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There can be no shelter caps without a humane alternative (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Executive Director Georgia Katsoulomitis penned a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe about the current strain on housing shelters in Massachusetts.

We have been here before and know what happens when families are turned away from emergency shelters: Parents and children find shelter under bridges or behind dumpsters or on the floors of emergency departments (“The cost of emergency shelter has become unsustainable. Some caps may be warranted,” Editorial, March 11).

In 2012, the Patrick administration tightened regulations for access to emergency shelters. It had well-intended reasons, but the effort dramatically increased the number of people, including children, living in cars, on the streets, or in hospital ERs. In the end, the rules were repealed.

Now the state is about to tell families again that there may be no room for them in emergency shelters. Expect more homelessness. Because where else do you go when the last refuge is taken away? The street.

If the Commonwealth is serious about limiting the number of families eligible or the time unhoused people can stay in emergency shelters, then it must immediately invest in bolstering our safety net, doing more to help families get work, and helping families find affordable homes. And this means investing in, creating, and preserving affordable housing.

The alternative is forcing people to live in intolerable circumstances and conditions because they have no other options. No one wants that. It is inhumane, and it does not reflect our values.

Your editorial recognizes the need for increasing social services, but it still falls short in accepting the unacceptable. There can be no shelter caps if the only answer — and inevitable result — is sending families onto the street. You can’t just shut the door on our poorest families without first making sure they have somewhere else to go.

Georgia Katsoulomitis

Executive director

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute