Homeless to benefit from relaxed shelter rules

More flexibility in emergency

Revised regulations governing eligibility of homeless families seeking emergency shelter will be filed Friday by the ­Patrick administration.

The new rules come weeks after homeless advocates pleaded for changes in regulations they say led to mothers sleeping in cars with young children and emergency rooms inundated with families looking to spend the night.

In an effort to move more homeless families from temporary shelter to permanent housing, the Department of Housing and Community Development narrowed the scope of eligibility earlier this year.


The regulations were criticized by homeless advocates who said many families were falling through the cracks and being denied shelter despite dire situations.

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In October, hundreds of people packed a hearing at the State House to describe the plight created by the stricter guidelines, establishing four main criteria for eligibility. Under the original regulations, families could receive shelter immediately if they experienced fire, flood, or natural ­disasters; were victims of ­domestic violence or certain no-fault evictions; and families doubled-up with other people but facing health and safety risks.

The regulations released Tuesday took into account the testimony of hundreds of people who spoke during two hearings held by the Department of Housing and Community ­Development in October, said spokesman Matthew Sheaff.

The revised regulations, which take effect Dec. 7, give more flexibility to families who are in homes in poor condition; evicted for no stated reason; living with other families in crowded homes; or who need a health and safety referral by the Department of Children and Families to assess their current living situation.

The new guidelines also ­allow families whose homes were foreclosed to be eligible for emergency shelter.


In addition, the department changed eligibility standards for those who stay with friends living in subsidized housing. During the hearing, many said they are forced to “couch surf” among friends with subsidized housing, which has restrictions on the number of nights guests can stay.

Many said they found themselves on the streets again when their friends feared losing their own housing because they had someone living with them. If someone can document that a landlord would take action to terminate a tenant’s lease, the homeless person will get a ­direct referral to the Department of Children and Families, Sheaff said.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless could not be reached.