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The state’s duty to shelter its residents (Boston Globe)

Below is a letter to the editor published on August 14 by the Boston Globe. Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) Senior Attorney Laurie Massie, and Acting Litigation Director Gary Klein co-authored the letter.

We write concerning the right-to-shelter law described in the Aug. 8 article on the Emergency Assistance shelter system for families with children experiencing homelessness (“Law guaranteeing shelter was promoted by Dukakis,” Page A1). We agree that the shelter system is in crisis, but it is wrong to blame homeless families, including immigrants with children, for generating that crisis.

In reality, the Commonwealth has allowed the shelter system to fall into disarray and has often failed to meet its commitments to the most vulnerable members of our society. Simply put, policy makers need to recognize that the pressures on the shelter system arise because of a chronic shortage of affordable housing (particularly for the lowest-income families), lack of attention to eviction prevention for low-income tenants, and failure to prioritize income supports and housing subsidies that would allow homeless families to transition more quickly into permanent housing.

Greater Boston Legal Services recently resolved a class action case with the Commonwealth (Garcia v. Department of Housing and Community Development) to address substantial existing flaws in the shelter system. The settlement represents a binding commitment to not scapegoat the victims of a long history of failed housing policy in Massachusetts but rather to improve existing services to make them function properly.

No one, especially homeless families, wants a system in which costly, long-term hotel stays substitute for safe and affordable housing. Instead, the Commonwealth must implement policies to prevent evictions in the first place, to increase the stock of meaningfully affordable housing, and to provide supports to help families move out of the shelter system and into safe, permanent housing as quickly as possible.

Laura Massie

Senior attorney, Housing Unit

Gary Klein

Acting litigation director

Greater Boston Legal Services