Editorial: Network's solutions to homelessness bearing fruit

  • Craig's Place homeless shelter in Amherst plans earlier dinner time by using portable trailers. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/7/2016 1:15:22 PM

When the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness called a meeting to report on its progress, it seemed likely good news was in the offing. And sure enough, the four-county collaboration was able to say Friday it is making headway on ambitious goals it set last June.

Those goals aren’t in some far-off, fuzzy future. The network, led by Pamela Schwartz of Northampton, is trying to end veteran homelessness this year. It wants to eradicate chronic homelessness in western Massachusetts a year later and put a halt to family and youth homelessness by 2020.

How is it doing? The numbers laid out Friday, in a event attended by 130 people at Holyoke Community College, were encouraging:

• A 27 percent drop since June in the numbers of veterans on the streets or in emergency shelters. The network and its many allies found permanent housing for 357 homeless or at-risk veterans, established a system to connect vets to services and found landlords willing to rent to vets. On the horizon: 106 new units of housing with built-in supports for veterans.

• Since last year, the network has found permanent housing for 108 chronically homeless people. Eleven families found homes, capping a staggering 30 years for these people of going without reliable shelter of their own. And around the edges, the network worked with hospital emergency departments, police and human services staff to get help to people on the streets.

• In one of its most impressive achievements, the network said it saw a drop in the number of families living in motels — from 284 to 49. More than a third of all families in the region seeking shelter were able to find their own housing through new resources — a key one being a state program known as HomeBASE assistance. In all, 647 families moved into permanent housing.

It wasn’t just numbers talking Friday. Three formerly homeless people — Jerome Douchette of Easthampton, Gloria Torres of Holyoke and Michael LaMothe of Westfield — explained how they overcame their housing problems by tapping into the resources that lie at the heart of the network’s operating manual.

A simple concept guides all this. The solution to homelessness is housing. Yes, that sounds obvious, but for years, governments and social-service agencies offered help around the margins that failed to get people without shelter what they need: Housing first.

That’s the strategy set out by the national Opening Doors Plan developed by the U.S. Interagency Council on Ending Homelessness. For more information on the network, visit westernmasshousingfirst.org.

To be sure, people in hard times will always find themselves homeless. The goal, says Schwarz, is to make this “rare, brief and non-recurring.”

Chrystal Kornegay, the undersecretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said Friday that the progress described Friday owes to “exceptional work of our local partners in western Massachusetts.”

A fact sheet handed out Friday had to narrow the margins to fit all the names of mission partners in one massive paragraph. The effort has enlisted hundreds of people in dozens of public and private groups up and down the Valley and west into the Berkshires. They are working to disprove the notion that homelessness is just a fact of life for people who stumble or suffer one kind of misfortune or another.

Their radical idea is that homelessness can be conquered. They are well on their way to showing that homelessness isn’t a sad and intractable problem. It is sad, but it can be solved.

To help the network get the rest of the way, the Legislature needs to fund the basic tools that crisis workers use to help families find shelter. The network’s requests are smart and reasonable. Area lawmakers — many of whom came Friday to applaud the progress — must help make sure the state’s next budget gives the network what it needs.


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