The state spent $46.5 million on hotels as emergency shelters in fiscal 2013, according to figures in the governor’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget. Spending could be as high as $52 million this fiscal year. The governor’s new budget, however, slashes this item to $12.3 million, a 73.5 percent reduction.
Gornstein said the state is focusing on programs to prevent families from winding up in motels, including grants of up to $4,000 for rental or utility bill assistance. Last year, the Legislature passed a $1.4 billion housing bond bill to create more affordable housing. The state is also helping local housing authorities fix vacant units and is creating 1,000 more congregate shelter bed units.
In the coming fiscal year, the governor wants to spend $167 million for emergency assistance and family shelters, up from more than $90 million this year. This new spending includes $45 million to expand the number of congregate shelters.
Speliotis has filed a bill, supported by state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, calling for a six-month residency requirement before a family can get a room. As the only right-to-shelter state, many families are moving to Massachusetts to get housing, Speliotis said.
The bill, which has been referred to the Joint Committee on Housing, calls for the state to stop placing families in motels if the state unemployment rate dips below 6 percent.
Lovely, who was able to secure a $20,000 grant for the Danvers People-to-People Food Pantry, said she is concerned that young kids will be stigmatized by long motel stays. She would like to see the state do a better job of capturing accurate data on the residential history of families seeking shelter.
“It defines the beginning and defines the end when people aren’t willing to take that on,” Speliotis said of his bill, “and it tends to force a solution on a situation that no one is happy with... The goal is not to feel good about hotels and motels.”