SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 1, 2014

No end yet for motel housing in Danvers

Officials doubt state hotel homeless program will end in June

DANVERS — State and local officials are doubtful Massachusetts will stop placing homeless families in budget motels by the end of June as promised.

“Certainly, there is no expectation this program will be gone as of June 30,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

Danvers, with motels set along or near major highways, has long been at the forefront of the debate about their use as emergency family shelters. About 9 percent of the 1,980 homeless families sheltered in motels statewide were living in three Danvers motels as of Feb. 18, the latest week the figures were available.

The state’s program has stretched the resources of the local food pantry and the school department, which, under federal law, must pay to transport students back to schools where they lived prior to becoming homeless. The town splits the cost with the other district. The state has failed to fully reimburse this transportation cost, Marquis said.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development resorts to motels when its 2,400-bed family shelter system reaches capacity. The state contracts with a third-party vendor to provide the rooms, paying $82 a night, said agency spokesman Matthew Sheaff. That works out to be $2,542 a month.

State officials want to end this costly program by the end of June, but local lawmakers think it will continue.

“It’s finally clear they are not going to shut down the motels,” Danvers state Rep. Ted Speliotis said.

Department of Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein said the agency is working “aggressively” to end the use of hotels and motels as emergency family shelters.

However, the Bay State is a right-to-shelter state, Gornstein said, meaning homeless families can’t be turned away.

“We are not going to leave a family unserved,” Gornstein said, adding, “our No. 1 goal is to eliminate the program.”

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