Helping Families Get on Solid Ground

How partnering broadly and taking a systems approach can start to tackle homelessness
January 23, 2018
To overcome homelessness, communities need to start thinking beyond the short-term goals of reducing shelter numbers. David Kidd
By Lisa Wong  |  Senior Fellow, Governing Institute
Lisa Wong is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and former mayor of Fitchburg, Mass.
Broadly Partnered

In cities across the country, an alarming problem persists: families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Families are now approximately 35 percent of the homeless population and the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates 253,000 children stay at homeless shelters each year. The negative effects on the education, health, safety and development of children are exacerbated by homelessness.

Cities are taking action to tackle this issue. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a $300 million plan to open 90 new homeless shelters and expand 30 existing shelters in the next few years. Despite these efforts, officials are clear this is not a permanent solution. Reducing and ending homelessness requires an understanding of the root causes of homelessness and a well-coordinated systems approach to mitigation that includes housing, support services and quality data.

In Massachusetts, more than 40 organizations from a variety of sectors have come together and formed the On Solid Ground Coalition to focus on system coordination and a research-based approach to promote housing stability and economic mobility for families. The coalition focuses on helping thousands of families avoid the need for shelter rather than the more short-term goals of reducing shelter numbers.

The coalition advocates for more affordable housing and support services such as child care assistance for homeless families. It is also pushing for multiple pieces of legislation aimed at creating systems change, better coordination and supports.

These measures include:

  • Creating a Memorandum of Understanding between multiple state agencies to reduce and prevent homelessness through data sharing and coordination efforts. This measure will help families navigate the current patchwork of programs and help the state understand program gaps and evaluate resources. The bill will require agencies to track and report data to better inform how programs are run.
  • Implementing a commission to study self-sufficiency programs that help families access education, raise their income levels and reduce their reliance on supports. This measure will look at the “cliff effect,” where families lose needed benefits as their income increases and impairs their ability to achieve long-term stability.

The factors impacting families are complex. Full-time blue collar jobs with benefits are disappearing and wages have not increased to meet the rising costs of housing, education, child care and health care. In addition, income supports such as housing assistance, food assistance and subsidized childcare have declined. It is more important to than ever to invest in systems change; coalition building; and tracking the work of the private, nonprofit, government and philanthropic organizations working to put families on solid ground.