How New Shelter Length of Stay Limits Impact Families

By Shiela Y. Moore

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When it’s working as intended, Massachusetts’ Emergency Family Shelter System functions as a vital safety net for families. Shelter providers offer families experiencing homelessness safe, stable places to stay until they are able to find permanent homes, along with comprehensive support to get back on their feet. At its best, this system offers safety, dignity, and support that leads to families finding stable, affordable housing and moving beyond homelessness for good. And, families can count on that safety and stability, remaining in shelter until they are able to find and maintain permanent homes. 

During their time in shelter, families work closely with staff to secure affordable, permanent housing through every option available to them, as quickly as possible. This process typically takes approximately one and a half to two years for families at Hildebrand, often involving complex housing and voucher applications along with finding jobs, childcare, and other essential components to achieving long-term stability. Once families secure a permanent home and move out of shelter, Hildebrand’s Stabilization Services team works with families to remain housed. Hildebrand’s approach works—families find affordable homes, move out of shelter, and stay housed in the long term. More than 90% of families are still stably housed two years after moving out of shelter.

New restrictions imposed by the legislature, however, will soon interrupt this proven approach. Effective this July, some families will be required to leave shelter before they’re ready. With a record-high number of families in the state’s emergency shelter system, the Massachusetts legislature recently passed significant new restrictions limiting the time that a family can stay in shelter to nine months, with the possibility of two 90-day extensions for families that meet certain criteria. Once enforcement of these limitations begins in early July, the state anticipates terminating 100-150 families from shelter per week. Advocates for vulnerable families are very concerned about the impact this will have on children and families.

This change significantly impacts how the shelter system supports families—and jeopardizes this critical safety net at a time when we’re experiencing an intense housing shortage and affordability crisis in Greater Boston. In its 2023 Greater Boston Housing Report Card, The Boston Foundation reported that rental vacancy rates in Greater Boston are “stubbornly low” compared with other large metro areas and continue to decline, while the portion of renters who are cost burdened—paying more than 30% of their income towards rent—has reached a record high. Sending 100-150 families per week out of shelter and into this environment is unsustainable and will only serve to fuel this crisis.

Families need more support to navigate an increasingly limited and expensive housing market, not more restrictions. Pushing hundreds of families out of shelter and into a highly expensive and competitive housing market before they’re ready is not a solution. Amid these drastic changes, though, one constant remains: Hildebrand and its partners remain steadfast in working to achieve our vision that every family has a home. We won’t lose our focus on prioritizing families first and foremost.

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Cambridge, MA 02139
Ph: 617-491-5752
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