EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

February 25, 2014

Editorial: Homeless problem needs a more permanent solution

Massachusetts is spending an enormous amount of money housing the homeless in hotels and motels across the state. It is an impractical and inefficient attempt to solve the homelessness crisis, one the sluggish state bureaucracy has made little effort to improve.

Rupa Shenoy of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting looked at the problem. Her story was published in the Sunday Eagle-Tribune.

The housing crisis has been building for years now, during the recent recession and jobless recovery. The state’s 2,000 shelters quickly filled up as families lost their jobs, were evicted from apartments or foreclosed out of their homes.

The state’s solution has been to contract with hotels and motels to provide temporary shelter for these homeless families. But in some cases, the “temporary” solution has dragged on for more than a year. In the Merrimack Valley, these contracted hotels are in Haverhill, Methuen, Chelmsford and Tewksbury.

A hotel room is no place to raise a family. There are no cooking or laundry facilities, little to no privacy and no place for children to play. And while it’s better than living on the street, the families living in the hotel rooms are not thriving. Michelle Espada, living in a hotel in Bedford, told Shenoy she has gained 70 pounds eating nothing but food that can be prepared in a microwave. Espada, the mother of two boys, has been on waiting lists for affordable housing for four years.

“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.

And the hotel program is extraordinarily expensive, costing $82 per day to house a single family. Now, a planned $91 million state expansion of the temporary housing program may boost costs to $100 per day.

As one of our readers noted, that’s $3,000 a month -- enough to fund a $500,000 mortgage. It’s enough to rent two $1,500 per month apartments.

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