Massachusetts Family Homelessness Doubled in FY 2008-13, Study Finds

Family homelessness has increased significantly in Massachusetts over the last nine years, with children accounting for a majority of the homeless population, a report from the Boston Foundation finds.

Conducted in partnership with research firm Westat and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, the study, The Growing Challenge of Family Homelessness: Homeless Assistance for Families in Massachusetts: Trends in Use FY2008-FY2016 (52 pages, PDF), found that the number of families receiving shelter through the Massachusetts Emergency Assistance program had doubled since 2008 — among the largest increases in the nation; that children accounted for nearly 60 percent of the shelter population in the state; and that Massachusetts was one of only two states (New York was the other) in which families make up more than half the shelter population. The size of homeless families in the state receiving assistance also grew, with nearly 20 percent of families entering shelters in fiscal year 2016 including two adults, up from 8 percent in fiscal year 2008.

According to the report, the typical family in a Massachusetts shelter has a female head of household age 30 with one or two children. During the nine-year period covered by the report, 91 percent of the heads of household were women, 56 percent were white, 37 percent were African American, and 40 percent were Latino (also included in the white and black categories). While the numbers of new entrants to and returns to the shelter system have declined in the last two years, the average length of their time in shelters has continued to increase, from about eight months in 2008 to nearly a year in 2013. Families with longer stays in shelters tended to be larger families headed by African-American or Latina women, those in scattered-site shelters (apartments in the communities rented by the state) or co-shelters (apartments shared by two or three families), and those in Boston and northern Massachusetts.

"Children are among the most vulnerable members of our society," said Boston Foundation president and CEO Paul Grogan. "How we serve them and their parents is a reflection not only of our systems and institutions, but our character as a community."