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Patrick's budget aims to end homelessness

Goal is to identify families in danger

Email|Print| Text size + By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / January 21, 2008

Governor Deval Patrick is set to unveil a major $10 million push to virtually eliminate homelessness in Massachusetts in the next five years.

The goal of the initiative is to come up with better ways to detect when individuals and families are on the verge of falling into homelessness - and move in swiftly with aid and support.

Another goal is to quickly move those already homeless into permanent housing, including an increased use of housing vouchers.

As a down payment on the plan, Patrick's proposed state budget will include $1.75 million for MassHousing and $8.25 million for the state Department of Housing and Urban Development, an administration source told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal release of the budget on Wednesday.

The proposed extra spending is to support the goals of a report released this month by a special commission on homelessness.

The plan could run into opposition in the Legislature from those who point to the state's looming $1.3 billion revenue gap and question whether the state can afford the extra spending.

The report sets an ambitious goal of all but eliminating homelessness in the next five years.

While Patrick talked about the state's lack of affordable housing during his first year in office, he spent less time on the issue of homelessness. The report and the extra funding marks a shift toward addressing one of the state's most entrenched challenges.

The state has come to rely too heavily on emergency shelters and needs to shift its thinking to providing permanent housing, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray said in an interview.

"We are always going to need some level of shelter at the front door . . . but the system now is almost entirely emergency shelter," said Murray, who saw the toll homelessness takes on families firsthand as mayor of Worcester.

"At the root of most homelessness issues in most instances is a lack of affordable housing," he added. "How do we do a better job of detecting when families or individuals are at risk? How do we assess that?"

Last year Patrick created a 30-member Commission to End Homelessness and charged it with drafting a plan to end homelessness in Massachusetts. He then created an 11-member Interagency Council on Homelessness and Housing to turn the commission's recommendations into reality.

The Commission's report calls for an overhaul of the state's shelter system by focusing on permanent housing first, and using shelters as a last resort on an emergency, short term basis.

The report said the state should focus on three goals:

Identifying and helping people at risk of homelessness.

Creating more affordable housing.

Helping create economic stability for families to make sure they don't slip back into homelessness.

About 24,000 individuals move through the state's system of homeless shelters each year. About 4,000 are considered chronically homeless and essentially use the shelters as permanent housing.

Another 10,500 families come through the system each year - about 30,000 or more individuals when adding children.

State Representative Byron Rushing, co-chair of the commission, said the first step was convincing key players that ending homelessness was something the state could achieve.

"The first thing that's really important is that we got everyone to say this is a discrete enough problem so we could end it," he said.

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