The Growing Challenge of Family Homelessness

The Growing Challenge of Family Homelessness

Homeless Assistance for Families in Massachusetts: Trends in Use FY2008-FY2016

On any given night in Massachusetts, more than 13,000 individuals in families experience homelessness, approximately 60% of them children. Living in shelters and hotel/motels disrupts the lives of both adults and children, affects family stability and makes it difficult for families to maintain daily routines and productive lives.

The homeless assistance system in Massachusetts, like many homeless delivery systems across the nation, is evolving its practices, moving from interventions that manage homelessness to those that work to reduce and eliminate it. Homeless delivery systems are examining the mix of housing, services and supports in order to determine how to prevent homelessness when possible and decrease its duration when it becomes inevitable. Having data on trends in the dynamics of use of homeless assistance can help inform program and policy decisions.

Since FY2008, more than 33,000 family households have received shelter through the Massachusetts Emergency Assistance (EA) program, accounting for more than 100,000 individuals. The number of families receiving EA has more than doubled in the past nine years, an increase that is among the highest in the nation. Families also comprise more than half of the Commonwealth’s homeless population, making it one of only two states (the other being New York) in which families comprise more than 50% of the shelter population.

Families receiving EA have become homeless for various reasons, most commonly due to a health and safety concern such as living in a place not suitable for human habitation. Families served in Massachusetts look demographically like families served across the country: On average, a family staying in a Massachusetts shelter is headed by a female about 30 years old with one or two children. A little more than half (56%) of the families have been white, 37% have been African American and 40% have been Hispanic. Race and ethnicity have varied somewhat by region, with Boston having the lowest percentage of families identified as white (35%), and the western part of the state having the highest percentage of white families (78%). The western part of the state also serves the highest percentage of Hispanic families (57%).

The demographic profile of families has remained largely consistent over time with respect to age of the head of household, and racial and ethnic composition. Family size, however, consistently increases over time. Families entering shelter in FY2008 averaged 2.59 persons, increasing to 3.23 in FY2016. Increase in family size is largely due to a steady increase in the percentage of families with a spouse or partner, from 8% in 2008 to more than double that percentage at 19% in 2016. 

ORGANIZATION: The Boston Foundation
LOCATION: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.