The needs of Massachusetts’ homeless population have become more urgent with winter’s arrival, but one advocate is confident the state will be able to meet those needs.
Over the course of the pandemic, shelters learned several valuable lessons when it comes to how they offer services to the homeless.
“One of the things that we’ve learned is the value of non-congregate shelter settings,” Joe Finn, president of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, told The Center Square. “Because the commonwealth worked closely with us to establish those settings by working with hotel lease-ups and different settings such as this, there could be a whole alternative model for sheltering that could probably be – long-term – far more effective than just relying on mass shelter.”
During the pandemic, mistrust of mass shelters increased among homeless individuals because they felt unsafe due to the virus, he said.
Finn notes, however, the state did a good job of making sure it had capacity over the last year, and in Hamden County the number of unsheltered individuals even dropped due to efforts to create non-congregate settings.
Going into the winter, Finn said one concern is the number of encampments he’s seen crop up all over the state. While he has no definitive data to back it up, Finn said he thinks the increasing encampment numbers are tied to the opioid crisis.
He said having enough capacity in mass shelters does not solve the problem.
“What does seem to solve it is – again – non-congregate shelter,” he said.
Non-congregate shelter allows homeless individuals to retain a sense of dignity and security by having a private space with a door, Finn explained.
The real need for these individuals is housing, however.
“I think it’s well intentioned that people want to donate socks to the shelters (and) do all of these other different things, but what I’m really concerned about is that we (must) face up to this housing crisis in this country,” Finn said.
“We can do better,” he said.
He pointed out the challenge to homeless shelter providers is not just about how they keep their program going, but how to end the need for their program at all.
Until that happens, however, Finn has assurance the Bay State will be able to care for its own as the cold comes to stay.
“It varies from region to region, but there’s significant regions where the full shelter capacity hasn’t even currently been used,” he said. “As winter approaches, whether or not that will remain the same, we’ll see, but I again I have confidence that whatever happens we’ll be able to meet that need.”
This article was originally posted on Advocate is ‘confident’ shelter providers meet needs of the homeless over winter