SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 5, 2013

Our view: New commitment needed to fight homelessness

The “hotel homeless” problem is on the rise again in Danvers.

Since the summer months, the town has seen a nearly 60 percent increase in the number of homeless families living in Danvers motels. On Aug. 20, there were 112 such families. On Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving, the number had risen to 181. The total includes more than 300 children.

The numbers are no better statewide, where the number has hit an all-time high of nearly 2,100 families, according to the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

The state places the families in motels and hotels at a cost of $82 a night — not including the cost to the host communities — when no other housing options remain. State officials said they plan to end the program next year, but the recent increase in the number of homeless families may put that promise to the test.

In October, Gov. Deval Patrick visited Salem to tout his administration’s commitment in the North Shore. The list included many building projects both completed and proposed, ranging from the new courthouse complex to parking garages in Salem and Beverly to state-of-the-art science labs for Salem State University.

Those investments are key to the long-term economic health of the region. The administration has fallen far short, however, in its efforts to combat homelessness, a failure shared across all tiers of government — state, local and federal. That has to change, and soon. Those hoping to solve the problem would do well to look to local experts on the North Shore.

In the short term, the federal government — the Obama administration and Congress — needs to restore $20 million in cuts to the Section 8 housing program. The voucher program allows families to pay 30 percent of their income for rent, with the government picking up the rest. It was a key tool in moving families from motels to more stable apartment life.

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