DANVERS — The number of homeless families living in hotels and motels in town has dropped precipitously to the point where the Danvers Recreation Department no longer plans to run a separate, free Project Sunshine summer day camp program for those family's school-age children.
As of May 24, there were 59 families living in motel rooms as part of the state Department of Housing and Community Development's Emergency Assistance Program. The families were all living at a single location, the Boston Danvers Hotel, a former Extended Stay on Route 1, Town Manager Steve Bartha said.
A year ago, there were approximately 162 families spread between three motels, he said. And on Dec. 1, 2015, there were 98.
The number of homeless families in hotels and motels is also down sharply statewide, now at 511 families, according to the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
This represents a nearly 19 percent drop from the 629 families statewide at the end of March, according to the Emergency Assistance Program's legislative report for the third quarter of fiscal 2016, which covers the first three months of the year.
There were 964 families at the end of the previous quarter, and 1,361 families at the end of the third quarter of fiscal 2015.
Still, Danvers has about 11 percent of the families sheltered in motels statewide.
State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who also represents Danvers, said the Baker administration has made it a top priority to end the practice of homeless families living in motels.
"They are stopping homelessness before they become homeless," Lovely said. The administration is doing that by providing assistance, a tank of oil or rental help, before families become homeless, coupled with intense case management. It's a cheaper alternative to housing someone in a hotel for $79 a night, Lovely said.
"The numbers are coming down and it is the governor's commitment to end this program," she said.
Last week, the Senate passed an amendment filed by Lovely to establish a Home Works Program. With funding of $400,000, the program will provide children living in motels and shelters with out-of-school and summer programming at places like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs.
"This idea started after working with families sheltered in hotels and motels in Danvers," Lovely said in a press release, "and I'm so glad to see this program funded in the Senate budget so it can be a resource to children and families statewide." Money for the program still has to get approval of a House and Senate conference committee.
The town has lingering concerns about the state's emergency shelter program.
On May 20, Bartha wrote Baker thanking him and his team for reducing numbers of homeless families in the program and thus at Danvers' motels.
But Bartha added, "Danvers has sheltered a disproportionate number of homeless families and the economic burden associated therewith."
The town has housed upward of 15 percent of homeless families in the state, Bartha said. And while Danvers has supported them as best it could, the families have strained schools, public health and public safety resources. The impact from unfunded school transportation and lost room tax revenue has exceeded $1 million.
However, Bartha wrote, "Danvers made every effort to ensure that the families and children feel at home in our schools and community, even extending our outreach to providing a free summer program (Project Sunshine) for children 6-12, funded largely by charitable giving within the community."
Bartha wrote Baker with his concerns about language in the Senate's budget that would loosen eligibility requirements by eliminating the existing 24-hour waiting period for housing, something Bartha said could reverse progress made in reducing numbers of homeless in hotels and motels.
Last summer, for the fifth year in a row, the town ran Project Sunshine for about 50 children, at a time when more than 160 families were being sheltered in motels. Two state grants covered most of the $40,000 cost.
This year, however, homeless families can register their kids for free in the Falcons Summer Fun Program at the Highlands Elementary School on Hobart Street.
"With the numbers where they are, it didn't make sense to hire staff and seek grants," Bartha said.
This Danvers Recreation summer program includes lunch and activities such as baseball, drama, and arts and crafts. The $1,280 cost, which runs about $145 a week for nine weeks (the first abbreviated week costs $120), will be covered by scholarships, Bartha said.
He estimates between five and 15 children from the hotel will take part in the program. So far, nine have registered.
Snapshot of hotel/motel homeless families statewide
May 27, 2016 511
March 30, 2016 629
Dec. 31, 2015 964
March 31, 2015 1,361
Source: Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
Snapshot of homeless families in Danvers' hotels/motels
May 24, 2016 59
May 26, 2015 162
May 27, 2014 183
May 28, 2013 109
May 30, 2012 129
May 31, 2011 111
Source: Town of Danvers