Activists seek to extend June 15 eviction moratorium

  • Clockwise from top left: Pamela Schwartz of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, Keleigh Pereira of Community Action Pioneer Valley, Earl Miller of the state Department of Mental Health, state Rep. Bud Williams, Rose Webster-Smith of Springfield No One Leaves, and Keith Fairey of Way Finders. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2021 9:18:04 PM

Political activists and government officials advocated for extending the state’s moratorium on eviction in an online meeting Friday morning.

The group was organized by the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness and included activists and organizers in the western Massachusetts region, as well as state lawmakers and government officials.

The key issue, which was emphasized several times by Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homeless, is the June 15 date when Massachusetts’ state of emergency is set to expire, and that the moratorium on evictions would end with it.

But the group also spoke about rethinking the issue of homelessness more broadly than only extending the legal policies of the pandemic.

“We saw what was possible when we made the change in the pandemic,” Schwartz said. “We saw what was possible in that eviction moratorium. We saw what was possible when we shut down the economy to save lives.”

In data from January 2021, 2,673 people were homeless in the western Massachusetts region, said Keleigh Pereira, director of Community Action Pioneer Valley’s Three County Continuum of Care program. But, she added, the number of individuals who are homeless over the course of a whole year would be higher.

She also highlighted racial aspects of the homelessness issue. About 20% of people in the homeless population are Black, and about 53% are Hispanic, while in the general population those two groups are only 7% and 17%, respectively, she said.

“I know that I’ve shared a hard picture. That was my job today,” Pereira said.

The pandemic promoted more forceful policies around homelessness. Not only were evictions legally suspended, but the number of beds available in homeless shelters in the four counties of western Massachusetts increased from 273 before the pandemic to 792, according to Alvina Brevard, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s Division of Housing Stabilization.

The group advocated extending the policies of the pandemic beyond the June 15 expiration of the state of emergency, especially the eviction moratorium.

“We must do something about that,” said state Rep. Bud Williams, D-Springfield. “We see the statistics. We have a lot of work to do.”

The group also suggested that this may be an occasion to think more about a long-term solution to homelessness.

Earl Miller, director of recovery in the state Department of Mental Health, shared that he was homeless for a period around the time of the 2008 recession.

“What I saw was a country and a state that was willing to keep businesses afloat, but couldn’t find a way to help me get my next meal,” Miller said. “For a lot of folks who are homeless, what they have seen this year is that we can solve homelessness. We did.”

“The bottom line is,” Schwartz said, “we have to stop this.”

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