From Boston to Stockbridge, families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet and many are facing eviction, job loss and the fateful decision to move into a shelter. Last winter the state awarded $8 million in grants to regions across the state to support a shift from a reliance on the emergency homeless shelter system to a Housing First model. This approach shifts resources to programs that reach out and support those in need before they are faced with the decision to enter our shelter system, and help to stabilize families and individuals once they are resettled into housing. Though the state is working hard at making this transition, it is taking some time to establish this new approach. Thankfully there are others partners who are working to help families and individuals in need and through innovative approaches taking huge strides to end this homeless crisis.
Last summer Episcopal City Mission, One Family Inc. and the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation joined together to fund eight Faith Based Action Plans to end homelessness. These groups were part of the same communities that were awarded funding from the state’s Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness who are working to organize their region through a Housing First approach to homelessness.
These eight faith based groups are living out the tenets of Housing First, right now and we are seeing results today.
In the Merrimack Valley, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Partnership to end Homelessness (GLIPH), an interfaith group of clergy, lay leaders and members of congregations have come together to address the crisis in their community. As a result of conversations and a forum hosted last winter they are building a website that will be a tool for local clergy and all members of the community to track resources for people in need who are in their pews and utilizing their emergency programs. The website will be a guide of local programs, resources and state programs that are available. It will also serve as an educational tool for the many people in the faith community who are working with this population.
On the North Shore, the North Shore Community Action Program, the recipient of the state ICHH funding has created a faith based advisory council, chaired by a local member of clergy. They are working closely with churches and synagogues across the region to train clergy as “first responders.” Like the Merrimack Valley they know that the faith community is often the first place people turn to when in need. This way clergy and other leaders will know how to discern if a family’s request for groceries is indicative of a larger issue, i.e. is an eviction imminent, and how to lead them in the right direction to receive services to help them maintain their home. This too will also help private funds go much further. Instead of paying off a utility bill that someone might need help with, it links the faith community to someone who can help the family sign up for a state supported program that will help them pay off their bill. This allows the parishes funds to go towards other needs that the family may need, and that the state is not able to help with, fixing a car, buying a T pass, etc…
In Boston, Social Action Ministries, a program of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance has convened congregations from across the city to discuss this crisis. Already several churches, like St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church have committed to make this their number one priority when it comes to policy. They are currently working hard to raise awareness about how the Governor’s 9C cuts will be affecting the homeless. This group is also working with congregations to adapt a model of support for families/individuals who have recently been re-housed. Members of these faith communities want to help stabilize the newly housed and build a community of support for those who may feel alone and scared after years of being on the street.
In Worcester, the Worcester Interfaith Coalition to End Homelessness (WICEH), has taken a four prong approach to this crisis. Through Hope for Housing, an exciting fundraising program in partnership with local grocery stores, they are raising funds directly for homeless prevention, working closely with an agency in Worcester that helps families pay rental arrearages, back rent, etc… They sponsor a Community Loan fund, raising capital to build affordable housing. They are working to create an early warning system with the help of all the faith based emergency programs in the city, and they to are working with their members to address local and statewide policy issues that will affect the creation of affordable housing and access to services.
More innovations and exciting programs are happening in the other regions. This is just a sample of how the faith community is leading the way in helping to prevent and end homelessness in Massachusetts!
**Article courtesy of Katie Campbell Simons of the Episcopal City Mission**