“Rather than coming up with programs and then talking to homeless families and saying ‘pick from these options,’ we’re trying to figure out where their interests lie and what they have an aptitude for,” Cameron said.
He noted that Community Teamwork is partnering with area vocational schools — Shawsheen Valley in Billerica, Whittier Regional in Haverhill, and the technical high schools in Greater Lawrence and Greater Lowell — to match clients with a program that will work for them.
“We want to move them out of minimum-wage jobs into something that will pay well, like machinists, who have the potential to make $28 to $30 an hour, or something in the health care fields,” Cameron said.
In some cases, relocating to an area where relatives can provide a struggling family support is the best option. Lynn Housing has used HomeBASE funding to help four homeless families move to other states: New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
“We’re focusing more on each family’s individual needs,” MacCabe said. “We’re having an in-depth conversation with each family as to what their particular needs are.”
In its spending plan for the current fiscal year, the state allocated $7.2 million in HomeBASE funding to the Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development to provide families on the North Shore with household assistance for rent and other basic necessities, plus $803,234 to hire additional staff. In the Merrimack Valley, Community Teamwork got $9.9 million in HomeBASE funding for household assistance, plus $1.2 million to hire eight new case managers.
To qualify for HomeBASE, families must meet strict income limits ranging from $1,070 per month for a single person to $2,209 for a family of four. Those who are eligible may receive up to $4,000. The money may be used to rent a moving truck, buy furniture, or pay a required security deposit or first or last month’s rent.
On average, families moving out of a shelter or hotel in the Merrimack Valley are paying $937 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, Cameron said. To help them make ends meet, the state is offering some families state-subsidized rental vouchers. A $6 million increase in funding this fiscal year for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program has translated into 700 new vouchers statewide, Gornstein said.
“What we see in homelessness here in the Merrimack Valley mirrors some of the national conversations about economic inequality and poverty in general,” said Cameron. “For people with minimal education and little job history, it’s hard for them to compete in today’s labor market. Highly skilled workers are chasing after the same jobs that some poorer people are trying to get.”
Given the complexity of the issue, Gornstein said homelessness is expected to remain “an intense focus for at least two years, minimum.”
Brenda J. Buote can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.