Massachusetts Ends Use of Motels for Homeless Shelters

Photographer Belinda Soncini's photographed homeless families in a Natick, Mass., motel.
Image: Screengrab Amazing Things Arts Center website. Photographer Belinda Soncini photographed homeless families in Natick, Mass., motels.

Some local officials in Massachusetts advocated to end housing homeless families in motels for a decade, but others say the solve is costing cities money.

In January 2015 there were 168 homeless families spread across three motels in Danvers, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker pledged to end the practice of housing families in motels, and did officially this month in Danvers, Brockton and many other across cities across the state.

There were 1,500 families living in hotel and motel rooms when Baker took office, and as of last week there were just 70, according to the Salem News.

Elected officials in Danvers appealed to the state over the last decade for many reasons, including transportation costs to bring children to the school districts where they previously lived and a loss of motel tax revenues, but also because the families lacked access to cooking facilities, parks and more. The question:

Can’t we do a better job a better job of having people avoid becoming homeless?” Baker said motivated the push to end the practice.

Looking Upstream to Address the Challenge

Driving the initiative referred to as “upstreaming” were local officials, community organizations and state Health and Human Services officials seeking to prevent families from becoming homeless.

The shift away from housing families in motels happened through housing assistance, re-housing programs, rental vouchers and aid from local housing organizations. Families were moved from into apartments and shelters.

North Shore Community Action Programs is one program that helped some of the families housed in Danvers’ motels apply for aid, find an apartment, receive assistance to pay outstanding utility bills and get work.

According to the original story, 3,468 families are living in shelters across the state, in addition to the final 70 families living in motels. The types of shelters are:

  • Scattered site shelter – apartments spread across a municipality
  • Congregate shelter – buildings where several homeless families live, sharing common areas like kitchens and laundry rooms

Not Everyone Declares it a Win

Officials in Brockton say they understand it was not a good practice, but are nevertheless concerned that the shift away from housing homeless families in local motels has exacerbated that city’s transportation costs.

It’s up to local municipalities to bring homeless children housed by the state to their school districts, according to Enterprise News.

We know they have probably placed the majority of these families outside of Brockton and we know most of these kids are going to probably remain in Brockton schools with free transportation. That burden is not going to go down. It’s going to increase. This is just totally unfair,” said Mayor Bill Carpenter.

Some homeless families are also upset by the move. A suit Greater Boston Legal Services filed against the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) argues that the push to end the hotel practice has turned families away, delayed placement or moved families away from their communities and children’s schools, according to WGBH.org.

The statement from DHCD, via Paul McMorrow, director of policy and communications, indicated that the state will vigorously oppose and defend ending in the practice in court:

Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that offers homeless children a right to shelter and DHCD has consistently upheld that right and acted in compliance with the law, while substantially reducing the state’s reliance on motel shelters.”

New York City, Los Angeles and other places with high numbers of homeless people are also working on strategies to eliminate use of motels as shelters.

Read the original story on the Salem News website.

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital.