Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts: The Case for Family-Centered Care

by Carmela J. DeCandia; Marvin So; Libby Hayes

Feb 10, 2017

The number of families experiencing homelessness in the United States has increased from one to 37 percent of the overall homeless population over the past 30 years; Massachusetts is among the top states in the country with the greatest increases in homelessness. Families are at the center of the issue of homelessness. As such, their experience and input must be central to the solution. Over two decades ago, providers came together to form Homes for Families (HFF), as a means to increase the voices of families in advocacy efforts to end family homelessness in Massachusetts. HFF has a long history of engaging families in the development of policy recommendations and in influencing systems change. Before Family-Centered Care (FCC) was a recognized service model in most human service fields, HFF intentionally and actively placed the family voice at the center of its work, promoting provider-policymaker-family partnerships in advocacy and policy making. Over the last 20 years, Family-Centered Care (FCC) has taken hold in the medical community and is now recognized as a core component of working effectively with children and families. However, FCC has yet to truly take hold when addressing service delivery for family homelessness. What has been their lived experience of homelessness? What services are needed for families experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts? What do families say they need most? This study sought to answer these questions and complement the ongoing work of HFF in sharing the voice of parents with policy makers. In 2015 and 2016, Homes for Families asked 117 families experiencing homelessness in Greater Boston and western Massachusetts about their experiences with housing and support services. By listening to families, they identified places where families' needs and the emergency shelter (EA) family homeless service system were aligned, as well as five critical gaps in service needs. Family input to the future design of the emergency assistance (EA) system in Massachusetts is essential to improve the system's overall effectiveness. With the goal of ending family homelessness by 2020, and Massachusetts' efforts to end motel use to house families, the results of this study provide valuable insights about what service users need most to inform the system's development.

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