Emergency Assistance (EA) is the Massachusetts program providing emergency shelter and re-housing services for families with children experiencing homelessness.
In 2009 the Massachusetts Legislature transferred responsibility for administering EA from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). In fiscal year 2012, the Patrick-Murray Administration implemented a program of temporary rental assistance, household assistance, and moving assistance called HomeBASE as an alternative to emergency shelter. HomeBASE currently provides up to $10,000 per year of household assistance or moving assistance to help EA-eligible families obtain housing instead of shelter, or to exit emergency shelter for housing.
In fiscal year 2013 strict new eligibility criteria were implemented for the EA program, forcing many families – including children – to sleep in cars, parks, emergency rooms, and other dangerous places before being eligible for shelter. Despite the dire situation facing families experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts, the Legislature has not required DHCD to place families in shelter when they are at imminent risk of staying in a place not meant for human habitation. See “Out in the Cold,” MLRI policy paper, available at https://www.mlri.org/publications/out-in-the-cold/. In fiscal year 2020, the Legislature amended the EA budget language to say that families should be placed “but for having spent 1 night” in a place not meant for human habitation. DHCD has not issued any policy guidance to clarify how this is being implemented, however, and families in this precarious situation report being denied shelter despite having no place to go.
Families that are denied shelter are not guaranteed any other assistance, although they can apply for up to $4,000 through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. See Question 21.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, as of September 2020, families may only apply by telephone. Prior to this change, the Legislature required that families experiencing homelessness be able to apply for EA in local DTA offices. In spite of this mandate, DHCD has reduced the number of offices where they will take EA applications. Appendix A of this Guide includes the locations of the local DTA offices where DHCD staff are taking applications as well as a telephone number can call to apply for EA remotely. Appendix B includesthe names, phone numbers and fax numbers of the DHCD staff assigned to cover the various offices.
The EA, HomeBASE, and related DTA regulations are cited in this Guide. Some regulations may change, so always check to be sure you have the most up-to-date version of the regulations and rules.
Also be sure to check the DHCD website for updated information: Emergency Housing Assistance Programs, https://www.mass.gov/emergency-housing-assistance-programs; EA Resources, https://www.mass.gov/service-details/emergency-housing-assistance-resource-information; Housing Stabilization Notices, https://www.mass.gov/service-details/housing-stabilization-notices. You may also check the EA section of the legal services website, www.masslegalservices.org, where you can review historical EA policy materials from DTA and DHCD, which may help you make arguments about how DHCD should interpret the regulations. The EA section is available at https://www.masslegalservices.org/library/directory/benefits/emergency-assistance-homebase-short-term-assistance-emergency-shelter.
If you think you are eligible for EA but have problems getting services, or if you receive a notice from DHCD saying your EA or HomeBASE services are being terminated or that you have been found to have violated EA shelter or HomeBASE rules, you may want to consult a legal advocate. Appendix C includes a list of legal services offices that may be able to help you. Contact the office in your local area.
HomeBASE and RAFT are administered by several regional nonprofit housing organizations under contract with DHCD. A list of those organizations can be found in Appendix D.
If you are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness and need help finding new housing or staying in your housing, you can also contact the regional housing agencies for your area listed in Appendix E.