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danvers

Housing plight has grim forecast

With the state unable to end a program that places homeless families in hotels, Danvers is facing a record $250,000 in costs to transport homeless kids to school and increasing demand on a local food pantry.

The rising costs and increasing demand for local services surprised local officials, who were expecting the state to phase out the use of hotels as emergency shelter.

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“We were told the program would be over with by June 30,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. “It now doesn’t appear that will be happening. We’re in the trenches of a statewide problem.”

Governor Deval Patrick included $12.3 million to fund the use of hotels as emergency shelter in his proposed $36 billion state budget for fiscal 2015. Families are placed in hotels only when the state’s 2,000 permanent shelter beds are occupied.

Currently, there are 2,100 homeless families living in hotels across the state, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Housing and Community Development . In Danvers, 178 families, about 8 percent of the total, are living in three hotels in town.

Federal spending cuts to housing and food subsidies, ongoing high unemployment, and rising rents in Greater Boston are among the factors contributing to record family homelessness, a state spokeswoman said.

“In the summer and fall of 2013, the number of households requesting shelter rose beyond all our expectations or experience,” Emily Fitzmaurice, a Department of Housing and Community Development spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.

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“The state will use hotels/motels as long as the Emergency Assistance system has more families in shelter than shelter beds.”

Danvers state Representative Theodore Speliotis — who favors ending the use of hotels as emergency shelter — noted Patrick’s budget proposal includes $167 million to restore and repair 900 to 1,000 units of affordable housing that will be used to provide emergency housing for families.

“That would reduce the use of hotels and that’s heading in the right direction,” Speliotis said. “I’m encouraged that the budget addresses this. I think the legislature will respond favorably to the request. “There now are 148school-age children living in Danvers hotels, school officials said. About half of them attend school outside Danvers, in the community where they lived before becoming homeless.

Federal law allows a homeless student to attend school in their home school district. But transportation costs must be shared by the home district and the district where their shelter is located.

By the time school ends in June, Danvers expects to spend $250,000 on homeless transportation costs. “It’s the most expensive year we’ve ever had,” said Keith Taverna, the school department business manager.

Communities are entitled to be reimbursed for their costs by the state. But the rate of reimbursement varies. Two years ago, the state reimbursed communities 100 percent for homeless transportation costs.

But emergency state spending cuts last year reduced the amount to 70 percent.

And Patrick’s budget proposal also calls for 70 percent reimbursement, town officials said.

At that rate, Danvers is looking at a deficit of $75,000 or more.

The school district is keeping a close eye on spending, such as purchasing supplies, to cover the gap.

“It’s very hard to budget for homeless transportation costs,” said School Superintendent Lisa Dana.“We use the best indicators we can to anticipate the costs, but the number [of homeless students] can change overnight.”

The high number of homeless families also has strained a food pantry run by the nonprofit Danvers Community Council.

But a $20,000 state grant, announced recently by the office of State Senator Joan Lovely of Salem, should help to restock the cupboards.

“We’re grateful for the state assistance,” Marquis said. “Our food pantry supplies most of the families with the food they eat each week.”

The town now is trying to raise $35,000 to pay for Project Sunshine, the town’s summer recreation program for homeless kids. A bus picks up kids at the hotels and takes them to local parks and on field trips with other Danvers kids.

“We didn’t expect to offer it this summer,” Marquis said.

“But we’re launching another effort to fund it for the kids.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe
@globe.com
. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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