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Fight against homelessness gets infusion of US funds

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / September 6, 2012
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Seven agencies are getting new resources to combat homelessness in the region as a result of federal grants recently awarded by the state.

The local groups are among about 25 statewide that will share $5.3 million in federal Emergency Solutions Grant funds to support emergency shelters and initiatives to provide permanent housing for people who have become homeless, and to prevent families from losing their homes.

Tri-City Community Action, a Malden-based antipoverty agency, will receive $174,000 to help 70 families in Everett, Malden, and Medford avoid becoming homeless.

The program includes educating families about finances, helping them stay current with rent payments, and negotiating with their landlords to avoid eviction. Some funds also will go toward helping the families cover such costs as rent arrearages, according to Philip Bronder-Giroux, TriCAP executive director.

“This is really exciting news for us,” said Bronder-Giroux, whose agency is partnering on the project with Housing Families, a shelter and housing program in Malden, and Just-A-Start, a Cambridge-based housing agency. Tri-CAP has been doing similar work with other grants for the past several years, but the aid has been restricted to families in Malden and Medford.

“Our hope is that we can continue to demonstrate that with relatively small amounts of money, families can remain housed and avoid entering the state’s shelter system, which is much more costly,” he said.

The state receives Emergency Solutions Grant money annually and disburses it in a competitive process. Grant proposals are developed in each region by planning groups of local homeless agencies and public officials.

Historically, the grants went primarily to homeless shelters, but the federal government is shifting the emphasis to rapid re-housing — moving quickly to find permanent housing — and homelessness prevention, an approach also promoted in Massachusetts.

Emmaus Inc., a nonprofit that operates a Haverhill shelter and other services for the homeless, was awarded two grants, one for $50,000 and the other for $130,000.  

With funding from the state’s HomeBase program, Emmaus currently assists families in Lawrence at imminent risk of losing their homes with shelter or services such as paying their back rent.

The new $50,000 grant will allow Emmaus to extend those services to 24 families that do not meet eligibility requirements for the HomeBase program, according to Leslie Lawrence, the group’s associate director.

Emmaus will use the $130,000 grant to offer rapid re-housing services to 45 homeless individuals in the region, working in partnership with the River House, which runs a shelter in Beverly; Action Inc., a Gloucester-based anti-poverty agency that operates a shelter; and Lexington-based Eliot Community Human Services. The assistance could include paying moving costs or security deposits.

“These are some of the few resources available that can really help us help people move out of homelessess or keep their current homes,” Lawrence said.

Action Inc. was awarded a separate $40,000 grant to help fund the costs resulting from its decision last year to expand its Gloucester shelter from 20 to 34 beds to keep up with demand.

“This doesn’t provide any staffing, but it does provide for the extra operating costs we have for housing all those additional people,” said Tim Riley, the agency’s director.  

The Somerville Homeless Coalition received $40,000, which it plans to split evenly with the Community Action Agency of Somerville. Both will put the funds toward ongoing homeless prevention programs, according to Mark Alston-Follansbee, executive director of the coalition.

“It’s healthier for the whole family, especially for children, to never become homeless in the first place,” he said, adding that it costs the state about $36,000 a year to shelter a homeless family but only $883 on average for his agency to keep a family from becoming homeless.

The Lowell Transitional Living Center, which runs a shelter and a meals program in Lowell, was awarded $70,000 to help 50 homeless people through the rapid re-housing model, according to Dave McCloskey, the agency’s executive director.

McCloskey said the program, begun a year ago under a previous grant, will focus on providing the agency’s shelter guests with the funds needed to settle in a permanent home.

“The long-term goal is to make them self-sufficient so we can remove the subsidy and give it to someone else,” he said.

HarborCOV, a Chelsea-based agency that provides housing and other services to victims of domestic violence, was awarded $41,982 to help fund the costs of running its emergency shelter.

Lynn Peters, the agency’s co-executive director, said the grant is nearly 50 percent less than what HarborCOV received under the same program last year since the state opted not to include funding for staffing. But she said she still welcomed the money.

“We wish there was more support for staff to operate the shelter, but it’s critical that you are able to keep the lights and the heat on and to feed people, the bare necessities,” she said.

The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance   will receive $282,059 to help fund the costs of operating 39 beds for homeless people at five locations, including the five transitional housing beds it maintains for homeless men at the Chelsea Community YMCA, according to Kaye Wild, the alliance’s vice president.

The alliance has received funding under the same program for several years, but, Wild said: “We don’t take the funds for granted. There’s always a lot of competition for these funds because there is so much need still.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.

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