For many families this Christmas, Waltham hotel is their only refuge against homelessness
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“We’ve stabilized the numbers and now they’re starting to come down,” said Aaron Gornstein, the state’s undersecretary for housing and community development.
Since he was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick a year ago, Gornstein has worked to keep vulnerable families from losing their homes and seeking emergency shelter. It is much more expensive to help families once they are homeless: The state pays $3,000 a month for each family that stays in a hotel or motel, he said.
In the current fiscal year, the state put nearly $9 million into a program that gives lowincome families up to $4,000 a year to pay for back rent or a new place to live. Since August, the program has given money to more than 1,000 families, Gornstein said. Another new program is giving families up to $4,000 in assistance to leave homeless shelters.
The state also put $6 million into a rental voucher program, not funded by the state for years, that helps low-income families who are paying rent.
Like Milagros and her daughter, the Santanas are also Puerto Rican. Angel Santana, the father, speaks no English and feels isolated from many of the other families at the hotel.
“The language is really difficult for me because I can’t communicate with anybody,’’ the 51-year-old says in Spanish, as his wife translates. “I just have to be in my room.”
Marilyn Santana, 35, recently learned that she can cook meat in the microwave, by steaming it in a plastic bag. The discovery helped lower their weekly bill for groceries, which they bring back to the inn by bus, since they can rely less on expensive prepared food.
Pierre Gelin, 50, has also struggled to cook for his young son in their room. They eat a lot of microwaveable rice. Recently, after 10 months at the inn, he learned he was approved for federal Section 8 housing. He hopes to move out soon.
But later that afternoon, two more women with young children checked in at the front desk, carrying their belongings in white plastic trash bags: Four more guests at the inn.
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.