While the summer is coming to an end, there is really no “slow time” at MWLS. Those in need are not seasonal but come through our doors daily. Every day, MWLS attorneys go above and beyond to respond to unimaginable circumstances that our families face.
This past Tuesday started as any other day but by noon, three homeless families had come to MWLS because they had tried to apply for Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter and were told that they did not qualify. Two were not even allowed to fill out an application. After brief interviews where these desperate families tried to condense the circumstances that led to their homelessness, they were sent away with no hope of a place to sleep that night. In just ten days, we now had six families who needed our help to access EA shelter.
As I heard these stories, one was worse than the next. A mother and child who had been sleeping in a car in a local park with the child inside the car and mom on an air mattress on the ground beside the car; a mother and severely autistic child who fled domestic violence in another country, stayed in Massachusetts with her sister but then sister was told that she could not have them there or she would be evicted; and a disabled veteran with PTSD, his wife who recently lost her job, teenage son, service dog and 20 year old cat sleeping in their car for the past two months. If the stories sound heart wrenching, the reasons that these families were denied shelter were even more absurd. The worst was that the mother and child sleeping in and next to their car could not provide photographic proof that they were sleeping in their car. Where was the selfie? These families and likely many others have more important things to worry about, like staying warm and safe, than taking a photo. Many don’t have fancy phones with cameras and certainly don’t have a camera at the ready.
The state regulation that requires many families to stay overnight in a place “not meant for human habitation” before applying for shelter is barbaric, and certainly a sad commentary on our society. The legislature is currently working to address this but in the meantime, MWLS was the only place these families could go to enforce their legal rights.
After a day and a half of meetings and negotiations with the legal department of the state agency, these families are now being placed in shelter. In the interim, thanks to a generous donor, MWLS was able to put these families in a hotel for the night. One mother said she was so thankful and was looking forward to her first shower in a week and being able to stretch out on a bed instead of sleeping in the hatchback of a car.
Elizabeth A. Soulé