SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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August 31, 2013

Number of homeless families in hotels jumps

BOSTON (AP) — Despite promises by state officials to cut the number of homeless families being put up in hotels, a last resort when shelters are full, the total has shot up to near-record levels and is on a pace to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million a week.

The state was paying for 1,710 families to stay in motels around the state at $82 per family — or $140,220 per day — as of Thursday.

The number of homeless families in hotels and motels reached a peak of about 1,800 in December. That was down 30 percent by March, three months after state officials promised to phase out the program they said was not cost efficient.

The number has since jumped again.

This month’s jump was more than officials expected, but the goal remains the same, said Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of Housing and Community Development.

“We’re going to redouble our efforts. ... We’re not changing the goal,” Gornstein said.

State officials announced in January that they planned to stop placing families in hotels, done only when family shelters have no space, as of June 14. Most hotels and motels lack cooking facilities, have no play spaces for children and are not convenient to public transportation.

Homeless advocates say major challenges remain to meet the goal. Federal budget cuts have frozen much-needed funding, and rising rents in and around Boston — combined with a still recovering economy — have hit low-income families the hardest.

Libby Hayes, executive director of Homes and Families, said state rental assistance going to nearly 6,000 families on a two-year basis is set to expire on more than half of them by December.

“I’m nervous to see how it’s going to skyrocket,” she said.

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