At Final HYPET Meeting of 2016, Advocates Talk Midterm State Budget Cuts, Homeless Bill of Rights

Spare Change News– December 28, 2016

Representatives from across Massachusetts met on Dec. 8 for the year’s final Homeless Youth Providers Engaging Together (HYPET) meeting, a monthly discussion that brings together youth and young adult advocates to trade information about policy, trends and programming.

The gathering was held at Bridge Over Troubled Waters, an organization that provides support services to runaway and homeless youth in the Boston area, and was co-facilitated by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and the homeless youth shelter Y2Y Harvard Square.

Talk of Gov. Charlie Baker’s midyear “9C” budget cuts dominated the meeting, as they were announced just days before and included $6 million in cuts to housing programs throughout the state.

Director of Legislative Advocacy for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless Kelly Turley, who led the HYPET discussion, explained that the line item that directly funds housing and services for youth and young adults was not cut and nor was the funding that supports each year’s HUD survey of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and instability.

“But many other programs relating to housing and homelessness were cut,” Turley said via phone after the meeting.

The cuts included a $650,000 line-item cut to funding that provides shelter and services to unaccompanied adults experiencing homelessness, money that Turley explained is especially crucial as temperatures drop and as shelters add additional capacity through cots and warming centers. This particular cut, she said, could have a significant impact on access to those services, creating additional stress on already strained resources as shelters attempt to do more with less throughout the winter.

Additionally, the Baker administration cut $400,000 from the Emergency Assistance for Families account and $500,000 to Housing Consumer Education Centers, which provide housing-search services to homeless individuals and families at the regional level.

Crucially, the 9C cuts also included a $2.4 million reduction in funding to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, a state program that provides affordable housing, either through subsidies or as funds for developers, to several populations, including families, young adults and people with disabilities.

“This is a program that has been a really key piece in the state’s response to rising homelessness and housing instability,” Turley explained, noting that she believes the program was cut because it generally runs a surplus each year. The money being paid out to developers is not awarded until after the completed units come online, which means it may remain into the next fiscal year. “But unless the funds are in there,” she added, “we definitely won’t be able to put up more tenant-based subsidies, and we know that there’s a huge need.”

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg have since taken to Twitter to propose a supplemental budget that would restore some of those funds as the fiscal year moves on, which Turley said is “heartening.”

Advocates at the meeting noted that it would perhaps be more important to ensure that these programs are prioritized when the budget is crafted for the following fiscal year.

“It sends a message that these programs aren’t as vital as we know that they really are,” Turley said of the cuts.

Another time-sensitive issue that was a key topic of discussion at the HYPET meeting was the  introduction of a Bill of Rights for those experiencing homelessness, an ongoing effort that’s been pending for just under a year. The bill would seek to lay out what people’s rights are—that they have a right to vote, to receive emergency medical care, to move freely in public places and to not have records disclosed without their consent, for example—giving those experiencing homelessness a mechanism they can point to in the event of their rights being violated.

Turley explained that this is critical because homeless people’s rights are regularly violated. She said there’s “grassroots” support for the bill from advocates and from people around the state who’ve experienced discrimination while being homeless and who found it compounded their struggles. They have also shared their stories at the state house.

HYPET advocates are hopeful that they have the momentum they need to pass the legislation before the session ends in just a few weeks, but they’re looking for more people who are willing to share testimonies of the discrimination they’ve experienced while being homeless. They are also asking supporters to weigh in with their representatives to say they support the bill.

Turley said they’re also encouraging members and supporters around the state to contact the governor and his staff by phone, email or on social media to say that they oppose the 9C cuts and that they want to see housing and homelessness treated as a top priority by Baker in the year ahead and throughout the rest of his administration.

“It’s very unclear what the federal outlook … will be with the incoming [presidential] administration,” Turley said. “As many resources as we can have come from the state level to be able to address housing and homelessness issues, the better. The landscape is unclear, but from early indications, these programs won’t be a priority for the administration.”