CEO’s Corner: April 2016

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIIn January, the Brookings Institution cited Boston as the city with the greatest disparity between rich and poor, jumping up two spots from last year’s report. Although Boston is closely followed by New Orleans and Atlanta, the city’s gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen at an alarming rate.

One of the results of this disparity is the growing number of men, women, and increasingly young adults experiencing homelessness.

Boston Rescue Mission and St. Francis House Boston – the largest day shelter in Massachusetts – opened warming shelters during the winter because of overcrowding at the shelters run by the Boston Public Health Commission. This past January, the Pine Street Inn averaged 20 percent over capacity. The opiate crisis, seen here in Massachusetts and across the country exacerbates an already critical situation, straining our shelter system.

The Coalition for Homeless Individuals, a statewide collection of emergency shelters, human service providers and their supporters, has worked on Beacon Hill to try to secure more dollars for this underfunded system that cares for our homeless men and women. Figures from across the state show that providers have deployed an extra 600 beds to take care of overcrowding – without any state funding to support these beds. State funding covers just 47 percent of the true costs of caring for homeless men and women in the Commonwealth with similar situations across the country.

Our providers are hard at work this budget cycle trying to secure more dollars so that budgets aren’t stretched so thin. Our state budget is more than just numbers in a ledger – it has a real impact on the lives of six million residents and an incredible effect on those residents in search of shelter. Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey famously said that the moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, those who are in the twilight of life, and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. Our homeless citizens too often live in the shadows, especially as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

Unfortunately, there is no single, or simple, answer to eradicating homelessness. Officials at the local, state, and federal level are grappling to find the solution and have shown a commitment to solving the problem. However, more work needs to be done to ensure better treatment for men and women on the margins of our society.

And it doesn’t end there. Understanding that this is not an issue that can be solved simply with government support and intervention, we have seen a rise in advocacy and involvement from non-profit organizations looking to help solve the problem. The solution will come from all of us, working together to ensure that food and shelter are never considered a luxury for anyone.