Three County Continuum of Care May 2023 Newsletter (5th ed.)
1. Have You Heard?
As the weather warms up, the CoC has been very busy! At the end of February, Katie Dwan was hired as our new Program Director. Katie brings with her 16 years of experience with program administration, including implementing and overseeing trauma-informed programming for children, teens, adults, and families experiencing a range of challenges, including homelessness. She has experience with Quality Improvement systems, regulatory compliance (state licensing, Accreditation, contract management, etc.), budget development & oversight, grant writing, staff management and team development, and community/stakeholder relations. We are so grateful that she's joined our team!
In collaboration with our Equity and Inclusion Committee, a diversity survey was created that will be sent out to all CoC funded projects. The goal of the survey is to gain an understanding of staff's perceptions of diversity and equity within their agency. Specifically, we are interested in learning about agency culture and policies, and welcome any information individuals are willing to share about improvements and changes they would like to see.
The Reimagining Interim Housing framework, which Shaundell Diaz serves as a consultant for, is picking up traction. The CoC's workgroup has met twice, with productive and insightful conversations occurring at both meetings. Additionally, the implementation of strategies and ideas related to this framework is in the works. Stay tuned for more information!
2. Legislation and Advocacy
Last week, the MA House of Representatives passed its Fiscal Year 2024 budget. Thanks to the Representatives for meaningful investments in housing and homelessness prevention. The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance has provided a comparative analysis of funding outcomes for many of our key budget items.
While most of the Network's priority budget amendments were not adopted, thanks to our region's advocacy, many western MA Representatives signed on to these amendments and to them we say: THANK YOU! We also say thank you to Representative Lindsay Sabadosa for providing lead sponsorship of the Network earmark (funded at $25,000) and to the 15 legislators who supported the Network with their co-sponsorship. We are grateful for their support. And we are grateful to all the Network partners for making our regional voices heard!
3. Shelter Updates
On a positive note in the House Budget: An amendment was adopted that changes the HomeBASE rehousing program for families to increase the value of HomeBASE subsidies from $20,000 to $30,000 over 2 years and allow for renewals beyond two years at $15,000/year for eligible households. In addition, this provision would eliminate the income eligibility limits for families once they are enrolled in HomeBASE and allow families to maximize their incomes without fear of the cliff effect. This is great news, and now we need to keep it going in the Senate!
On a more troubling note, the House Budget includes a reduction in RAFT benefits to $7,000 (from the current $10,000)/year. We will look to the Senate to maintain the current benefit level, especially in view of the rising rents and increasing demands on renters.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee will release its budget in mid-May. Stay tuned for additional information and next action steps then.
Finally, be sure to join us at the Western MA Network to End Homelessness 7th Annual Regional Gathering on Friday, May 12 from 10:30am-12:00pm. While our in-person venue is at capacity, all are welcome to join us on Zoom! See here for the invitation.
Craig's Doors in in the midst of running a pilot program for free public transportation. "Fare Access" provides all their guests with free unlimited access to the PVTA. Additionally, Craig's Doors is collecting data around the benefits and implications of this program to advocate to the State to make this program permanent. Read about it in the Gazette here!
Just recently, their contract at Immanual Lutheran Church in Amherst was renewed, allowing them to run theirr congregate shelter there through October 31st, 2024. This contract is exciting because it will allow Craig's Doors to operate 24/7, year-round for the next 18 months. This is the longest continuous operation of congregate shelter in the organization's history.
Additionally, there are launching a new program with the town of Amherst to help make medical care more accessible. The town's Public Health Nurse will now be doing bi-weekly site visits at both sites going forward.
Nonprofit community behavioral health agency Clinical & Support Options (CSO) assumed responsibility at the Greenfield & Northampton Individual Shelters on April 1. Since that time, the shelter locations have invested in relationship development with our guests, building management, maintaining safety, implementing CSO policies, and intake and case management processes. They have implemented meal services, and internal CSO referral streamlining. CSO and Friends of the Homeless nursing and behavioral health clinical teams are working with the Director of Hampshire/Franklin Shelter and Housing programs to identify, triage, and establish treatment and housing plans for guests as we start to plan for onsite Nursing and Behavioral Health supports.
Guests at the shelters benefit from other CSO local services and supports, including its Community Behavioral Health Center, crisis and respite services, Police co-response initiative, and DPH-funded “Low Threshold Housing” program.
Keleigh BenEzra, the Director of Hampshire/Franklin Shelter and Housing Programs noted that this week Greenfield got to celebrate its first positive housing outcome, which was a collaboration with ServiceNet. “In the midst of an expected challenging first month of implementation, celebrating someone moving on to something is important for all of our guests to see — and very soon I am hopeful that our region’s collaborative spirit and shared passion in addressing housing insecurity and homelessness will enable CSO to elicit partnerships and leverage a wide range of supports.” She shared that the goal of CSO is to "provide a healthy, safe emergency shelter that brings in supportive programming that will help to transitions folks to permanent housing with ongoing supports for a sustainable outcome.”
4. Project Updates
Since officially opening less than 2 months ago, Independent Housing Solutions has moved 14 people in, with a 15th individual scheduled to move in on May 10th. Most of the new tenants have been connected with physical therapy, visiting nursing services, cash assistance, and case management services. The elevator has been malfunctioning, so two residents are in a hotel while the necessary repairs are made. No project starts without a few bumps in the road!
For those interested, a full report is available here.
5. PIT Count
The 2023 Point in Time Count of persons experiencing homelessness took place on January 25th. During this count there were at least 622 people experiencing homelessness across Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire Counties. There were 62 families in shelter, totaling 195 people. This includes 115 children under the age of 18. There were 343 individuals in shelter and 84 individuals unsheltered, either literally outside or in a vehicle or unsafe building.
The county breakdown is:
Berkshire County: 278
Franklin County: 104
Hampshire County: 240
A full report will be available soon!
Additionally, this year the CoC is conducting a Warmer Months Count on June 14th. We are eager to gain a better understanding of how the numbers of people experiencing homelessness, particularly individuals who are unsheltered, change depending on the seasons. The results of this count will be available in the fall.
3-part series on New England Public Media in February that chronicled the housing crisis in Western Mass.
HUD’s definition of homelessness is different than the Department of Education’s (“while HUD says there are about 81,000 homeless children, the Department of Education counts over a million.”)
Some advocates are pushing for HUD’s definition to align with DOE and “Last year, two bills in Congress would have done that. Despite bipartisan sponsorship, neither version of the Homeless Children and Youth Act got out of committee.”
Housing crisis contributes to labor and sexual trafficking
“The GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting has found similar tales often repeated by migrant workers in Massachusetts: the use of housing to trap them in jobs where they receive little or no pay...Sixty-four percent of survivors of labor and sex trafficking say they were recruited when they were experiencing homelessness or unstable housing, according to a recent national survey conducted by Polaris, a nonprofit anti-trafficking organization based in Washington, D.C.”
Great piece that dives into the argument that housing scarcity is “the underlying cause of homelessness” (note that the author is primarily speaking about the people that are experiencing homelessness but not chronically).
“Bills imposing new fees on higher-dollar housing transactions to pay for affordable housing investments have been proposed for years, but have never gained much traction among Democratic legislative leaders. Supporters hope that worsening cost and affordability trends will spur lawmakers to allow cities and towns to try new approaches.”
Here's something we all love to see, Western MA in the news :) This press release from the Governor details state funding that is going towards affordable housing, including 4 projects in our Three County area (as well as a project in Springfield)
Louison House Bracewell is CoC project, and while the others are not specifically CoC funded projects, CoC partners are involved in some capacity with all of them
7. Upcoming Events & Trainings
As mentioned earlier, May 12th is the WMNEH Annual Regional Gathering! The CoC's very own Shaundell Diaz will be speaking. Be sure to register on Zoom and log in to support her and all the work being done in the community to end homelessness.
The CoC is also hosting a few trainings in the upcoming weeks:
Community Legal Aid info session on June 22th from 1:00-2:30. Register here.
CSEC Training July 13th from 1:00-2:30. Register here.
Craig's Doors is hiring a Spanish Speaking Case Manager and Director of Case Management. Check out their posting on Indeed for more information!