, Salem, MA

Local News

January 14, 2010

Affordable homes and more jobs the key to helping homeless

DANVERS — Four days before Christmas, Dorsey "DJ" Gustus received the call he'd been waiting four months to get: He and 5-year-old son Darnell were moving out of Motel 6 into permanent housing.

The state had found a low-income apartment for the homeless father, originally from North Carolina, and his son.

The Gustuses were one of thousands of families placed temporarily in motels across the state this year. And while they were lucky enough to find a permanent home, nearly a thousand more are still languishing in motels across the state. The question is what can be done about it.

Experts say affordable housing and more jobs are key to the overall solution.

"There's only so much efficiency you can wring out of the homeless system," said Nan Roman, president and CEO of National Alliance to End Homeless. "At some point, you have to look at the underlying costs. Basically, people need more inexpensive housing or their income needs to be higher. Those are the larger-picture solutions."

In essence, the state needs an adequate supply of affordable housing to help prevent homelessness in the first place, she said.

By law, Massachusetts guarantees shelter to every eligible homeless family, a generous stance shared only by New York City and Hennepin County, Minn. No other state offers a similar guarantee.

What that means is that when family shelters reach capacity, the state puts up families like the Gustuses in hotels and motels.

"I think this is manageable," state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, said of the shelter guarantee. "As long as we can manage it, and it's temporary in nature, I think it's the right thing to do."

There are some successes. The state has moved 800 families out of the system since Aug. 1, and 500 more left the system using other resources, said Robert Pulster of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

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