Massachusetts State Representative - 34th Middlesex District

Homeless advocate rips shelter time limit plan

Boston Herald

Advocates for the homeless were visibly disappointed late Tuesday morning as they flipped through a housing and social services amendment crafted by House leaders behind closed doors.

According to Ruth Bourquin of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an eight-month time limit for families with children to remain in homeless shelters is extended to nine months under the so-called consolidated amendment. Bourquin said there are currently no time limits, but families are required to meet rules concerning employment and housing searches. Bourquin said the time limit approach conflicted with the state's goal of ending homelessness.

"They're just writing them off," she told the News Service after joining advocates and conferring on the amendment with Reps. Alice Wolf, Carl Sciortino and James O'Day. "If they're not in shelter, we're going to just pretend they're not homeless."

Bourquin said an amendment striking the time limits and sponsored by Wolf and Rep. Byron Rushing was not incorporated into the consolidated amendment, which appears to add $3.8 million to the $32.3 billion fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

The House gave an initial vote of approval to the entire budget bill on Monday and is working its way through hundreds of amendments this week. According to the institute and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, the time limit included in the House budget is tailored after one included in Gov. Deval Patrick's spending plan that the administration refers to as "EA Reform" and is intended to ensure that families who have another safe place to stay are not eligible for emergency shelter.

The two groups claim, however, that the budget language "would kick families out of shelter after eight months even though they have no safe place to go and have followed all the rules."

In making the pitch for the Wolf amendment, the groups said the policy change will force homeless families "to sleep in cars, in emergency rooms or on the streets."