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New data: Homelessness in western Massachusetts reaches five-year high

Pamela Schwartz, the director of  the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, speaks at a meeting at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on May 12, 2023.
Alden Bourne
/
NEPM
Pamela Schwartz, the director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, speaks at a meeting at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on May 12, 2023.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in western Massachusetts hit a five-year high in 2023.

The Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness released a report saying more than 3,300 people did not have housing as of January 2023.

The group held a meeting of homeless advocates and lawmakers on Friday to discuss the findings and legislative priorities to address the issue.

Springfield's housing director, Gerry McCafferty, was one of the speakers. She said she wasn't surprised by the spike because factors driving homelessness have gotten worse.

"We know rents are up," she said. "We know we don't have enough housing units, that there is a crisis of immigration and refugees coming into the country. And we know that the pandemic had real impact on people and that some of those have made people more vulnerable and more likely to become homeless."

Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, said the end of some state pandemic protections and resources has also had an impact.

"We had an eviction moratorium that ended," Schwartz said. "We had a level of rental assistance in the face of eviction that has declined precipitously. And so, in the loss of those resources, we have more people experiencing homelessness."

Schwartz and other advocates are pushing state lawmakers to vote for programs to help people get housing or stay in their homes. One bill would create a right to a lawyer for those facing eviction. Another would help fund affordable housing.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.