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  Posted by: Liz Curtis, Executive Director, Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing  and Homelessness

Each year the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. As we lead up to Thanksgiving we will spend this week from November 15 – 21 raising awareness about issues related to hunger and homelessness in the Commonwealth. We all have felt the effects of the economic recession, but many of our neighbors struggle to find affordable housing and enough food for their families. A Project Bread report in October 2008 said that 8% of households (522,000) in Massachusetts experienced “food insecurity” meaning they weren’t able to obtain adequate nutritious food for a healthy life. In December of 2008 a point-in-time count found that there were 15,448 homeless people in Massachusetts, which included all homeless men, women, and children. Of those, 6,871 were single individuals and the rest represented members of families, with children as the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.

Over the last few years there has been a dedicated effort from the Patrick-Murray Administration and the Legislature to end homelessness for good in Massachusetts. In 2007 the Commission to End Homelessness worked to develop a 5-year plan to end homelessness. A broad group of stakeholders from the public and private sectors came together to design solutions, recognizing that all our neighbors deserve a safe place to call home. Since then, Lt. Governor Tim Murray has served as chairperson to the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICHH) which has been charged with implementing the 5-year plan. Despite the economic downturn and the increased demand for help that came with it, we have seen a great deal of success in moving towards a more coordinated and efficient way to provide housing-based solutions rather than shelter-based solutions. For example, earlier this spring the ICHH spent $8 million to support the development of Regional Networks to End Homelessness across the state. These Networks are forming to bring together as many resources as possible to prevent homelessness in the first place or rehouse those who have experienced homelessness. Just last month (October 2009) ICHH-funded partners prevented 553 families from becoming homeless. In addition, between July 1, 2009 and September 30, 2009 partners housed 17 homeless adults who had been homeless for a year or longer and have mental or physical disabilities. Additionally, on October 8, 2009 Governor Patrick announced a $17.9 million investment of federal recovery funds to boost comprehensive homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing efforts. All of these resources are aligned so that as a Commonwealth we are getting the right resources to the right people at the right time.

Ending homelessness isn’t easy. We need the help of the entire community – including service providers, consumers, the business community, faith communities, employers, and average citizens who believe we all have a right to housing. An organization working every day to raise awareness of family homelessness recently produced a short film that highlights the issue and puts a human face to the challenge. To understand more about the people we’re talking about, check out the video from Homes for Families here. You can play a role in raising awareness this week, too. Share this post with friends and family or write your own post on a blog you read. Get a group together to donate food or money to a local food bank or homelessness prevention fund.

Visit this blog throughout the week for more information about hunger and homelessness, what the Commonwealth is doing to make a difference, and how you can get involved.

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