SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 6, 2014

Politicians aim to curb motel program

Two North Shore legislators, worried that the state will not end a program that houses the homeless in local motels, are trying to do something about it.

Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Rep. Ted Speliotis (D-Danvers) are joining forces to stop or limit the program, which exacts a toll on communities like Danvers, which must educate a changing group of homeless children in the schools. It also strains the budgets of charitable groups like the People to People Food Pantry.

In October, according to Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis, 192 families were living in Danvers motels, including 300 kids. State officials have expressed their intention to end the practice in little more than a year, but Speliotis is skeptical that the state will follow through. He notes that homeless advocates have the ear of Gov. Deval Patrick.

“The next few weeks will be telling,” he said. “The first thing I want to see is the governor’s budget ... to see if he keeps his commitment.”

Meanwhile, Lovely is working on legislation that would institute a residency requirement, “maybe 30 days,” to discourage people coming from outside of Massachusetts to make use of the program — the only one of its kind in the country. Currently, people have to be in the state only a single day to qualify for emergency shelter.

“We want to get a handle on where people are coming from,” Lovely said, “whether out of state or out of the country.”

Speliotis believes the program attracts homeless people from elsewhere, estimating 10 to 15 percent of those being sheltered are coming from out of state.

“Word gets around,” he said. “People migrate here, and it really is wrong. The intention of the program is to help people in our state.”

Additionally, Lovely hopes to pass a bill compensating Danvers for lost hotel and motel tax revenue, which she estimates at $100,000 for the town.

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