EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


February 23, 2014

Hotels for the homeless called a 'quagmire'

State planning $91M expansion of temporary housing program

Michelle Espada says she has gained 70 pounds since she moved into the Bedford Plaza Hotel.

“Eating microwaveable food. I can’t walk much anymore.” (crying) “It makes me cry sometimes because it feels like you’re drowning, all the time.”

The mother of two young boys, Espada couldn’t afford rent. She’s been on waiting lists for affordable housing for four years.

“Nothing’s changed. I’m still pending.”

Sixteen months ago Espada’s family became homeless, and she applied to the state for help. But Massachusetts has no room left for homeless families — the state’s 2,000 shelters filled up during the recession, as parents who lost their jobs, got foreclosed on, got sick, or just couldn’t earn enough, became homeless, along with their children.

“Beggars can’t be choosers and we’re going to take the help that the government can offer us, but it’s not ideal,” Espada said.

The Espada family, reduced to a refugee-like existence, is but one of nearly 2,000 families now caught in a bureaucratic morass marked by uncertainty and contradiction. Publicly, officials pronounce policies and promises, but advocates for the homeless worry that the state’s plans may not accommodate the growing ranks of those in need of shelter, or that the plans might suffer inordinate delays.

The state’s temporary fix was to contract out with hotels like the Bedford, while seeking a more permanent solution. But now the towns whose hotels have served as way stations for the homeless are pressuring the state to reform the program, leaving the families with even greater uncertainty.

In the Merrimack Valley, hotels contracted to house homeless families are located in Chelmsford , Haverhill , Methuen and Tewksbury. The state does not identify the establishments to protect the privacy of the families.

The number of homeless families temporarily housed in motels during the past year has risen from 1,400 to the current 2,065. The cost of putting a roof over the heads of each family: $82 a day.

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