Brookline isn't usually associated with poverty.
But not only is Brookline home to about 7,000 households , making less than the federal poverty level, the number of people in need has been increasing even as the recession appears to be winding down.
According to statistics provided by the Brookline Community Foundation , which created and funds the 11-year-old Safety Net , the number of households needing help increased in 2011 by 13 percent over 2010 .
“We think we're seeing new unemployment or underemployment.”
said Frank Steinfield , a board member of the Foundation.
In addition, selectmen last week heard that a stimulus program that successfully helped the homeless and near-homeless, bringing stability to families that had cycled in and out of crisis, will end June 30 . Steinfield is also worried by a 17 percent cut to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG cq) starting in July that affects several interconnected programs serving the town's poorest.
Brookline was one of 20 Massachusetts communities that received federal funds for reducing homelessness, according to Virginia Bullock , a town planner . Brookline's program, which leveraged the coordinated organization of public and private programs already put in place by the Safety Net, was “very successful,” she said, helping 239 people with $635,000 over three years .
Dr. Laura Kantor of Brookline Mental Health, a private, non-profit that coordinates the federal program as well as the Safety Net, said that assistance ranged from paying rent arrears for a family in a Section 8 voucher rental, to helping a homeless elderly woman fill out forms so she could qualify for Social Security and subsidized housing. The center budgeted about $2,000 in direct aid per household so that it could help more people, she said.
The privately-funded Safety Net, which in 2011 served 845 people , has been more of a “Band-Aid,” said Steinfield. It has helped replace food and a 21-year-old refrigerator for a family that lost both suddenly, paid for heating oil when an elderly woman got ill and fell behind, and found a way to provide school snacks for a Kindergartener whose single mom had trouble doing so.
Raising additional funds to deal with the deeper needs the federal program was able to fill, will be a “real challenge, but the Foundation wants to be part of the answer,” Steinfield said. It will start with its annual spring appeal, which goes out in about a week .
One of the Safety Net's new programs is a resiliency group, mostly for single mothers, to help them develop skills that will stabilize their finances, Steinfield said. Issues they often confront include finding new housing, child care, substance abuse and mental health, he said.
“Our programs have provided temporary fixes without addressing the root issues,” Steinfield said. “We'd like to move to a more intensive Safety Net to reduce those numbers.”
For details and to make donations, visit www.brooklinecommunity.org or call 617-566-4442 .
Andreae Downs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.