Study: homelessness in Western Massachusetts reaches five-year high
HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The number of western Massachusetts residents experiencing homelessness has reached a five year high and on Friday, local leaders gathered to discuss the growing problem.
Elected officials on every level of government and across the western Massachusetts community came together for the seventh annual regional gathering of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness at Holyoke Community College.
“It’s incredibly inspiring the commitment that was in this room today. It’s what gives hope in a very daunting and challenging situation,” said Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.
Local leaders discussed how they can fight homelessness by addressing issues like the affordable housing crisis after new numbers show western Massachusetts has reached a five-year high when it comes to homelessness. In the most recent “point in time” count, over 3,300 people across the four counties of western Massachusetts were counted as homeless. The figure includes over 2,200 families and over 1,000 individuals. According to the findings, this is higher than the last five years and shows a 24 percent increase from 2021.
As for what lead to this uptick, Schwartz told Western Mass News that post-pandemic strain could be to blame.
“Anyone who is a living on the edge of paying bills in the face of that stress is that much more at risk to fall into homelessness,” Schwartz added.
She added that the end of the eviction moratorium, along with additional rental assistance and eviction protections during the pandemic, may have led to some negative consequences on the homeless front.
“What we need to do is invest and grow from the trauma of the pandemic experience and implement the policies in a lasting way because we do know works,” Schwartz explained.
As for what some of those solutions, Schwartz noted, “Things like protecting people from evictions while their rental assistance applications are pending. It would be providing a lawyer for people who are facing eviction. Right now, 85 percent of landlords have lawyers when they’re facing eviction, 10 percent of tenants have lawyers. It’s a huge imbalance and unnecessary evictions,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz told us the power of our elected officials working hand-in-hand with those who have lived experiences of homelessness to housing instability have the power to make change.
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