MPHA is pleased to join together with our partners at CHAPA, the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, to work toward a solution to homelessness through a multi-faceted approach that includes a focus on health. We know that there is no one solution to reducing homelessness in Massachusetts. It’s crucial to employ strategies that maximize incomes, secure housing, provide early education, and increase overall health and well-being. Over the next several months, MPHA will be working with CHAPA and other partners to craft a comprehensive agenda to tackle these issues.
Homelessness threatens too many Massachusetts residents. Families are struggling to earn incomes that can support the high costs of housing, childcare, food, and other basic necessities. The complexity of our economy continually increases and it is crucial that our approach to supporting economic mobility for low-income families changes to better meet this need. In order to reduce homelessness, four major focus areas need to be addressed: maximization of incomes, availability and quality of permanent housing, accessibility of early education programs, and increased health through improved food security.
The Massachusetts Public Health Association recognizes the importance of addressing each of these key puzzle pieces in the reduction of homelessness in the Commonwealth. Through the Raise Up Massachusetts campaign, with a focus on the passage of mandated earned sick time, and the work to pass the Healthy Food Financing Bill, MPHA is working diligently to reduce homelessness and increase the overall public health across the state.
Puzzle Piece: Maximize Incomes
Nearly 230,000 low-income households pay more than half of their incomes to rent. By 2020, 72% of all jobs in MA that pay a family-sustaining wage will require some college. An increase in the minimum wage and resources for vocational education and training will improve family stability and reduce the need for subsidized programs. This effort to maximize incomes can be achieved through the passage of a minimum wage increase recently signed by Governor Deval Patrick, bringing minimum wage up to $11 per hour by 2017, and through the creation of a permanent funding stream for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund. The passing of a minimum wage increase would not be indexed to inflation as originally fought for, but would include a raise for tipped workers. Work still needs to be done to ensure a mandated five earned sick days for all Massachusetts workers. A permanent funding stream would address the “skills gap” in order to help low-income families meet the need for increased education in the workforce.
Puzzle Piece: Housing
Approximately 4,000 families live in shelters or motels as thousands more are on the edge of homelessness. While shelter safety net is critical, reinvesting in permanent housing is key to reducing the need for shelter. In 1998, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) was funded at $125 million and served nearly 20,000 families in the Commonwealth. Funding is needed to continue the work of the MRVP. A minimum of $70 million will be required in order to begin to see more families housed in safe and permanent homes. This piece of the puzzle will also require an increased capital budget to produce more housing across all incomes, including those with low incomes in order to begin to effectively reduce homelessness.
Puzzle Piece: Early Education
When parents have a safe early education program that supports their children’s development, they are better able to stabilize their housing, incomes, and health and prepare their children to succeed in school. Increasing the accessibility of early education programs is key and can be achieved in two major ways. The first calls for an increase in funding of these programs to $37.5 million. This would allow 5,000 more children to gain access to early education programs. The second calls for increased Early Education and Care (EEC) reimbursement rates by 5% through a $22.6 million Rate Reserve.
Puzzle Piece: Health
Children’s Healthwatch reports that children living in food insecure households are more likely to have a history of hospitalizations, poor health, and anemia. Addressing household food insecurity is an important piece of the puzzle to reduce homelessness because maintaining a properly balanced diet becomes increasingly difficult when limited funds must be allocated to sustain other necessary parts of survival such. Creating a single point-of-entry for food assistance and other programs and increasing the availability of automatic enrollment would ease the process to obtain these resources, thus increasing food security. Furthermore, the passing of the Healthy Food Financing Bill to reduce food deserts and increase access to places to buy healthy food would encourage families to purchase and consume more nutritious foods.