Supporting basic needs is the first step in the foundation of building better lives.
A sudden job loss. A devastating illness. The bills pile up and rent falls behind. You find yourself choosing between basic needs, whether to put a meal on the table or turn on the heat. And you know that nonpayment of rent or mortgages can very quickly lead to eviction, foreclosure and homelessness. Just one major financial setback can be completely devastating to families already living month to month.
In fact, over one-third of families in Massachusetts report they cannot build the savings needed to last three months in the event of an emergency. Now factor in that home values in Massachusetts are five times higher than the median income and over 50% of Massachusetts renters spend more than 30% of their household income on rent and utilities alone. It’s no wonder then that the high cost of housing in our state creates significant ripple effects in our communities, from family homelessness to the inability to be able to build savings.
“Forty years ago, there were so few homeless families that it was not considered to be a major problem,” says Richard Ring, longtime executive director of FamilyAid Boston, an organization that provides homelessness prevention assistance, emergency shelter and access to permanent, affordable housing. “But over the past four decades the number of homeless families has soared. These families are often led by working parents, living paycheck to paycheck, who fall behind on rent due to a job loss or medical crisis.”
The family fund
Since 1976, United Way’s Family Fund has been providing individuals and families with one-time emergency cash grants to help prevent a loss of utilities, buy food or prevent homelessness. Walking the tightrope that is known as “making ends meet” has not eased in the past few decades – if anything, it is worse. Since 1980, rents in Boston have risen by close to 60%, while real income only rose about 20% over the same time period. The past 10 years alone have seen a 40% increase in utility costs.
Since it was launched 40 years ago, United Way’s Family Fund has helped over 90,000 households meet these basic needs.
“Recent studies have shown that the average rental cost for a two bedroom apartment in Boston now exceeds $2,000 per month,” Ring says. “Without financial assistance, these families would find themselves homeless and navigating the long, costly road from shelter back to housing. With the support of the Family Fund, families are able to stay in their homes, regain their stability, and plan once again for the future.”
trends show growing need
Family and Children’s Service in Lynn has helped over 4,000 families to date through its Emergency Financial Assistance program. “Situations contributing to financial crisis include medical emergencies, divorces and separation, natural disasters (such as fire), funerals and loss of income,” says Gina Maniscalco, the organization’s Director of Institutional Advancement. “Emerging trends over the last few years seem to focus on fuel, food and housing costs, particularly in Lynn where lack of affordable rental housing and high utility rates are causing a real crisis.”
The Family Fund remains as relevant now as ever, maybe even more so. Last year we helped over 11,000 households with emergency cash assistance, including 1,000 veterans and thousands of children.
Because of the generosity of individual donors and corporate supporters like Bank of America and the National Grid Foundation, United Way distributed over $500,000 to 27 community-based organizations last year such as South Shore STARS, Merrimack Valley Food Bank, Catholic Charities, ROCA, Community TeamWork Inc., Quincy Community Action Programs and Newton Community Service Center.
But these same agencies reported that last year, they could not help close to 4,000 cases with requests for assistance totaling almost $900,000 due to a shortage of funds. That’s up to 4,000 households who could experience the devastating effects of hunger and homelessness this year alone.
A little goes a long way
“Relatively modest sums of prevention funds will actually keep these families housed and avoid the traumatic results of giving up their home and community ties if they are forced to enter a shelter program,” says Ring. “The Family Fund has been a steady, vital resource for our staff and of invaluable benefit to those families during all of these years. For those families who have retained their home, their community and family connections, the support from the Family Fund has truly been life-altering.”
In Massachusetts, one in eight people are fighting hunger – facing the daily decision of whether to turn on the heat or put a meal on the table, at the risk of not being able to make rent. Just a little bit of help can make all the difference for these families. We can provide them with that help today.