Doing more for homeless people in Massachusetts

Programs serving homeless individuals need more help from state

THE FOUNDING OF the Massachusetts Bay Colony was grounded in the social contract. In a sermon delivered in 1630, Gov. John Winthrop articulated the belief that, “[W]e must… make other’s conditions our own…as members of the same body.”

For generations, vital services in Massachusetts have been a responsibility of our government. We’re rightly proud that the first public school in America was two blocks from the State House. Our cities and towns have police officers and firefighters to keep us safe. Our economy moves because of city workers who clear snow, fix potholes, and pave streets.

Businesses and residents contribute to the tax base to ensure that there’s enough money so that state and local government can cover basic needs, no different in many ways from the earliest days of the Bay Colony.

Bill Miller and Lyndia Downie

Bill Miller and Lyndia Downie

But imagine if we told our school superintendents or police chiefs that they had to spend significant time fundraising in order to secure the majority of their annual funding.

That is what we are asking each day of agencies that work to end homelessness among individuals.

New data released last month show a large gap between the services that homeless providers deliver and the state funding allotted to make those services possible. Day and night homeless individual shelters are reimbursed at less than half of what it costs to provide services and beds – the bare minimum of what it takes to move people out of homelessness.

The Coalition for Homeless Individuals surveyed day and night shelters across the Commonwealth, finding that the state is contracted for 2,856 shelter beds but only reimbursing 61 percent of the true costs. These shelters, including Father Bill’s & MainSpring in Southeastern Massachusetts and Springfield’s Friends of the Homeless, are actually providing more than 3,500 beds, bringing the state reimbursement rate down to 47 percent.

Among shelters and service providers open during the day, state funding covers just 35 percent of the operating costs. Beyond giving men and women a place to come in off the street, day programs deliver supportive services to homeless individuals, including vocational training and referrals to mental health and substance abuse services.

The lack of state funding means that service providers throughout the state must seek private fundraising for significant portions of their budgets.

It would be hard to imagine the public allowing a police or fire chief to take time away from the obligation to keep cities and towns safe in order to focus on speaking with chief executives to secure private donations. Or a DPW commissioner presiding over spring and fall galas in order to solicit much needed funding for new personnel, new materials, or new equipment.

But when it comes to ending homelessness – a goal among many of our state’s civic leaders – it has become routine for specialists in the field to spend more time fundraising so that we can turn the lights on each day, buy basic supplies, and pay our staff.

At our programs, we are blessed to have dedicated staff who are adept at helping men and women move out of homelessness. And we’re seeing measurable results.

Vocational training: At Boston’s St. Francis House, 90 people graduated from the day shelter’s 14-week Moving Ahead Program last year, with 91 percent of graduates employed on graduation day. Project Place in Boston runs three small businesses as part of their Social Enterprises, and employed 100 people over the last year.

Medical care, mental health, and substance abuse treatment: Boston Rescue Mission’s Residential Recovery program connects more than 400 homeless adults with a case manager each year to help men and women leaving detoxification programs to stay in recovery. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s teams of doctors provide medical care for 12,000 homeless men, women, and children throughout the year.

Permanent housing: Friends of the Homeless has 110 housing units in Greater Springfield, while Pine Street Inn now offers more beds in housing than in shelter – almost 900 units at 39 locations throughout greater Boston. Through the work of providers, more than 2,700 homeless individuals move to permanent housing every year.

But our shelter directors and caregivers are also being forced to pick up new skills – how best to deliver a philanthropic pitch to a room full of corporate executives, or how to film a heartwarming video for next month’s fundraiser.

We cannot keep relying on the generosity of private donors to help our Commonwealth combat homelessness. The current model isn’t sustainable and we need a better balance. The state budget funds a line item that gives $44 million in direct support to proven programs and providers across the Commonwealth. Providers are seeking an increase to $50 million, which would lighten the burden of seeking private dollars.

Collectively, we urge state leaders to allocate more funding for the programs that help individuals experiencing homelessness. Help us keep the focus on ending homelessness.

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

Bill Miller is the executive director of Friends of the Homeless in Springfield. Lyndia Downie is the president and executive director of Pine Street Inn in Boston. Both programs are part of the Coalition for Homeless Individuals, a statewide collection of emergency day and night shelters, medical care providers, employment services, housing providers, and their supporters.

  • Pingback: Springfield Republican Reports on Individual Shelter Funding Needs | Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness()

  • jshore

    GE is getting $25 million in tax breaks from the City of Boston, and State of Massachusetts is giving them $120 million. Governor Baker needs to come up with the additional $6 million dollars to take care of our homeless population.

    In Boston, it’s time the Billion Dollar Boys Club at the Boston Foundation to stop strategic advertising for “pragmatic donors” on WBUR and direct that inordinate amount of advertising money to the homeless. Also, all those large nonprofit institutions who have been stiffing the City of Boston’s PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Program need to pony up their FULL contribution so we can get people off the streets and into permanent homes.

    • Mhmjjj2012

      The Boston Foundation could come up with the additional $6 million dollars just by taking another look at its compensation policies and its Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP) payments to selected executives. The Boston Foundation paid Paul S. Grogan, President/CEO, $586,968 in FY2014 and contributed an additional $77,725 in taxable along with $17,500 in non-taxable SERP payments. TBF extended the SERP contributions to four other well-compensated executives too. There are 26 employees making over $100k with the Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer and VP Communications making more than $300k each.

      • jshore

        Well said Mhmjjj2012!

        WOW! To elaborate on what Mhmjjj2012 wrote, and for those new to the conversation, according to Investopedia, SERP is a non-qualified retirement plan for key company employees, such as executives, that provides benefits above and beyond those covered in other retirement plans such as IRA, 401(k) or NQDC plans.

        For the Boston Foundation, a billion dollar “philanthropic” organization who is supposed to be helping Boston’s needy, I find this an outrageous use of TBF funds. Are donors aware of this? I wonder how the other TBF employees, the ones who actually do the work, feel?

      • jshore

        Mhmjjj2012 I’d like to give you a “shout out,” are you on Twitter? You’re comments are always on point and your data is always accurate. If you don’t want to post your twitter here, find and follow me at @jshoreboston :-)

        • Mhmjjj2012

          Thanks for noticing. I’ve been feeling like I’m out in the wilderness with my charter school comments. While charter schools are the topic of incredible news coverage and commentaries in Massachusetts, it’s all limited to “waitinglist,” “choice,” and “lift the cap.” Very difficult to have an informed public discussion on charter schools under those circumstances. Sorry, I’m not on twitter or facebook. I’ll check out your twitter comments though. Keep up the good work…

          • jshore

            I was dragged kicking and screaming to Twitter and Facebook myself, so I know what you mean. But those venues get the work out quickly so you might want to consider making the leap. The charter landscape discussion is changing rapidly as information about the negative impact that charter schools are having in Massachusetts gets out. Initially, people of good will just wouldn’t believe that people would readily exploit poor children and poor communities to make a buck!

            For the discussion that you are looking to have, you might think about signing up and posting on Blue Mass Group. It has a lot of indepth discussions that you will enjoy and a lot of pols & people in the know hang out there, so it gets interesting. To create an account, you have to email them (it prevents the spammers).

            I look forward to reading you in the cloud! Keep me posted!


          • Mhmjjj2012

            Can’t do bluemassgroup. I’m a registered Republican. That would be hypocritical. Don’t suggest redmassgroup. They are more into party politics. Seriously considering becoming an unenrolled voter. The problem with having an informed public debate on charter schools is editors and reporters have to do their jobs in order for that to happen. So my first priority is getting those in the news media to do their jobs. Whatever happened to being objective? To providing balanced coverage? To getting facts straight? When did a press release from Great Schools Massachusetts get elevated to a news story without an effort to give a voice to opponents? The Lowell Sun is where I first started commenting on charter schools but thanks to CommonWealth going off the rails…I’m making comments here too. The State House News Service provides horribly slanted charter schools coverage. The Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh can’t seem to acknowledge basic, indisputable facts on charter schools. It’s one thing if charter schools truly were superior to public schools…but they aren’t…they aren’t at all. It’s appalling charter schools have made such inroads in this state and across the country. That never would have happened had there been honest and balanced reporting. That should be a crime…making public policy decisions on big lies…whether it’s the waitlist or supposedly high performance based on practices that would never be acceptable in a public school.

          • jshore

            Republican! You! I would have never guessed it. It might be a good time to be an unenrolled voter with Trump charging ahead. I keep telling myself he won’t get elected, but I didn’t think Reagan would get elected either.

            I don’t think anyone at Bluemassgroup would care that you are a Republican, I remember a few commenters putting out the Republician disclaimer in a post. All anyone seems to care about is interesting, supported dialogue. I wouldn’t have suggested Redmassgroup, they have a tendency to get a little too Boston Herald for my taste and time.