Jen walked into MAAP last week alongside her friend grinning and announced, “My daughter walked in our apartment the other day and asked if it was okay if she could get a B! Can you believe it?! D is getting A’s and is worried about one B!” Jen has been coming to MAAP for support, material aid and resources for herself and her daughter for the past six years. Following a divorce, she and D lost their housing and were without a safe and stable place to live for several years. For as long as Jen has been coming to MAAP she has spoken proudly of her daughter D; how smart, funny and kind she was; but I was never able to meet her as she was always at school or day camp when Jen came in.
In late August, just before school started, Jen came in with D! They needed to pick up a backpack and school supplies, and clothing to start the school year. D was every bit as wonderful as Jen had described her, an outgoing and kind sixth grader with an infectious laugh. After spending a few minutes looking at clothing with her mom she came over and sat on the floor by my desk with Walter, my dog, and asked if she could open her backpack. She wanted to write down notes for the story she was working on. D loves to read, her mom later noted reading has provided an amazing escape for D during difficult times, and has started writing stories based on her favorite book series Warrior Cats. For the next half an hour D sat with Walter in her lap, worked on her story and told me about the Warrior Cats, several clans of cats that live in a forest, and the struggles they experience including displacement and discrimination. D told me the story she was working on was about the first dog to enter the cats’ forest, Walter, who had come to protect the cats - I cried.
It was wonderful meeting D, who was just one of the 158 students who received a backpack filled with age appropriate school supplies following MAAP’s annual school supply drive this summer. Her positive outlook and perseverance continue to be an inspiration. There are about 20,000 K-12 students experiencing homelessness throughout MA; with 4,000 enrolled in the Boston Public Schools alone. They often have difficulty focusing on their work and have a much higher potential for developmental delays due to lack of a stable and safe residence. It can still take years for students who experience homelessness to catch up to their peers. By providing them with the tools necessary to participate in their education as much as they are able, is one thing MAAP can do to provide them with support. We are grateful to you for your generous donations of backpacks and school supplies. Also, thanks to Newbury Comics for a generous donation of backpacks.
Additionally, since January, MAAP has been advocating in collaboration with the MA Coalition for the Homeless, First Church Shelter, Boston City Mission and the Poor People’s United Fund at the state level for bills that fund programs for upstream homelessness prevention and that provide a proven pathway to stable housing for young adults and families experiencing homelessness. After a long struggle, the final FY17 budget includes an increase in funds for the MA Rental Housing Voucher Program, a $9.1 million increase in funds for Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), which provides financial aid for families to prevent homelessness or access permanent housing, and also expanded language to include families of all configurations and sizes including elders, people with disabilities, unaccompanied youth and other households without minor children-households that had previously been excluded from the program.
Currently, we are continuing to advocate for the removal of language in the Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter guidelines that requires families to stay somewhere not meant for human habitation, such as an emergency room, campground, car or the streets, before being eligible to access emergency shelter in the state of MA. It is the feeling of my colleagues and me that families should not be forced to stay in an unsafe and traumatic environment in order to access emergency shelter and we are committed to advocating for the removal of language that requires families to do so.