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Report: Homeless problem in western Massachusetts now worse in some ways, better in others

Homeless shelter beds in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Heather Brandon
Homeless shelter beds in Springfield, Massachusetts.

An advocacy group in western Massachusetts says family homelessness in the region has gone down slightly during the pandemic, but individual homelessness has gotten worse.

Overall, according to a new annual report by the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, just over 2,800 people in the region are currently homeless. That tally includes 960 individuals, with 68 between the ages of 18 and 24. Members of families without homes totaled 1,876.

Director Pamela Schwartz said the results are not surprising, especially given the economic stresses of the COVID-19 crisis.

"People who are currently struggling are struggling more and worse than the rest of us. And, disproportionately, the number of people of color are being impacted," Schwartz said. "So these are things that actually I think we would predict. It is just deserving of being fire in the belly to make the steps that we know need to happen, happen."

Schwartz said that means continuing or expanding state programs to ward off evictions, either through the state budget or allocation from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and addressed inseveral pending state bills.

"We need to restore the [state] rental assistance program to the federal standards so that we keep families secure," Schwartz said. "And that is something that is positively doable."

The Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness is also pushing for more affordable housing. It said 900 new affordable rental units are in the pipeline for next year, but 17,000 are needed to meet demand.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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