaler. She goes a full year without needing a single hospitalization. She is much cheaper for the state to care for and, of course, she is healthier.
This is the life story of a patient of Dr. Jessie Gaeta, physician advocate for the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance. The pilot program, Home and Healthy for Good, is an example of the "housing first" approach to homelessness the state is increasingly embracing. Since it began in late 2006, Home and Healthy for Good has found permanent housing for 357 hard cases, including one man who hadn't had his own place to live for 33 years.
Intuition would suggest that getting chronically homeless people into permanent living quarters will improve their well-being and save money spent on institutional care, whether it be hospitalizations, shelters, detox facilities, or jails. But in tight budget times, intuition isn't good enough. So it's good that Massachusetts has conducted the first statewide review of actual Medicaid claims for real homeless individuals, proving with hard numbers how cost-effective housing-first policies can be.
The state Medicaid office tracked the first 97 participants in the Home and Healthy for Good program - those who had been involved long enough for their Medicaid claim forms to clear. They found a 67 percent reduction in Medicaid costs among the participants: from an average of $2,177 a month to $708. Even factoring in the intensive support services the pilot program provides for each individual, and the cost of housing, their care was still cheaper for the state, by $8,950 per person per year.
Since the program began, 84 percent of the participants have been able to maintain their tenancies, paying the rent on time and being good neighbors, despite often having mental health or substance abuse problems.
"We can't afford not to house this group of people," says Gaeta.
Proponents of the housing-first policy always knew it was compassionate. Now they can prove it's a bargain
"Adams woman on brink of homelessness"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, April 5, 2009
ADAMS — In the mid 1980s, Susan Tessier started living the dream.
She was running her accounting firm out of an office in Lakeville, Conn., just over the border from Berkshire County. She had earned her bachelor's degree in accounting and business administration, and now she was living in a nice apartment and driving a nice car.
"My business was an instant success," she recalled. "I did it right. I had zero debt, A1 credit. It was a pristine little town, and they needed my service. I had my dream."
Today, at 58, Tessier is teetering on the brink of homelessness. She can't pay the full rent for her small Adams apartment because her unemployment check won't cover it.
"I could feel sorry for myself, but this is going on all over," she said. "My story is the story of lots of people."
Hers is a similar story in this economic environment: Berkshire County's jobless rate was 8.6 percent in February. In March, the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 8.5 percent, the highest mark since 1983.
"I know I'll get a job, I always have," Tessier said. "But now I have to worry about where I'm going to live when I'm evicted from here."
So while she navigates through the eviction process, she considers her options and looks for a job, in between dealing with the daunting demands for information from agencies she has turned to for emergency aid.
"Dealing with all the bureaucracies and forms involved in receiving aid and unemployment insurance is so time consuming," Tessier said. "They don't do what they're supposed to do, and it's so punitive. They treat you like a piece of furniture and they can't even acknowledge that it's a real crisis. So while I should be out finding a job, I'm so busy putting out these fires."
Some state officials are aware of the tangled mess one has to deal with in times of desperation.
"One of the most maddening things, especially these days, is that we're constantly told of the lack of resources, and then when people try to access some of those services, they seem to run up against a tangled, and unwieldy bureaucracy," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield. "But some of the bureaucratic inertia has been put in place to make sure the services are only getting to those who need them the most. The key is to find a balance among all of those competing and worthy goals, and it's more critical now than it has ever been before."
While Tessier's downhill slide has been over the past eight years, it took a turn for the worse a couple of years ago when she couldn't afford to get her car repaired to pass its inspection. Then she got a ticket for having an expired inspection sticker, and couldn't afford to pay the fine. So she had to stop driving the car. Because she couldn't get to work, she lost her job.
"It's too bad, because I just needed to work for a couple more weeks to have enough money to fix my car so it would pass inspection," she said.
Once Tessier lost her transportation, she had to find a job on the bus route, which drastically reduced the number of potential employers she could access.
According to Don Atwater, executive director of the Berkshire Community Action Council, Tessier's predicament is not uncommon. Once someone loses their car, it can become a vicious cycle — not having the ability to get a decent job without a car, and not being able to buy a car without having a decent job.
"Transportation in Berkshire County is a big issue with employment — losing a car can be the last trigger," Atwater said.
"The worst thing that can happen to you is to not have a car," Tessier said. "It limits the jobs you can apply for — most of the jobs require that you have your own car. That did me in."
Tessier did find a couple of low-paying jobs, but they didn't work out for various reasons.
Now, because the unemployment pay is calculated by averaging one's income over 26 weeks, and she hadn't been employed through the entire period, her weekly check won't stretch far enough.
And last week, a Berkshire County sheriff showed up at her apartment with eviction papers. She is due to be evicted by mid-April.
Although it is a cold comfort, Tessier knows that if she ends up on the street, she won't be alone.
There are more than 744,000 homeless people on any given night — more than 3.5 million Americans experienced homelessness over the course of the past year, and that is increasing dramatically, said Mike Stoops, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington D.C.
There are more than 7,200 homeless people in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
Officials with the Berkshire Community Action Council couldn't provide figures on the number of homeless people in Berkshire County before press time, but according to state figures, there are 6,842 unemployed people in Berkshire County. In Adams, where the unemployment rate is 11.5 percent, there are 520 unemployed people.
But the official numbers don't accurately reflect the severity of the problem — many homeless people have dropped out of the aid system, and some never entered that system. They live in cars, in tent cities or just ramble through the countryside. Then there are those living day to day in motels, or shack up with friends or family members. They are essentially invisible to aid groups trying to gauge the problem.
"They are still hiding their homelessness, and they're not on street corners yet," Stoops said. "No city in the country can shelter all of its homeless population — the latest study done by HUD shows that 44 percent of the nation's homeless are unsheltered. And we're seeing a spike in the number of so-called tent cities popping up around the country."
In addition there thousands like Tessier, who have passed into the eviction process and are weeks or even days from becoming homeless. As the deadline approaches, they are making calls, sending e-mails, filling out form after form — hoping for an agency to intervene or luck to lead them to a job.
For Tessier, there are few options. She is estranged from her brothers and sisters, and both parents have passed away.
Her dream started to unravel by the late 1990s, when the cost of living in the southern Berkshires had exceeded Tessier's income, and she had to give up her office, and eventually phase out her accounting clientele.
"I couldn't make enough money to live there and I had to get out," she said.
She replaced that income by taking a job as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman, but as the rental rates rose, she had to keep moving further away until she lost that job because the family wanted someone nearby.
Her situation devolved from there. Then she lost her car. Soon she was passing from one low-paying job to the next, and bouncing through a series of substandard apartments, even doing a short stint in a homeless shelter.
She worked at Cumberland Farms in Williamstown, at Goodwill Industries in Pittsfield, as a temp worker at Crane & Co. in North Adams, and at Prime Outlets in Lee, among others.
During the past few years, she has lived in rental units in Williamstown, Adams, North Adams, Great Barrington and Cheshire.
Now she is seeking to delay her eviction, and making calls to homeless shelters. Unfortunately, the shelters won't make room for someone unless they are already out on the street, and there are more in need of shelter than there are beds in the homeless shelters.
"I can tell you the shelters are full. We have a waiting list of people who are close to being homeless and they are looking at their options," Atwater said.
Tessier takes pride in her past achievements — putting herself through school, graduating with honors, paying off her college loans early, and owning a successful accounting firm for nearly two decades.
But today, like tens of thousands around the country, Tessier is packing up her few belongings in preparation for the day she is forced to move out of her home and into an uncertain future.
"Help the many homeless among us"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Monday, April 6, 2009
This is in response to the March 31 Eagle article about the $614K targeted for homeless residences in Berkshire County. This money, which was secured from the federal government, is just a drop in the bucket for what is really needed in Berkshire County. There are more truly homeless people out there than people realize. I am speaking from first hand experience.
I volunteer each Tuesday at the Methodist Church on Fenn Street, helping cooking the Tuesday Night meal for those who need to eat. Over the past weeks, I have noticed a greater of number of people attending them, especially families who are now trying to decide which is more important, food or a place to call home. Needless to say, the way the economy is turning there will be more people living out in the street and taking advantage of these programs that are offered to them.
I hope that this money that was secured will be used truly for the homeless and those who are in need of it, because all of us will see more and more people out in the street if this economy does not take a turn for the better. I hope that this money is used wisely and not foolishly spent on salaries and other things which will not help out at all. There could be a day when yours and my world falls and we too will be depending on some help for us to get back on our two feet with dignity, just like these people want to do.
One suggestion is to establish a real homeless shelter because Pittsfield/Berkshire County can use one. The one on North Street I have been told is more for people who have other issues. So I hope they spend the money correctly and make at least an attempt to help these people.
"Data tie stress of poverty to brain"
By Rob Stein, Washington Post, April 7, 2009
Children raised in poverty suffer many ill effects: They often have health problems and tend to struggle in school, which can create a cycle of poverty across generations.
Now, research is providing what could be clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area - working memory.
"There's been lots of evidence that low-income families are under tremendous amounts of stress, and we know that stress has many implications," said Gary Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who led the research. "What this data raises is the possibility that it's also related to cognitive development."
Previous research into the possible causes of the achievement gap between poor and well-off children has focused on genetic factors that influence intelligence, on environmental exposure to toxins such as lead, and on the idea that disadvantaged children tend to grow up with less intellectual stimulation.
But Evans, who has been gathering detailed data about 195 children from households above and below the poverty line for 14 years, decided to examine whether chronic stress might also be playing a role.
"We know low-socioeconomic-status families are under a lot of stress - all kinds of stress. When you are poor, when it rains it pours. You may have housing problems. You may have more conflict in the family. There's a lot more pressure in paying the bills. You'll probably end up moving more often. There's a lot more demands on low-income families. We know that produces stress in families, including on the children," Evans said.
For the new study, Evans and a colleague rated the level of stress each child experienced using a scale known as "allostatic load." The score was based on the results of tests the children were given when they were ages 9 and 13 to measure their levels of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, as well as their blood pressure and body mass index.
"These are all physiological indicators of stress," said Evans, whose findings were published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
When the researchers analyzed the relationships among how long the children lived in poverty, their allostatic load, and their later working memory, they found a clear relationship: The longer they lived in poverty, the higher their allostatic load and the lower they tended to score on working-memory tests.
"Defense spending is still climbing"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters - Thursday, April 16, 2009
A cartoon on the editorial page April 13 (2009) portrayed the secretary of defense as someone who is slowing down the military industrial complex. In fact there were many news stories in print and audio that hyped up the announcement that certain weapons programs were either going to be cut or reduced. What was barely mentioned or omitted was that the defense budget is still increasing over last year's budget, reaching the $535 billion mark.
This amount is almost as much as the rest of the world spends, and there will probably be supplemental spending as the year progresses. Meanwhile almost 50 million people are without health insurance, 12 million children are homeless, most of our public schools are in need, and to top it off the weapons that our government uses kill uncounted innocent people.
It is time for some reallocation. It is time to manufacture more things which are productive rather than destructive. It is time to talk to people instead of bombing them.
Lori and Nigel Harper, with daughter Tai, in the common room at Evelyn's House, a homeless shelter in Stoughton. (Globe Staff Photo/George Rizer
"More being foreclosed into homelessness"
By Jenifer B. McKim, Boston Globe Staff, April 22, 2009
Derrick Hughes spent so much energy trying to save his Roxbury home from foreclosure that when sheriff's deputies finally evicted him in January he had nowhere to go but his 1998 Chevrolet Blazer.
"I spent the weekend driving around, thinking, 'What am I going to do?' " said Hughes, 56, a UPS driver. "I was running around trying to save the house rather than find a place for me."
Hughes, who lived out of his car for two months, is one of an increasing number of Massachusetts residents plunged into homelessness because of foreclosure, state officials and advocates for the homeless say. The state is housing about 2,650 families in shelters and motels, a 34 percent increase from last year at this time. About 8 percent blame their predicament on foreclosure, according to a recent survey by the state Department of Transitional Assistance. Last year, a smaller state survey found about 3 percent of families attributed their homelessness to foreclosure.
"People, families, and individuals have come back to their apartments and have been shown the door," said John Yazwinski, executive director of Father Bills and Mainspring, a nonprofit in Brockton and Quincy that offers assistance to the homeless. "There are more and more families from the rental market and people who have never experienced homelessness before."
Last year, 12,430 homeowners in the state lost their properties to foreclosure - up 62 percent from 2007 - according to Warren Group, which tracks real estate transactions. About 3,300 foreclosures involved homes with two and three units. As a result, tenants are evicted through no fault of their own, and many can't afford the upfront costs necessary for another apartment. Displaced tenants and homeowners often move in with family and friends, sometimes moving multiple times before going to the state for assistance.
The newly homeless can be invisible - too embarrassed about their predicament to tell even friends or colleagues. A Brockton couple, for instance, said they don't tell most people that they have been homeless since last summer. The couple and their four children returned to their rented apartment from summer vacation last year to find a foreclosure notice on the front door, and were ordered to leave within weeks. They had faithfully paid the $1,250 monthly rent and did not know their landlord was facing foreclosure.
"We had nowhere to go," said Jack, 47, who asked that his last name not be published. "Everything fell apart. Next thing you know, you're on the street."
The family lived on his salary as a roofer before the eviction, but he couldn't keep his business afloat once they moved to the shelter. "We always thought the homeless was a bum on the street," Jack said. "Now it's the average family."
Lori and Nigel Harper, both 46, also never envisioned losing their home or having to live in a shelter with their 16-year-old daughter.
The Harpers bought their three-bedroom Milton home in 2000 for $210,000, attracted by a sunroom, den, and a picturesque backyard with a small stream. But in 2004, Nigel had a stroke and could no longer work as a private shuttle driver, Lori Harper said.
Facing foreclosure, the couple signed their home over to a real estate agent who said they could rent it until they had enough money to buy it back. The couple now believes they were victims of a scam.
The attorney who orchestrated the deal was disbarred in 2007 following allegations he misappropriated funds from other clients.
In 2007, Nigel Harper had another stroke, and the family's financial problems became insurmountable. "We were evicted from the house, and we became homeless," she said.
Last summer, the couple moved into a state-subsidized Cambridge motel, and in December relocated to Evelyn House, a shelter in Stoughton.
"My daughter, she cries when she thinks about the life we had, when she thinks of having her own room and a backyard," Lori Harper said.
Government officials and housing advocates say they are stepping up warnings to homeowners about such scams, helping borrowers modify their mortgages, and notifying tenants in foreclosed buildings about their legal rights to stay.
But such efforts came too late for Hughes, the former Roxbury homeowner.
He bought his three-family house for $495,000 four years ago, expecting to cover the mortgage with his $65,000 salary as a UPS driver and rent from two units. He lost the house because of a tangle over payments with tenants and overwhelming maintenance costs.
Lacking enough money for the first and last months' rent as well as the security deposit most landlords require, he couldn't move directly into an apartment. And because he worried about losing his expensive watch, a laptop computer, and iPod, Hughes was wary of going to a shelter.
So he stocked his Chevy Blazer with blankets and pillows and added a baseball bat for protection, parking on streets in Dorchester and Roxbury at night. He lived out of his car for about two months, sleeping in the back and waking for work to a cellphone alarm. The worst part was having to curtail visits with his 12-year-old daughter, who used to stay at his house every other weekend.
Today, Hughes rents a room from a family friend. He is still working at UPS but is struggling to save money while paying for his room, property storage, and child support.
He even dreams of finding a way to buy back his former home, which is now up for sale. "I want to get settled for me and my daughter," he said. "I can't believe with all the help I had to get into this mess [that] there is no help to get me out of it."
Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at email@example.com.
"Sweeping welfare changes on tap: State report seeks to offer new incentives"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, June 25, 2009
Those who collect welfare have long faced a financial Catch-22: Too often it doesn’t pay to take a job or accumulate assets that can help them stay off public assistance, state officials say.
Those who find work often lose their benefits and can end up earning less than if they did not have a salary. Those able to afford a vehicle or put money in the bank often find that such investments make them ineligible for aid. As a result, welfare recipients who work find themselves in a more tenuous position and too often end up back on the dole.
To end the cycle and increase incentives for welfare recipients to take jobs and save their money, state officials plan to release a report today that recommends sweeping changes in who qualifies for public assistance.
“The overall goal is to help the 43 percent of the state’s population that are asset poor and facing financial and state barriers to achieve economic self sufficiency,’’ said Senator James B. Eldridge, cochairman of the Massachusetts Asset Development Commission, which produced the report. “The commission has put out some common-sense reforms that would eliminate barriers to families moving up the economic ladder.’’
The recommendations, which have been endorsed by key members of the Patrick administration, could cost the state millions of dollars. But Eldridge and others said the more expensive changes will not be introduced until after the state emerges from the recession.
“We all agreed that these recommendations are being made with a long view in mind,’’ said Tina Brooks, undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development. “We see these as small, human responses that could go a long way to saving government money and preserving the dignity of people.’’
The commission makes its recommendations as the state experiences a rise in the number of residents collecting food stamps and other forms of public assistance. Last month, nearly 50,000 families in the state received cash assistance, about an 8 percent increase from 2007, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance.
The recommendations include doubling the asset limit allowed for cash assistance to $5,000. Now, a family that has $2,500 in a bank account or other assets of that amount is ineligible for cash assistance. For an elderly or disabled individual seeking emergency cash assistance, assets now cannot exceed $250.
Why not abolish all limits on assets, as Ohio and Virginia have done? “We thought it would be inappropriate,’’ Eldridge said. “We thought raising the limits would be a good place to begin discussion.’’
The commission has also recommended allowing licensed drivers in a family to own a car, without the vehicles counting against their income limits. Commission members argue that vehicles are vital to enabling welfare recipients to work and that existing limits make too many needy families ineligible for benefits.
Welfare recipients now lose assistance if they own cars with an equity value of more than $5,000. The elderly and disabled who receive emergency assistance lose their benefits if the equity value of their vehicles exceeds $1,500.
The state welfare agency estimated that nearly 90 percent of applicants for public assistance were denied in part because their cars exceeded the income limits. They said it would cost the state about $1.5 million to provide benefits to hundreds of additional families and individuals who would qualify if the recommendations take effect.
But they insisted that the state would ultimately benefit by saving on administrative costs and other expenses.
“I’m not saying we would definitely end up saving more than we spent [as Virginia seems to have], but it’s likely there would be some savings to offset the benefit increases,’’ said Melissa Threadgill, a spokesman for Eldridge. “It’s also important to note that these figures don’t include the number of people who, over time, move off of assistance because they are more financially stable due to the increased savings and car ownership.’’
The commission also recommends allowing welfare recipients to put as much money as they can in so-called 529 college savings plans, without such savings or other educational grants counting against their income limits. Massachusetts is one of only 16 states that count what welfare recipients save for college against their eligibility for aid.
The recommendations would also allow welfare recipients to report monthly income every six months, instead of every month, making it less likely they would lose benefits as a result of short-term jobs.
“The idea of many of the recommendations is to allow low-income and moderate-income residents to get ahead,’’ said Elisabeth Babcock, president of the Crittenton Women’s Union in Boston, who served on the commission. “These recommendations would eliminate obstacles for many families and allow them to maintain that economic security once they’ve obtained it.’’
For Diane Sullivan, 35, a mother of six from Medford, the system needs change. As a former recipient of cash assistance who still receives food stamps and housing assistance, Sullivan said she has seen how the existing system dissuades many people from working.
She speaks from the experience of having her health benefits, child care, and rental assistance ended after she found her first job. “I was tossed off a cliff,’’ she said. “What I realized was that I was worse off than if I didn’t work. What kind of incentive is that?’’
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"How not to help the poor"
June 25, 2009
PEOPLE OFTEN talk about “a culture of poverty’’ as if being mired in dependency and despair is a personal choice. But what if government contributes to that culture with counterproductive rules that keep struggling families down? Today, a special state commission will release a report that identifies bureaucratic barriers to climbing out of poverty - some familiar, some new - and recommends ways to correct them.
The Massachusetts Asset Development Commission spent the past 18 months looking for ways that low-income people can build up financial cushions, becoming less dependent on state assistance and providing a better foundation for their children. “Assets’’ can be something as simple as a used car for getting to work, a savings account, or a less tangible benefit such as an education or vocational skills. They are the keys to financial stability.
Senator Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat and co-chairman of the commission, says that up to 43 percent of the state’s population is considered “asset-poor’’ - they are less than three months away from being unable to maintain their households if they were to lose their job or income. These aren’t just people on welfare; many work in service jobs or as office clerks, but they still need support from programs such as food stamps, subsidized day care, or one of the new state-sponsored health insurance plans to help them keep their heads above water.
Unfortunately, these programs can include perverse disincentives to getting better-paid employment or building assets. For example, a parent cannot keep more than $2,500, own even a clunker car, open a college savings plan for the kids, or keep more than $50 in child support per month and still be eligible for most state assistance. Eldridge has filed legislation to adjust some of those limits upwards.
The commission report identifies a “cliff effect’’ whereby working people reach a wage threshold and are precipitously cut off from benefits. These people are working hard at difficult jobs; they shouldn’t have to choose between reaching for a better life and losing support programs that make working possible.
The current fiscal crisis has removed other pillars of support for low-income residents. A pilot program that matched a working family’s savings in individual development accounts was zeroed out of the new state budget. Many programs that accept applicants if they earn 130 percent of the federal poverty line - just $18,310 for a single mother with two children, unreasonably low for a state like Massachusetts - now cap eligibility at 115 percent.
The state ought to help people climb out of poverty, not keep them cycling through.
"Report: More American Children Living in Poverty, Skipping Meals: Officials Say Statistics Pre-Date Recession, Forecast Worsening Trends"
By Annie Gowen, Washington Post Staff Writer, Friday, July 10, 2009 12:37 PM
A growing number of American children are living in poverty and with unemployed parents, and are facing the threat of hunger, according to a new federal report released today.
According to "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being," 18 percent of all children 17 and under were living in poverty in 2007, up from 17 percent in 2006. The percentage of children who had at least one parent working full time was 77 percent in 2007, down from 78 percent in 2006. And those living in households with extremely low "food security" -- where parents described children as being hungry or having skipped a meal or gone without eating for an entire day -- increased from 0.6 percent in 2006 to 0.9 percent in 2007, the report said.
Federal officials said the statistics released this week pre-date the current economic downturn and forecast darker times for the country's 74 million children 17 and under, when data on children's lives during the recession become available.
"It foreshadows greater changes we'll see when we look at these figures next year," said Duane Alexander, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Heath, one of the government agencies that participated in the study.
The report is an annual compilation of statistics on child welfare from several government agencies, including the U.S. Census. It tracks trends in family life, health care, safety and education.
Drawing on previously released census data, the report painted a picture of a young population that is holding steady as a proportion of the population at about 24 percent, a percentage that is not expected to change through 2021. But the report also showed racial and ethnic backgrounds and living circumstances are undergoing dramatic shifts. The percentage of children who are Hispanic, for example, has increased faster than it has for any other racial or ethnic group, from 9 percent of the population in 1980 to 22 percent in 2008.
Forty percent of all children were born to unmarried women in 2007, up from 34 percent in 2002, according to the report, which reiterated a federal study of birth certificates released earlier this year.
Experts say that trend has resulted from the lessening stigma of unwed motherhood, an increase in the number of couples who delay or forgo marriage and growing numbers of women who want to have babies on their own. At the same time, the teen pregnancy rate ticked up slightly for the second year in a row to 22.2 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17, after years of decline.
Alexander said that there were some bright spots in this year's report, beginning with the fact that 89 percent of children had health insurance in 2007, up from 88 percent in 2006.
Experts are hoping that a very slight decline in the number infants born preterm or with low birth weights after years of steady increases also could be the beginning of a trend, although the decreases were minuscule. Preterm births made up 12.7 percent of the total, down from 12.8 percent in 2006, and the proportion of low-birth-weight infants was 8.2 percent, down from 8.3 percent in 2006.
"The exciting thing is that in almost two decades, this is the first chance we've seen of a possible turnaround," Alexander said. "We'll watch it and hopefully the downward trend will continue." Alexander said that a trend, if it continued, probably could be explained by better prenatal care and new hormone therapies.
This year's report also included a look at children with special health-care needs, an estimated 14 percent of all children. The most commonly reported conditions included allergies, asthma, attention deficit disorder, depression and migraines or headaches, according to the report.
"New England States Receiving More Than $16M For Homelessness - New Hampshire To Receive More Than $4.6 Million In Stimulus Funds"
WMUR.com - July 10, 2009
CONCORD, N.H. -- Northern New England states are receiving a total of more than $16 million in federal stimulus money to fight homelessness.
The money will be used for rent relief, housing relocation and stabilization services, data collection and administrative costs.
Maine's state program will receive nearly $6.6 million. Cumberland County is receiving more than $605,000 and Portland is getting more than $876,000.
In New Hampshire, the state is getting more than $4.6 million and Manchester is receiving more than $766,000.
Vermont's state program is receiving nearly $3.4 million.
"Web site provides resource for NH's homeless"
AP, July 17, 2009
CONCORD, N.H. --A new Web site is serving as a one-stop resource for services for New Hampshire's homeless.
The Web site is a collaborative project of the state Department of Education, Homeless Education Program, Rochester School District and the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness. Homeless individuals, families and youth and use it to find services and information throughout the state by entering their zip code or town name.
Services include education, health care, emergency shelter, food, welfare and legal assistance.
The link to the site is: www.home4hope.com
"The homeless and their otherness"
The Boston Globe, Letters, August 12, 2009
IT’S HARD to find fault with John Frame (“In their shoes: To better understand the plight of the homeless, Harvard student takes to the streets,’’ Metro, Aug. 9) for trying to understand the marginalized and excluded from our culture and economy, such as the homeless.
Unfortunately, these temporary immersions, however well intended, create and perpetuate a kind of anthropological bubble around the homeless. Their problems are exotic, or different. Their needs seem like those of a person, or culture, the rest of us are not a part of.
People are on the street for a variety of reasons, but nearly all of them revolve around the fact that our society and economy are not organized around helping people meet basic human needs, such as housing and health (including mental) challenges. Focusing on the otherness of the homeless, as if they lived on a different planet, distracts from directing time, energy, and public resources to providing the poor and excluded with the means necessary to become full beneficiaries and participants in our society and economy.
First Church Shelter
Lawanda Madden jokes with nieces Armani and Elija Madden in a room she sleeps in, in Pontiac, Mich. She is staying at a friend's half-finished home. (By Madalyn Ruggiero For The Washington Post)
"Downturn Brings A New Face to Homelessness: Charities See More Women, Families"
By Alexi Mostrous, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, August 15, 2009
PONTIAC, Mich. -- The lowest point in Lawanda Madden's life came in February, when she woke up on the floor of her friend's run-down house in this city battered by recession. She was shivering with cold. She remembers turning to her 8-year-old son, Jovon, and thinking: "How did this happen to us? How did we become homeless?"
Only 15 months before, Madden, 39, had a $35,000-a-year job, a two-bedroom apartment and a car. She was far from rich, but she could treat Jovon to the movies. She occasionally visited her sister in Chicago and bowled in a local league. She dreamed of going to law school. Then she was laid off and lost everything.
"I've had a job since I was 19," she recalled. "I never imagined I would be without a home. You think it's going to get better -- that it's just temporary -- and then six months goes by, and you wonder, 'Wait a minute -- this might be it.' "
With neat hair and clean clothes, a college education and stable job history, Madden represents the new face of American homelessness.
Across the country, community housing networks, charities and emergency shelters are seeing a flood of people like her -- mothers driven out of their homes by the economic collapse. Even as the economy shows signs of improving, the number of homeless families keeps going up. In more and more cases, these people have never been homeless before.
More than half a million family members used an emergency shelter or transitional housing between Oct. 1, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2008, the latest figures available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The number of homeless families rose 9 percent, and in rural and suburban areas by 56 percent. Women make up 81 percent of adults in homeless families, and tend to be younger than 30 with children younger than 5.
In some areas of the country, family homelessness has almost tripled since 2007, new figures obtained by The Washington Post show. Formerly prosperous areas such as Bergen County, N.J., and Hillsboro, Ore., have been particularly affected, with increases of 161 percent and 194 percent, respectively. Oakland County, where Madden lives, has experienced a 111 percent jump in the number of families seeking shelter or emergency housing since 2007.
"And it's going to get worse," said Marc Craig, president of the Community Housing Network in Oakland County. "Thousands of people here will lose their unemployment benefit in the next few months. Many of them will become homeless."
The Obama administration announced last month a $1.5 billion package focused on tackling first-time and family homelessness. The funding, which lasts for three years, represents a change from President George W. Bush's approach, which limited most HUD funding to the chronically homeless with substance-abuse or mental-health problems.
"There's been a funding gap for a long time," Craig said. "It's good there's been a change in approach, but the new money is just a Band-Aid. It's got to continue."
The shift is also evidenced in the District, where the number of homeless families is listed as 703, a 20 percent increase over last year. But these figures -- like the HUD statistics -- heavily underestimate the number of homeless families, experts say, as they do not count those who cram themselves and their children into friends' houses, "couch surf," or sleep four to a bed in cheap motel rooms built for single occupancy.
"Families, especially, are likely to explore every option before they stay in a shelter," said Jill Shoemaker, who collects homelessness data for the Community Housing Network in Oakland County. "We just have no way of counting them at the moment."
Madden stays day-to-day at the half-finished home of friend Frankie Johnson in a dilapidated suburb of Pontiac. Layers of drywall are stacked on the floor next to giant bales of insulation. There are holes in the wall, and the one bathroom that works leaks. More pressingly, the three-bedroom house is also occupied by Johnson and seven children.
"It's tight," Madden said stoically, sitting on the bare bed she shares with her son. "But at least it's not winter anymore. When we moved in, in February, we didn't have a bed. For a week, there was no heating. The gas people hadn't turned up. Even with jackets, coats and two pairs of socks on, the cold was indescribable."
In a city with unemployment at almost 20 percent, it is perhaps unsurprising that Madden is still without work, 20 months after being laid off from a laboratory testing firm where she worked as a biller. From earning a middle-class wage, she now survives on $118 a week in child support.
"Whenever I see a job come up I apply, but I don't get replies," she said. "I go to the job center three or four times a week." Madden also enrolled in a No Worker Left Behind program, under which she hopes to complete her bachelor's degree in criminal justice. "But a degree is no good if you can't get a job," she said.
And with no job, "there's no mortgage, no savings -- definitely no house."
In Royal Oak, Mich., Kevin Roach is a front-line witness to this paradigm shift. "We've seen a dramatic increase in women and children seeking help," said Roach, executive director of South Oakland Shelter, which provides 30 beds to homeless people in Oakland County. In October, he turned away 770 people, more than half of them from families. "We turned down 320 children. That's a number that's burned in my head."
Even a year ago, Roach said, he would have described a "prototypical" homeless person as middle-aged, male, with mental-health or drug issues. "But in the last months, we've had a teacher and a banker in our program," he said. "A third of our clients once had a steady income." Two months ago, he added, the number of clients with bachelor's degrees overtook those with mental-health problems.
Roach's clients are sheltered by a rotating list of churches and community groups that take them in for a week each. Last week it was the turn of First Baptist Church of Detroit. Over a plate of lasagna cooked by church volunteers, a mother of two, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told a familiar story. "I moved into my mother's after I was evicted," she said. "But we argued. I think she expected Molly the Maid service. Sometimes you want someone else to load the dishwasher, you know?"
That night, the church's volunteers give the sheltered women makeovers, using make-up scrounged from local stores. "It's amazing how much our guests have changed," said Myrtice Batty, a college professor who has been involved in the church's shelter program for 15 years. "When I first started, there were many more men. Now families are about 50 percent."
The new wave of HUD funding will benefit groups such as South Oakland Shelter, which has just secured a $300,000 grant to provide rental and utility assistance to struggling families. Roach hopes that a concerted outreach effort will reach women like Veronica, 47, a former Ford worker who lives with her 11-year-old son in a tiny motel room near Royal Oak. She declined to give her full name in an interview.
"I remember in June 2008, Ford called a meeting for me and 20 other employees," she explained. "They got us all up and said, 'This is your last day.' I was like 'Whoa.' I knew straight away I couldn't cover $650 a month. We left quietly as we didn't want to be evicted -- you're already embarrassed enough."
After moving between friends and family five times in less than a year, and applying unsuccessfully for 65 jobs, Veronica moved into a $110-a-week motel; her son sleeps on an air mattress at the foot of her bed. "There are so many moments where I don't feel like getting up and putting on clothes, but you do, for him," she said, nodding at John, who wants to be a chemist when he grows up. "And he supports me, too. Sometimes he tells me, 'Don't doubt, believe.' We support each other."
There are thousands of children like John in Oakland County. "This year, the number of students we served was up by a third," said Susan Benson, director of the Oakland Schools Homeless Student Education Program, which advocates for homeless children. Benson estimates the number of homeless students in the county at 4,000 to 10,000. "The average age of a homeless person in Oakland County is just under 9," she said. "Most are doubled up, living with friends, hours away from their schools."
Back on North Johnson Road in Pontiac, Madden finds it difficult to adjust. She used the last of her unemployment benefit to buy a $2,000 car in January -- allowing her to take Jovon to baseball practice and herself to the job center. The car uses up $60 a week in gas, but still providing activities for her son is a priority.
"Entertainment doesn't happen too often," she said. "In 2007, I couldn't buy Jovon Christmas presents. Sometimes I take him to his grandma's because I find it hard to feed him. I want to keep him here, but it's more stable there. Sometimes he screams, 'Don't leave!' "
Her family is facing eviction, but Charity Crowell, 9, and her younger brother are enrolled in elementary school in Asheville, N.C.
Charity Crowell said that in the turmoil of homelessness last spring, she had trouble sleeping, nodded off in class and saw her grades slip.
Katrina Crowell and her children, Charity Crowell and Elijah Carrington, who were homeless for part of the last school year.
Photo Gallery: Students & Homelessness
"Surge in Homeless Pupils Strains Schools"
By ERIK ECKHOLM, The New York Times (Online), September 6, 2009
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — In the small trailer her family rented over the summer, 9-year-old Charity Crowell picked out the green and purple outfit she would wear on the first day of school. She vowed to try harder and bring her grades back up from the C’s she got last spring — a dismal semester when her parents lost their jobs and car and the family was evicted and migrated through friends’ houses and a motel.
Charity is one child in a national surge of homeless schoolchildren that is driven by relentless unemployment and foreclosures. The rise, to more than one million students without stable housing by last spring, has tested budget-battered school districts as they try to carry out their responsibilities — and the federal mandate — to salvage education for children whose lives are filled with insecurity and turmoil.
The instability can be ruinous to schooling, educators say, adding multiple moves and lost class time to the inherent distress of homelessness. And so in accord with federal law, the Buncombe County district, where Charity attends, provides special bus service to shelters, motels, doubled-up houses, trailer parks and RV campgrounds to help children stay in their familiar schools as the families move about.
Still, Charity said of her last semester, “I couldn’t go to sleep, I was worried about all the stuff,” and she often nodded off in class.
Charity and her brother, Elijah Carrington, 6, were among 239 children from homeless families in her district as of last June, an increase of 80 percent over the year before, with indications this semester that as many or more will be enrolled in the months ahead.
While current national data are not available, the number of schoolchildren in homeless families appears to have risen by 75 percent to 100 percent in many districts over the last two years, according to Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, an advocacy group.
There were 679,000 homeless students reported in 2006-7, a total that surpassed one million by last spring, Ms. Duffield said.
With schools just returning to session, initial reports point to further rises. In San Antonio, for example, the district has enrolled 1,000 homeless students in the first two weeks of school, twice as many as at the same point last year.
“It’s hard enough going to school and growing up, but these kids also have to worry where they’ll be staying that night and whether they’ll eat,” said Bill Murdock, chief executive of Eblen-Kimmel Charities, a private group in Asheville that helps needy families with anything from food baskets and money for utility bills to toiletries and a prom dress.
“We see 8-year-olds telling Mom not to worry, don’t cry,” Mr. Murdock said.
Since 2001, federal law has required every district to appoint a liaison to the homeless, charged with identifying and aiding families who meet a broad definition of homelessness — doubling up in the homes of relatives or friends or sleeping in motels or RV campgrounds as well as living in cars, shelters or on the streets. A small minority of districts, including Buncombe County, have used federal grants or local money to make the position full time.
The law lays out rights for homeless children, including immediate school placement without proof of residence and a right to stay in the same school as the family is displaced. Providing transportation to the original school is an expensive logistical challenge in a huge district like Buncombe County, covering 700 square miles.
While the law’s goals are widely praised, school superintendents lament that Congress has provided little money, adding to the fiscal woes of districts. “The protections are important, but Congress has passed the cost to state and local taxpayers,” said Bruce Hunter, associate director of the American Association of School Administrators.
Fairfax County, Va., where the number of homeless students climbed from 1,100 in June 2007 to 1,800 last spring, has three social workers dedicated to the homeless and is using a temporary stimulus grant to assign a full-time transportation coordinator to commandeer buses, issue gas cards and sometimes call taxis to get the children to their original schools.
Like Fairfax County, the Asheville area looks prosperous, drawing tourists and retirees, but manicured lawns, million-dollar homes and golf courses mask the struggles of many adults working at low-paying jobs in sales and food service.
Emily Walters, the liaison to the homeless for the Buncombe County schools, is busy as school begins, providing backpacks and other supplies and signing children up for free breakfasts and lunches. But her job continues through the school year as other families lose their footing and those who had concealed their status, because of the stigma or because they were not aware of the benefits, join the list.
Sometimes it includes driving families in crisis to look at prospective shelters — a temporary solution at best, Ms. Walters said. When the county receives a two-year stimulus grant next month, she said, she hopes there will be more money to help people avoid eviction or pay security deposits for new rentals.
The evening before school began, Ms. Walters drove 45 minutes to an RV campground to deliver a scientific calculator and other essential school supplies to Cody Curry, 14, who lives with his mother, Dawn, and his brother, Zack, 11, in a camper. Mrs. Curry had to downsize from a trailer, she said, when her work as a sales clerk was cut to two days a week.
The first day of school, Ms. Walters drove to a men’s rescue shelter in the city to take Nate Fountain, 18, to high school. Nate said his parents kicked him out of the house last spring, during his senior year, because he was not doing his school work and was drinking and using drugs. With Ms. Walters’s help, he said, he expects to finish high school this semester and study culinary arts at a community college.
“I spend a lot of time just making sure the kids stay in school,” Ms. Walters said.
The busing service was especially valued by Leslie Laws, who was laid off from her job in customer service last year and lost her rental apartment.
Ms. Laws and her 12-year-old son are staying in a women’s shelter in Asheville, far from his former school. He is deeply involved with activities like chorus. Now he must catch the bus at 6:05 a.m. and ride one and a half hours each way.
Educators and advocates for the homeless across the country said that in the current recession, the law had made a difference, minimizing destructive gaps in schooling and linking schools with social welfare agencies.
Charity Crowell, despite her vow to bring up her grades, may be in store for another rough semester. Her stepfather works long hours delivering food on commission, but business is poor. Her mother, Katrina, wants to look for a job, but that is difficult without a car.
Food stamps help, but by the second half of each month the family is mostly eating “Beanee Weenees and noodles,” Ms. Crowell said. As school resumed in late August, the family was facing eviction from the $475-a-month trailer and uncertain about what to do next.
Homeless student web-site:
September 10, 2009
The annual report released by the Census Bureau documented a rise in the nation’s poverty rate & a decline in employer-provided health insurance and in coverage for adults for 2008. To make matters worse, 2009 has registered far higher unemployment than in 2008. Unemployment has climbed so much more sharply in 2009 — averaging 9 percent, compared with an average of 5.8 percent in 2008.
“This is the largest decline in the first year of a recession we’ve seen since the Census Bureau started collecting data after World War II,” said Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard University, referring to household incomes. “We’ve seen a lost decade for the typical American family.”
Continuing an eight-year trend, the number of people with private or employer-sponsored insurance declined, while the number of people relying on government insurance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the children’s insurance program and military insurance rose.
The share of adults aged 18 to 64 without health insurance rose, to 20.3 percent in 2008 from 19.6 percent in 2007.
Source: "Poverty Rate Rose in 2008, Census Finds" (The New York Times (Online), By ERIK ECKHOLM, September 10, 2009): www.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/us/11poverty.html?hpw
Maria R. Scibelli, owner of Alta Moda Hair and Nail Salon in Springfield, left, and her hair stylists groom guests at the 2009 Project Homeless Connect at the MassMutual Center in Springfield Tuesday. Getting a styling in the foreground is Maria Jimenez. Stylist Rachel M. Newton gives a hair cut and beard trim to Jose R. Rodriguez at right. The 3rd annual event brought businesses as well as city and private service agencies together to provide a day of help for area homeless. (Photo by Michael S. Gordon)
"Volunteers gather in Springfield to offer all kinds of services to homeless people"
By Peter Goonan, The (Springfield) Republican (Online), September 29, 2009
SPRINGFIELD – They came with backpacks and with children in strollers, glad to receive assistance and services ranging from health-care information and medical screenings to haircuts and massages.
The third annual Project Homeless Connect was conducted at the MassMutual Center on Tuesday, drawing dozens of organizations and hundreds of volunteers to help homeless and low-income families and individuals with an assortment of services and programs.
More than 1,000 people were expected to visit the one-stop center during the six-hour event, as compared to about 600 visitors last year.
“It speaks to me about the number of people in crisis,” said Geraldine McCafferty, the city’s acting housing director. “It’s a lot of people hurt by the economy, and this is a place for them to get assistance. The number says to me how valuable this is.”
There was an added focus on helping families this year, given a significant rise in homelessness among families, McCafferty said.
In addition, the city, aided by private contributions and a multitude of agencies, had a wide range of assistance for the unemployed ranging from referrals to job training centers to assistance with resume writing, aided by agencies such as FutureWorks and the Lighthouse.
“I’m happy. I’m very excited,” said Stacey R. Williamson of Springfield, who was with her 2-year-old son John Jr., in a stroller, and her husband. “It’s very helpful. I’m not homeless. I was homeless for 10 years.”
Williamson said she learned that she can receive child-care assistance from Square One, the agency formerly known as the Springfield Day Nursery, and also was able to get a birth certificate for her son, and some advice on rental and utility vouchers.
Some of the most popular programs included housing assistance, employment, identification and birth certificates, health services and haircuts, McCafferty said. There was also vision tests, influenza shots, food and clothing, legal assistance, and mental health care.
The event is sponsored by the city, assisted by private contributions and volunteers.
Glenn Harden, of Springfield, who has worked jobs ranging from truck driver to laborer, said it was great to get help from the Lighthouse, which took information from him on his background, including his employment history, and transformed it into a ready-to-go resume for his job search. He has been unemployed over a year.
The assistance being offered was “beautiful,” he said.
Ann Leavenworth stopped by to drop off a microwave and toaster from Holy Family Church; someone in need asked for and took the toaster immediately, she said.
“I think this is a wonderful thing,” Leavenworth said.
Cindy Caraballo, of Springfield, accompanied by three young children, said she was happy to receive housing information, identification and clothing. Many people lose their identification from being transient, posing a great barrier to assistance, McCafferty said.
NEWS VIDEO: Addressing homelessness in Springfield, Massachusetts
"Food pantries see dramatic rise"
By David Pepose, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle, &, The North Adams Transcript, 2/4/2010
A report released Wednesday reveals that visits to Western Massachusetts food pantries are up 22 percent since 2006.
According to a study from Feeding America and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, 91,000 people across the region received food from emergency sites each year. Of those, more than a third are children and elderly.
"We are seeing more and more people struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities like rent, utilities or health care," said the Food Bank's executive director, Andrew Morehouse, in a written statement.
The findings are a sign of the economy, say those in charge of local food pantries.
Valerie Schwarz, executive director of the Berkshire Food Project in Lanesborough, said there's been more than 50 new visitors just in the last month.
"People are scared," she said. "They're scared they're going to lose their homes, everything they've worked hard to build their lives with, and sometimes they can't even afford food."
Lt. Cynthia Crowson of the Salvation Army in North Adams said the stigma associated with food pantries has been overwhelming -- particularly for one-time donors who now need to use the food pantry's services themselves.
"We've heard many people say, 'I feel guilty because I may not need this as much as others,'" Crowson said. "Our answer is, this is an emergency food pantry, and if you're in an emergency, we're here, and when you get back on your feet, then you can think about donating again."
Ellen Richardson, business manager for the Christian Center in Pittsfield, said more people have come to the group's doors than ever before in its 118-year history.
"I think everybody is depressed about things and the econony, particularly this segment of the population, where things have never really been great for these people," Richardson said. "But what we see when we come here -- we're very compassionate, and we consider everyone who comes here family.
Schwarz said funding sources have been a critical obstacle for many groups.
"People predict that 2010 is going to be harder, so we're looking at it optimistically," she said. "We're holding our own right now, but if we don't receive the same funding [as last year], it will be difficult for us."
"More Homeless Americans Living in Cars and Campers"
By Kevin O'leary, Los Angeles, TIME, February 13, 2010
Tim Barker never thought he'd have to live in his truck. Four months ago, the plumber was in a one-bedroom apartment in California's San Fernando Valley, with a pool and a Jacuzzi. Then, on his birthday in October, he and 199 other plumbers were laid off by their union, Local 761 in Burbank. Now Barker's son sleeps on the sofa of his cousin's one-bedroom Hollywood apartment, and Barker sleeps on the roof of the apartment building - or in his 2003 Ford Ranger pickup. "I'm 47, and I've never lived in my car," says Barker, a husky 220-lb. single father with sandy hair and a rapid-fire voice. In January, as torrential rains pelted the streets of Southern California, father and son were sleeping in the truck in San Pedro, next to the Los Angeles Harbor. "We were able to spend four nights in the Vagabond Motel, but for two nights we slept in the car," says Barker. "It was raining, cold, and the cat was jumping on us. We both got sick."
For people who cannot afford rent, a car is the last rung of dignity and sanity above the despair of the streets. A home on wheels is a classic American affair, from the wagon train to the RV. Now, for some formerly upwardly mobile Americans, the economic storm has turned the backseat or the rear of the van into the bedroom. "We found six people sleeping in their cars on an overnight police ride-along in December," says John Edmund, chief of staff to Long Beach councilman Dee Andrews. "One was a widow living in a four-door sedan. She and her husband had been Air Force veterans. She did not know about the agencies that could help her. I had tears in my eyes afterwards."
"Cars are the new homeless shelters," says Joel John Roberts, CEO of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) Partners, the largest provider of services for the homeless in Los Angeles County, which had nearly 50,000 people homeless in 2009. Of these, experts estimate that up to 10% live in vehicles - even though doing so is illegal in most of the county. A similar situation is true for many other regions across the nation, especially in the Sun Belt. A woman lives in her BMW in Marina Del Rey, a swank L.A. address on the coast. PATH outreach workers Jorge Guzman and Tomasz Babiszkiewicz say she was an executive recruiter until the Great Recession. "She was self-employed for 36 years," says Guzman. "Now she sits in the car with a blanket and reads. She has not told her daughter."
Barker, the out-of-work plumber, has checked out shelters, motels and homeless-assistance programs throughout the Los Angeles area as he scrambles to find a roof for his son and him to sleep under. "We went down to a shelter in downtown, but it was bad - heroin, crack, smells. Randy looked at me and said, 'Dad, get me out of here. It's spooky.' Now I am trying to get assistance to get into an apartment in San Pedro so Randy can get back in school." PATH outreach workers are talking to Barker about his possible eligibility for federal assistance with rent and utilities under the new federal homelessness-prevention program.
One problem Barker has discovered with living in a pickup truck is keeping track of things. "My cousin is our ace in the hole," Barker says as he stands in a crowded one-bedroom apartment that has seen better days. On his cousin's cluttered coffee table sits a worn yellow briefcase covered with union stickers; it's stuffed with unemployment forms, birth certificates, old utility bills and school application papers for Randy, a skinny 12-year-old who loves basketball.
People who fall into homelessness say it feels like a spiral. A layoff, a medical emergency or a domestic quarrel sets off a chain reaction of bad luck. And the risk of falling into the economic abyss has increased, even in better times. Writing before the housing bubble burst and Wall Street collapsed, Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker showed that the big difference between 30 years ago and today is the dramatic growth in income volatility. American family incomes now rise and fall much more sharply from year to year, and this is happening at the same time that public and private safety nets have eroded.
Some of the floating economic refugees, especially those from the middle and working classes, "do not think of themselves as homeless," says Susan Price, director of homeless services in Long Beach. "They think, 'I'm not that. I am just living in my car.' " In fact, living in your car counts as being homeless, according to the Federal Government. Peggy, 58, who lives in a small RV on a quiet Hollywood side street, says, "If I had known how hard it is to be homeless and how hard it is to escape, I would have called all my friends to ask for help. But I was embarrassed." She was laid off from her telemarketing job in January 2009. "It was the same day that 76,000 people were laid off. I did not feel alone. I liked my job. It was within walking distance of my apartment." Her mother gave her the nearly 20-year-old RV that houses Peggy and her dog Fluffy. Wearing tennis shoes and a leather jacket, Peggy says she misses her apartment but enjoys still being in the neighborhood. "I sweep the sidewalk and pick up the trash," she says. "There is a real sense of community here."
"I know I am homeless," says Agnes Cooper, 58, who parks her silver 2006 Chevy HHR hatchback at a local gym in Phoenix. "If [the managers of the gym] know, they haven't said, and I have not asked permission. When I first slept in my car, I was parking at a Burger King, but the young kids made fun of me, and I am not accustomed to children being disrespectful." Cooper says her passenger seat folds down flat and she sleeps well. She works out and showers every morning and says the gym is "the best thing that ever happened to my body." A series of physical ailments to her back, legs and wrists caused her to stop working as a registered nurse; that, coupled with the death of her husband, forced her from her apartment.
Cooper says she faces a choice. She receives $909 a month in Social Security. After her bills, she has $289 left, plus the $100 she now pays for storage. She could spend that money to move into subsidized housing, but if she did, then she would be nearly broke: little money for food, no money to give at Sunday services, no money to buy her grandchildren gifts and no money to give to others in need - things she does on a regular basis. Now that her health has improved and her back is stronger, she hopes she can go back to work, at least part time.
Cooper's situation will be stable until she loses her car. Price says, "When people can no longer can afford to register their car and the police tow it, then people are on the street. That is the last rung. The towing and impounding charges are steep, and frequently people lose everything." Rudy Salinas, who directs the PATH outreach team in Los Angeles, says, "Allowing people to park on the street is a short-term solution. It is great for tonight, but not for next year."
"It's no fun living in your car," says Mike, a lighting specialist in the Los Angeles entertainment industry who has been out of work for a year. One of his last jobs was the Academy Awards show. "I don't have a job right now, in part because of my situation. Did you know that 50% of people who are homeless and living in their cars have jobs?" He keeps his vehicle registration current and parks his van on side streets on L.A.'s west side and in the San Fernando Valley. "You want to park where it is safe and inconspicuous. Not a busy street where someone might plow into you, and not a place where the bums will bother you," Mike says. "If the police hassle you, they'll impound your car and you'll lose everything. I don't want to find out."
(See more about the homeless.)
(See how the new federal homelessness-prevention program works.)
"Another face of the U.S. recession: homeless children"
By Tom Brown | Reuters – December 24, 2011
MIAMI (Reuters) - As her mother sat in a homeless shelter in downtown Miami, talking about her economic struggles and loss of faith in the U.S. political system, 3-year-old Aeisha Touray blurted out what sounded like a new slogan for the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.
"How dare you!" the girl said abruptly as she nudged a toy car across a conference room table at the Chapman Partnership shelter in Miami's tough and predominantly black Overtown neighborhood.
There was no telling what Aeisha was thinking as her 32-year-old mother, Nairkahe Touray, spoke of how she burned through her savings and wound up living in a car with five of her eight children earlier this year.
But how dare you indeed? How does anyone explain to kids like Aeisha and countless others how they wound up homeless in the world's richest nation?
In a report issued earlier this month, the National Center on Family Homelessness, based in Needham, Massachusetts, said 1.6 million children were living on the streets of the United States last year or in shelters, motels and doubled-up with other families.
That marked a 38 percent jump in child homelessness since 2007 and Ellen Bassuk, the center's president, attributes the increase to fallout from the U.S. recession and a surge in the number of extremely poor households headed by women.
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau provided a sobering backdrop. Based on new or experimental methodology aimed at providing a fuller picture of poverty, the data showed that about 48 percent of Americans are living in poverty or on low incomes.
Under the bureau's so-called Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2010, issued last month, the poverty level for a family of four was set at income anywhere below $24,343 per year.
"I see it every day," said Alfredo Brown, 73, a retired army officer and deputy director of the non-profit Chapman Partnership, when asked about child homelessness.
The organization, funded largely by a 1 percent food and beverage tax on larger restaurants to bankroll homeless programs, operates two sprawling homeless shelters in Miami-Dade County.
"I see so many children and mothers that are homeless and sleeping in their car or an abandoned building, an old bus. It's a sad situation that we live in a country that has so much and many people have so little," Brown said.
Child homelessness is a relatively new social problem in the United States, where being on the street and the stigma attached to it has long been associated with adults with alcohol or drug dependency issues.
Families accounted for less than 1 percent of the U.S. homeless population in the mid-1980s, according to Bassuk, but they now comprise about a third of the homeless population. A lot of children are dependent on poverty-stricken single moms.
"There's sort of a Third World emerging right in our backyard. You know, we talk about developing countries but look at what's going on here," Bassuk said.
To put a face to the breadth and depth of the homeless problem, a team of Reuters journalists fanned out across the country in the past week, for interviews with parents and children who are down on their luck.
From Skid Row in Los Angeles to the South Bronx in New York, a common thread of economic devastation from the recession ran throughout many of the stories these people told.
But there also was a common thread of hope running through their compressed life stories.
Little Aeisha in Miami got visibly upset as her mother spoke tearfully about the wear and tear on her children amid her struggles with a bad economy, severe depression, diabetes and chronic foot problems stemming from torn ligaments.
Touray sounded like an Occupy Wall Street protester herself, as she complained about bailout money for banks but not people. "You get treated like an animal because you're homeless," said Touray, who said she lives on just $583 a month in child support after going through a divorce last year. Her parents, who live separately in Atlanta and Chicago, are also homeless.
"Just because I'm homeless it doesn't mean that I was like nothing yesterday," said Touray, who said four small businesses she owned in Atlanta only went bust due to the recession.
She also complained about the tone-deafness of many politicians, saying they were doing nothing to ease the unemployment and inequality that have come to dominate the national conversation.
"I'm living the real deal," Touray said. "I don't need for somebody to come up here and tell me what the economy's doing. They (the politicians) need to get out here and see these children, see these parents."
RIDING THE RAILS
Across the country in Los Angeles, Reuters came across Luis Martinez, 34. A single parent, he lives with his three children at the Union Rescue Mission on a trash-strewn city block where homeless men and women stand vigil over plastic shopping carts.
But the shelter is an improvement over the time when Martinez passed nights on the L.A. subway with his children, riding the rails to nowhere.
A junior high school dropout who became unemployed after he injured his back on construction site job about six years ago, Martinez spoke proudly about how well he said his kids were doing in school.
They have a laptop computer, which they use to help do homework through free wireless connections at McDonalds and Starbucks. They also have an Xbox video game system and Martinez, who wears a necklace that says "My Kids First," has a cell phone to stay in touch with family and potential employers.
"I mean, I'm homeless but not hopeless," Martinez said.
"(It) gets easier as you go," said Jesse, Martinez's 8-year-old son.
Highlighting the shrinking middle class in America, a reporter found Tracy and Elizabeth Burger and their 8-year-old son, Dylan. The Burgers said they once earned nearly $100,000 a year combined but saw their middle-class lifestyle evaporate when Tracy lost his job in audiovisual system sales.
Unable to pay rent, they were evicted from their apartment in early 2009 and had to move into a motel. In March they moved into a cramped converted garage at Elizabeth's mother's house in Los Angeles.
Elizabeth, a former medical assistant, said she has less than six weeks left on her unemployment insurance and was anxiously watching this week's standoff in Congress over extending those payments, along with the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.
The congressional debate highlighted the partisan bickering that has made this a tumultuous year in U.S. politics, while throwing Washington's ability to make sound economic policy into doubt.
In central Florida, Justin Santiago, 15, said he was not surprised when he, his parents and three younger siblings landed in a downtown Orlando shelter last September.
Since the national economic collapse in 2008, his out-of-work family bounced from one relative's home to another, and left California in search of employment and stability.
"I wasn't shocked. When the economy's going down and it just drops, it's out of control," Justin said.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
In 16 years of marriage, his parents, Theresa and Timothy Santiago, managed to provide for their family by working multiple jobs, earning about $20,000 in their best year. But work dried up and the family set out for Florida last spring in search of cheaper living expenses.
After a run of more bad luck, they found their way to the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida shelter. But Justin is taking eighth grade honors classes now and says his family's recent experience will not keep him from pursuing his dream career in video game production and becoming an Internet success story.
"It will get better for me and my family," he said. "I'll be making billions, I know that."
Antonio Dixon, 26, knows all about things getting better. His mother, Corenthia, said he bounced between at least a dozen homeless shelters growing up in Miami and Atlanta.
He eventually won a football scholarship at the University of Miami and fought dyslexia to become the first person in his family to graduate college.
"They had me study hard every hour," Dixon told Reuters.
He has since gone on to play defensive tackle for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, making good on his boyhood dream.
Dixon has been sidelined by a torn tricep since early October. But he seems confident about overcoming adversity yet again and plans on being in the starting lineup next season.
His advice to homeless kids is to stay in school and get focused on whatever it is they really want to do in life.
"Just keep on doing something you like and don't give up," Dixon said. I had to work myself up from the bottom to the top. I did that. Don't let nobody stand in your way. You just got to go and get it. You can't be afraid to take a chance on life."
Bassuk, a psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, said medical problems and under-achievement in school were among the things that often go hand in hand with childhood homelessness.
"These are kids who don't have any opportunities," she said. "If you look at some of the educational variables, they're doing really poorly. And they're kids who can do OK. They just don't have appropriate support.
"It just seems that on every front this is a very vulnerable group of kids," she said.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Tim Gaynor, James Kelleher, David Bailey, Michelle Nichols, Kelli Dugan and Barbara Liston; Editing by Bill Trott)
"Working together to achieve zero veteran homelessness"
By Mary Tamposi, NH Union Leader, July 2, 2015
Five years ago, the federal government set an aggressive goal to end homelessness among our nation’s veterans by the end of 2015.
Many were pessimistic and continue to be so, but in the face of such skepticism communities throughout the country remain focused and determined to meet this milestone, even with the increased challenges of those returning home from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is incomprehensible that our men and women who served our country are returning home without a safe, secure place to call their own. Veteran homelessness can never be considered an acceptable norm.
What communities have been able to achieve in the war against veteran homelessness, in partnership with state and local governments, the business community, area nonprofits and the private sector is inspirational. Between the 2010 rollout of “Opening Doors, ” the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end veteran homelessness, and the January 2014 nationwide, Point-In-Time count of the homeless, those experiencing veteran homelessness has been dramatically reduced by one-third.
This is a testament to what we can do in our communities, and collectively as a nation, when we set our sights high, invest the necessary resources, and join forces to reach our goals.
With only months left to go, cities are working diligently to “effectively end” veteran homelessness as defined by a set of nationally established criteria from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
In collaboration with the local VA, elected officials, and federal, state, and local agencies, indicators reveal that the Greater Nashua area will soon realize this goal as well.
This progress is driven by adhering to the “Housing First” model, a federally endorsed methodology designed to remove all barriers to housing that encompasses outreach to homeless individuals and families, rapid placement in permanent housing, and immediate access to supportive services.
By moving our most susceptible community members off the streets, out of shelters and temporary quick-fixes that merely “band aid” the symptoms but do little to mitigate the overall problem, and place them in permanent housing, they can then channel their energies toward recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, obtain employment, secure health care, and seek treatment and coping skills for mental and physical disabilities.
Studies have shown that this approach is the most successful and the most economical way to break the cycle of homelessness and improve a person’s chance of maintaining independence.
The Partnership for Successful Living, a collaboration made up of six independent nonprofits, of which Harbor Homes (Veterans FIRST) is a member, is a unique and comprehensive union of agencies that provides access to housing, education, employment and supportive services to homeless and at-risk veterans as well as non-veterans and their families.
During the last 10 years, Harbor Homes has become the largest provider of homeless veteran housing and supportive services in the state. Operating veteran facilities throughout New Hampshire, with concentrations in Nashua, Manchester, and Claremont, and remaining in close collaboration with the VA as well as state and local agencies, Harbor Homes has systems in place to enable quick identification and immediate attention to our veterans in crisis, and refer them to housing and the services they need to stay housed.
The Greater Nashua area anticipates to soon be able to announce that it has achieved a “functional zero” status. This doesn’t mean it, as a community, will be able to entirely prevent veteran homelessness from ever surfacing again, but it will allow Harbor Homes to continue to closely monitor and rapidly meet the requirements of our homeless and at-risk veterans and their families.
The private sector plays a very important role in assuring that every veteran in need is identified and assisted.
If you are a veteran struggling with homelessness, or know of a veteran from anywhere in New Hampshire, contact Kathryn Byrne, a Veterans FIRST Program Manager at 882-3616, email email@example.com, or call the homeless assistance line at 1-800-844-9911.
Veterans are urged to visit Harbor Homes, at 45 High St., Nashua; its Veterans Service Center, an all-encompassing, one-stop shop, central access to representatives from the VA, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), Substance Abuse Mental Health Services (SAMSHA); and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) for employment assistance.
Together, we can reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness for those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom — and can do it by the end of 2015.
Mary Tamposi is director of communications at Harbor Homes.
"In homelessness fight, study finds Section 8 pays off"
By Katie Johnston, Boston Globe Staff, July 9, 2015
Section 8 , the oft-maligned housing subsidy program, is more effective at lifting families out of homelessness than temporary assistance programs that carry roughly the same or higher costs, according to a study.
The study, conducted for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, showed the permanent vouchers were more likely than crisis intervention programs to provide stable housing and allow children to stay in the same schools. The four-decade-old program also led to reduced substance abuse, domestic violence, and hunger compared with families who remained in shelters, researchers said.
“Housing subsidies not only cure homelessness but also have radiating impacts on other aspects of family well-being, with comparable costs,” said Marybeth Shinn, a Vanderbilt University professor and one of the lead researchers for the study, which was released this week. “I was surprised by the wide-ranging impact.”
Section 8, with a $19.3 billion annual price tag, has been criticized as a long-term, no-strings-attached handout for low-income residents. The HUD study shows that people who participate in the program, in which recipients pay 30 percent of their income in rent, are less likely to work.
The program lost 67,000 vouchers during federal sequestration cuts in 2013. While funding has increased since then, it has not recovered enough to replace all the lost vouchers.
The HUD study, the first of its kind, involved 2,282 homeless families in 12 cities, including Boston, who were randomly assigned to one of four types of intervention: permanent housing subsidies such as vouchers; 18-month rental assistance known as rapid-rehousing, combined with services to help find housing; two-year transitional housing in agency-run facilities, with support services; and shelters and other forms of assistance they accessed on their own.
It covered a 20-month period, and it is unclear whether the costs of various housing options would continue to be comparable over a longer time span. The study will ultimately run three years, with final results to be released in 2017.
Permanent subsidies may be the best way to solve homelessness, but they are not easy to come by. More than 2 million households nationwide use “housing choice” vouchers that give tenants the freedom to live where they choose, including 79,000 in Massachusetts, according to the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, and demand far exceeds supply. In the Boston area, 6,000 Section 8 vouchers are in circulation, with 30,000 families on a waiting list. Average wait time: 10 years.
Homeless families are often moved to the top of the list, but this causes some people to move into shelters in order to qualify, housing advocates say.
There are no work or education requirements tied to vouchers, and no time limits. And when a family’s income goes up, the subsidy goes down, which can discourage people from finding a job. Indeed, the HUD study found that permanent subsidies led to reduced employment, compared with the other interventions.
Some agencies are working to address this. At HAPHousing in Springfield, one of the first sites nationwide where Section 8 was tested, people whose subsidy is decreasing as their income goes up can enroll in a five-year program that deposits an amount equal to the lost subsidy into an escrow account for the voucher holder.
“We have seen checks as large as $20,000 accumulate over a five-year period,” said HAPHousing’s chief executive, Peter Gagliardi. “Folks who participate in something like this are much more likely to move up and out than somebody who’s content to continue with the status quo.”
Another chief complaint about Section 8 is its expense. Voucher costs average $1,162 a month per family, according to the HUD report, and can continue for years. The short-term rapid re-housing option was the least expensive option, averaging $878 a month per family, while transitional housing cost $2,706, and emergency shelter was $4,819.
Still, vouchers have a number of advantages over other housing assistance, advocates say. Many are mobile, meaning a recipient isn’t forced to live in a public housing complex or other high-poverty community. Vouchers also address the fundamental problem of housing, and this stability gives families a better ability to keep their children in school and look for work.
“Now you have a situation where things can take root,” said Thomas Bledsoe, executive director of the Housing Partnership Network, a Boston-based collaborative of housing and community development nonprofits across the country. “If you’re trying to educate a kid that’s bouncing all around, its impossible.”
Temporary assistance, on the other hand, forces people to find a way to double or triple their income levels within a year or two before they are cut off. Especially in an area such as Boston with high housing costs, this isn’t a reasonable expectation, said Chris Norris, executive director of the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, which administers federal and state housing vouchers.
“Here, take the money, and at end of a year, you have to be able to pay market rent,” Norris said. “Most of us didn’t become self-sufficient in a year.”
Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Here’s How Much Money You Need To Afford Rent In Every State"
For people earning the minimum wage, the answer is “way more than you make.”
By Kate Abbey-Lambertz, National Reporter, The Huffington Post, 5/28/2016
Housing costs are out of whack with incomes across the country, making the task of finding an affordable place to live a real struggle, even for many full-time workers.
A report titled “Out of Reach,” out this week from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, highlights the mismatch between wages and housing costs at the state, county and metro levels. The results are consistently dire: in no locality in the country can people who earn the federal minimum wage afford the typical two-bedroom apartment.
The NLIHC determined how much a person working full-time would need to make to comfortably afford fair market rent. They call that the housing wage, or the hourly wage needed so only 30 percent of a person’s income goes toward rent. Households spending more are considered “cost-burdened” — and the extra expense means they cut spending on food, health care and retirement savings.
Nationwide, the housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment is $20.30 hourly (or $42,240 annually). That means someone earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 would have to work 112 hours a week to afford the typical rent.
“If this worker slept for eight hours per night, he or she would have no remaining time during the week for anything other than working and sleeping,” the report notes.
Here’s how much a worker would need to earn to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment in each state:
The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “Out of Reach” report, released May 25, highlights the gap between rental costs and earnings around the country.
The “Out of Reach” report determined rent prices in each location using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates of the fair market rent (including utilities) in each area for rental units. HUD uses two-bedroom units for its standard estimates because they are most common and most reliable to survey, the report states.
The housing wage required to afford a two-bedroom rental is over $30 an hour in the most expensive metro areas. Half of the top ten are in California, where a growing housing crisis has contributed to skyrocketing rents.
CREDIT: NATIONAL LOW INCOME HOUSING COALITION
Half of the most expensive metropolitan areas to rent in are in California. HMFA is short for HUD Metro Fair Market Rent (FMR) Area, and MSA stands for Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The San Francisco metro area’s extreme housing costs seem slightly more reasonable, considering typical renters there make far more than the national average.
But in neighboring Oakland, there’s a much wider gap. To afford the fair market rate of $2,100 for a two-bedroom apartment, a person would need to make over $84,000 per year, more than double the actual income of the average Oakland renter. And that still might not be enough — professionals like teachers and firefighters are being priced out of the city, and officials have considered ways to help fund more housing for families making around $100,000.
Renting has increased dramatically in the last decade, with nine million more new renter households today than in 2005. But supply, as well as government spending on affordable housing, hasn’t kept up, resulting in rising rents and extra strain for low-income families.
“Between 2003 and 2013, the number of low cost units renting for less than $400 increased by 10 percent, but the number of renter households in need of these units increased by 40 percent,” the report states. The authors say the new data underscores the need to both raise the minimum wage and increase federal funding for affordable housing.
Housing is a basic need the government should invest in, HUD Secretary Julián Castro wrote in an introduction to the NLIHC report.
“Our nation can’t fulfill any of our major goals — whether it’s tackling inequality, improving healthcare, keeping neighborhoods safe, or making sure every child gets a good education — unless we also focus on housing,” Castro said.
Kate Abbey-Lambertz covers sustainable cities, housing and inequality. email@example.com
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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