Neither the scope of the homeless situation in Springfield nor the reasons for homelessness is generally understood by many of those in our community. While not a comprehensive report on these issues, this page attempts to shed some light on the problems facing all of us who understand the need to help those facing homelessness.
The problem in Springfield
Each year in Springfield, 1200-1400 individuals experience a spell of homelessness. The Federal Government tracks the number of homeless people by taking a count on the same night in January each year. In 2015, FOH had 161 individuals in shelter on that night.
Some of Springfield’s homeless are people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse problems, and these people are highly visible on our streets and in our parks. This population – about 20% of the entire homeless population—is referred to as the chronically homeless, and these individuals experience long-term or repeat homelessness.
Many homeless people are not visible, however. They are working or disabled with very low-income households, including families, who lose their housing through job loss, illness or eviction. Most people who become homeless experience a one-time crisis that is resolved when they obtain new housing.
Here is a snapshot of who and how FOH fulfilled its mission last year. In 2015, Friends of the Homeless:
- Provided shelter for 1007 individuals from 50 MA cities and towns, 50% (539) were new clients to FOH shelter
- Served more than 156,000 meals
- Helped 186 individuals find permanent housing from our shelter alone
- Operated 110 units of low-income housing
What causes this problem?
There is no one cause of homelessness. Contributing factors include:
Systemic factors such as:
- a decline in the availability of low cost housing;
- a profound economic transformation that has eliminated manufacturing jobs and replaced them with low-wage service sector jobs;
- the failure to develop an adequate community health system in the aftermath of deinstitutionalization for persons with mental health difficulties;
- a national substance abuse epidemic;
- persistent and intergenerational poverty; and
- racial inequalities
Individual vulnerabilities, often in combination with:
- domestic violence;
- mental illness;
- alcohol and/or drug abuse;
- low levels of education;
- poor or no work history experience; and
- childhood abuse and time in foster care
Erosion of the social safety net:
- welfare reform
- more limited eligibility for public benefits
- oversubscribed and underfunded supportive services
What is being done?
Just in the past few years, we have seen the following:
- The Springfield Plan – Homes within Reach, January 2007
- Special Commission Relative to Ending Homelessness in the Commonwealth, December 2007
- All Roads Lead Home – The Pioneer Valley’s Plan to end Homelessness, February 2008.
While all of these reports hold promise, the fact remains that funding for homeless projects is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Changing economic realities and constantly shifting priorities make it difficult to achieve meaningful short term progress.
There are many excellent documents and websites that deal with the issues of homelessness in the country and within the Commonwealth. Of particular interest are two of the documents noted below which deal with Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.
All Roads Lead Home
The Pioneer Valley’s Plan to end Homelessness, February 2008.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Final Report of the Special Commission to end Homelessness. Dated December 28, 2007.
Springfield’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness
Homes Within Reach, published January 2007
To read the latest report from the National Coalition to End Homelessness click on this link. The report was issued in January 2012.
Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance
A public policy advocacy alliance for homelessness issue.
U. S. Department of Health & Human Services
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration – Homelessness Services.
Western Mass Network to End Homelessness
A Blog from a network of advocates taking a regional approach to ending homelessness in Western Mass.
U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
The Interagency Council on the Homeless was authorized by Title II of the landmark Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act enacted on July 22, 1987 (PL 100-77).