EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


February 23, 2014

Hotels for the homeless called a 'quagmire'

State planning $91M expansion of temporary housing program


In 2013, the bill came to $48.1 million. And temporary provisions, now in the works, will result in a projected higher cost of $100 a day.

Still, housing officials say current conditions for homeless families are simply not acceptable, at any price.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration once championed the “housing first” strategy of placing homeless families in permanent homes as fast as possible. Now it’s planning a $91 million expansion of the state’s shelter system of temporary housing.

Aaron Gornstein, the state official in charge of housing, said he still wants to meet the goal, first articulated two years ago, to move families out of hotels by the end of June. But now it seems the administration is sending something of a mixed message, as Patrick’s proposed budget allocates $12.3 million for the ongoing use of temporary lodging for the fiscal year that begins in July.

“We’re re-sizing our shelter system to accommodate more families so we don’t have to place them in motels,” Gornstein said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to meet our goal, and we’ll be able to have the families out of hotels. If we need to maintain the hotel program because there’s still a need for emergency shelter, we will do so.”

Some hotel stays last years

It is “theoretically possible” that families moved from hotels will stay in shelters for years, Gornstein acknowledged, since the wait for affordable or subsidized housing can now be as long as a decade. The state gives homeless families in shelters expedited status, he said. That can reduce their wait to about two years, but means others on the list wait longer. As an example of the demand, Gornstein said 95,000 families are on the waiting list for one type of subsidized housing, “section 8.”

“There is an important issue of how do we balance our housing policy to make sure that those who have been waiting also have a chance,” he said.

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