‘Build More Housing’: Legislators, Advocates Discuss Solutions to End and Prevent Homelessness
“Thanks to these programs and services, shelters, low-income housing, I have become the confident woman you’re seeing here today. I am strong, I am stable, and a very proud member of this community.” — Danielle Hazen
Massachusetts Legislators, homeless service providers and housing reform advocates joined together Friday, February 10 for “Housing: The Key to Moving from Crisis to Stability,” a virtual legislative breakfast hosted by Representative Jim Hawkins, the South Coast Regional Network to End Homelessness, and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
The 90-minute webinar is a great introduction to the housing solutions that legislators, advocates, coalitions, and nonprofit organizations are working to advance to adequately address the complex issue of housing. Here’s what local leaders are saying about new efforts to address homelessness in our region.
“The need to provide permanent, affordable housing to chronically homeless and very fragile community members has never been more acute. We stand with you, our community members, key stakeholders, and thought leaders in a commitment to ending homelessness and have pledged to continue to fund policy and programs that advance healthy neighborhoods.” — Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
John Madondo, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Massachusetts, moderated the discussion, which began with a Q&A with Congressman Jake Auchincloss, who spoke about learnings from the COVID-19 emergency response, legislative successes on affordable and supportive housing, and President Biden’s All-In initiative to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025.
“This is the single biggest challenge that we’re facing as a Commonwealth,” said Congressman Auchincloss. “Housing is a social determinant of health, the bedrock of economic mobility, and it is core to what we mean about human rights and the kind of dignified and secure life and livelihood that we think every Bay Stater deserves.”
Danielle Hazen provided a face for Congressman Auchincloss’s vision, joining the discussion to give a first-person account of how housing and supportive services helped to stabilize her life. Hazen shared that, following some time living on the streets of Taunton, she ran into a former classmate outside Community Counseling of Bristol County (CCBC). This chance encounter illustrates that the individuals most in need of services are often not aware of the opportunities available to them, which further shows the need for a coordinated, statewide master plan to tackle housing insecurity.
“After sharing my story with him, he referred me to CCBC… Little did I know it would end up being a wonderful journey of regaining hope, regaining life, regaining purpose,” said Hazen. “Now I have lived in the apartment I have for a little over 3 years… Thanks to these programs and services, shelters, low-income housing, I have become the confident woman you’re seeing here today. I am strong, I am stable, and a very proud member of this community.”
We can’t leave someone’s livelihood up to chance.
Local leaders including Rep. Hawkins, Sen. Paul Feeney, Rep. Joan Meschino, and Rep. Carol Doherty also shared their housing priorities during the meeting. Rep. Hawkins discussed the recently formed House Caucus to End and Prevent Homelessness, co-chaired by Reps. Hawkins and Meschino, which provides a collection of learning opportunities for legislators to develop a shared understanding of the lack of affordable housing in the state and the impact of trauma on individuals and families experiencing housing insecurity.
“You need to meet people where they are,” said Rep. Meschino, in explaining the recently refiled legislation she has co-sponsored to create a statewide, flexible pool of funding streams to align housing, services and vouchers for individuals, youth and families experiencing homelessness.
“This is a new model of service delivery. It’s meant to be coordinated, it’s meant to provide comprehensive supports, and we know from the data that it is a highly effective and a much more cost-efficient strategy… This bill is meant to streamline services and ensure the existing programs we have are deployed much more equitably so that they actually reach the most vulnerable residents.”
Sen. Feeney also discussed how NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard) has impacted local efforts to build additional supportive housing units and how he is working to combat that resistance. “This is the challenge we need to face head-on. As Legislators, we represent and advocate for the wishes and needs of our constituents. But we’re also elected to lead, which sometimes means bringing your constituents onboard with something that they may not support initially.”
He urged everyone listening to the discussion to join them in their advocacy to prioritize safe, stable housing by leading with compassion and sharing success stories like Hazen’s.
“Your readiness for housing should be that you were born. That you are a human being. Housing is a human right,” he said. “In Massachusetts we have an opportunity to lead.”