I was recently reading this article about the state of the homeless population in Worcester County and I was gratified – but not surprised – by what writer Lee Hammel notes:
"Initiatives like the state's diversion program, that prevent homelessness rather than wait for it to happen, contribute to the encouraging result that homelessness in Worcester County has decreased by nearly 7 percent despite a time of high unemployment and housing foreclosures and a tough economy."
Preventing homelessness before it starts has been the hallmark of the state's stimulus-funded Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program. Its numbers have been impressive: The program's $18.4 million has serviced over 2,000 households, helped 2,400 people with rental assistance and helped 3,166 people with case management.
Hammel quotes Grace Carmark, the executive director of the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, an anti poverty agency – these folks have been on the front lines in the state's efforts to prevent homelessness – who said:
“We're able to make an impact when we had the stimulus money to provide subsidies and partnerships in the community to pay for ongoing case management and stabilization."
Carmark is referring generally to those people her agency has been able to help and specifically to a woman the article profiles: Assunta Kerr, a single mother of two children, who, through a series of bad events was nearing homelessness. The agency was able to help Kerr with her rent enabling her to move into an apartment with her family. Hammel writes that the rent subsidies "allowed [Kerr] to get an apartment and keep her sanity at a time she was "feeling lower than dirt," she said." Kerr has since found a temporary job and is enrolled in a Master of Business Administration program at the University of Phoenix in Westboro.
There are so many success stories like Kerr across the state. I just met Gina Cruz, a 32-year old single mother of two and a victim of domestic violence, who was also struggling through a tough time. The New England Farm Worker's Council was able to subsidize Cruz's rent, enabling her to get back on her feet. She is now working on her GED and plans to attend college. Gina told me she has a lot of goals but there is no way she could ever have hoped of achieving them, and help her daughters achieve their goals, without this little bit of help.
"I am not going to let other people do this for me but without their funding I wouldn't be a success story," she told me.