Proposed bill changes requirements for homeless families needing assistance

BOSTON — A state law requiring homeless people seeking housing to spend a night in a place not fit for human habitation is coming under fired.

The 2012 rule was meant to cut shelter costs and says families can get housing assistance if they're a victim of domestic violence, were evicted or suffered a natural disaster. But to qualify, they have to spend the night in a place like an emergency room, campground or their car.

“Each month, it's not an enormous number of families. Sometimes it's 60 families, sometimes its 40 families, 39 in July. That's too many families, too many families with children that are forced to stay in unsafe places,” Associate Director for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless Kelly Turley said.

Turley said the rule impacted more than 600 families last year.

One of those families was the Martins – mother Lynnette, her two sons who have autism and their two emotional support dogs.

"It was 20 something degrees outside,” Lynette told Boston 25 News reporter Crystal Haynes.

The Martins are now in a house reserved for families with severe medical issues, but that wasn’t the case at the time.

"Open your eyes. Open your heart and see what are you doing. Fall's here,.probably tomorrow a family might go on the streets,” Lynnette said.

Governor Baker’s office points to a nearly 25 percent reduction of the total number of people entering into the state shelter system.

But Turley said that's not enough, and the non-profit is working with lawmakers to get rid of the rule.

“We know when families are forced to stay in unsafe places that they're exposed to additional risks and trauma and that further delays a family’s ability to secure permanent, long term housing,” she said.

A bill to change this rule is currently under consideration by the Joint Committee on Housing in the Massachusetts legislature. Read more: