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Doctors: Stop Making MA Homeless Families Jump Through This Hoop


Friday, April 11, 2014   

BOSTON – Advocates for the homeless say they'll continue to fight to change a regulation that sometimes requires homeless families with children to live in places unfit for human habitation before becoming eligible for a shelter.

Last fall Sabine, a Boston nursing assistant, kept all her earthly possessions in her son Aiden's stroller.

He was just one-year-old at the time and they were no longer welcome to live doubled-up in a friend's place.

Because of a law stating that they'd basically have to live in dangerous surroundings before eligibility, they were denied admittance to a shelter.

"I worked during the day and at nighttime I would be either in the Boston Medical emergency room or at South Station," she relates.

The regulation in question took effect in September 2012. As a result Sabine was in a real bind.

"I didn't have any more friends or any family close by,” she says. “And they tried to make it seem like I was abusing the system when really I just hit rock bottom and needed assistance. "

Sabine faced this Catch 22 situation – to qualify for shelter admittance, she first had to stay in unfit circumstances. And if she did that, she would risk having her child taken away.

After two weeks, Sabine's cause was taken up by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and she and Aiden now reside in a shelter.

The Institute – and Sabine – want the legislature to change the state budget line item and also increase funding for permanent housing for homeless families by $30 million over what’s budgeted for fiscal year 2014.

Dr. Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, is among those advocating a rule change.

"We can have up to 20 families in a month come to our emergency room solely because they have no other place to go,” she relates.

Despite a letter to legislators signed by nearly 80 medical and education leaders, Liza Hirsch of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute says the budget out of the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday contained no additional protections for homeless families.

"So the next step is that Rep. (Marjorie) Decker will be filing an amendment to the Emergency Assistance line item such that families do not have to resort to staying in places not meant for human habitation."

Hirsch says in the long term, the Commonwealth has to substantially increase its investments in permanent, affordable housing.

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