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Basic Shelter Rights (Emergency Assistance)

 

What is Emergency Assistance shelter?

Emergency Assistance (EA) is a program that provides emergency shelter and rehousing services to homeless families with children.

The program is run by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). DHCD took over the EA program from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) on July 1, 2009.

Do I have the right to apply for shelter for my family?

Yes. You can apply for shelter with a DHCD worker at any DTA office. There are DHCD workers at most DTA offices. If the DTA office near you does not have a DHCD worker, the office will connect you to a DHCD worker by phone.

You have the right to apply for shelter at any time that the DTA office is open. The DHCD worker must take your application the same day you ask for shelter.

You also have the right to get DHCD's decision on your application in writing.

If a worker tries to convince you not to apply, ask to speak with a supervisor or office director. Call Legal Services if that does not work.

Can I get shelter?

You can get EA shelter if ALL of the following are true:

    1. You are pregnant or have a child under 21 years old.
    2. Your income is lower than the income limit and you don't own property worth more than $2,500.

Tip

Wages and cash benefits (TAFDC, EAEDC, SSI, etc.) count as income. SNAP/Food Stamps do not count as income. Tell DHCD if your pay or benefits are going down in the future.

  1. You have no place to stay, including with family and friends, OR you have a place to stay but it is too crowded or is not safe.
  2. You were not evicted from your last home for criminal conduct, for not paying your rent in public housing or Section 8, or for certain other reasons.

What if I am the victim of a fire or natural disaster?

If you have been through a fire or other natural disaster, you can automatically get shelter as long as you provide proof of the disaster from the fire department, police, or Red Cross.

What if I have housing, but it is unsafe?

If you currently have a place to live but that place is a threat to your health or safety, you may be able to get EA shelter. You will need to prove that your current housing is a threat to your family's health and safety. You can do this by showing it is overcrowded or that there are severe violations of the state sanitary code (for example, no water, lead paint, overflowing sewage). You may also may be able to get shelter if you need to leave your current housing because of abuse or a severe medical condition.

How do I apply for Emergency Assistance shelter?

To apply for EA shelter, go to the nearest Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) office. Find the DTA office nearest to you.

Ask for an application. DHCD must give you an application and let you fill it out the same day that you ask for it.

You will have to give DHCD information about your family, your income, and what you own. You will have to explain why you are homeless.

DHCD must approve or deny you within seven days. DHCD must approve or deny you right away if your health or safety is at risk or if you have nowhere at all to stay.

DHCD must give you an approval or denial in writing.

What if I don't have all the papers that DHCD asks for?

To get EA shelter, you have to prove certain things, like your income and your children's ages and why you need shelter.

But you do NOT have to give DHCD the exact papers that they ask for. You have the right to use different papers that show the same information.

If you cannot get all the papers together right away, DHCD has to decide whether to place you based on your statements and the papers that they have. If you seem to qualify for shelter based on your statements and the papers that DHCD has, DHCD must place you in shelter right away and give you 30 days to get the rest of the papers. If you have trouble getting any of the papers you need, a DHCD worker has to help you get them.

Will I be placed in a shelter near my home town?

If you get EA shelter, you will not be allowed to choose the shelter where you go. However, DHCD must place you within 20 miles of your home town.

If there is no space within 20 miles, DHCD will place you somewhere else in the state until a closer space opens up. As soon as a closer space opens up, DHCD is supposed to move you closer to your town.

Tip:

Do not refuse a placement or you will lose your right to shelter for 12 months. But you can appeal a placement that is too far away.

Also, if you or a family member needs to stay nearby because of a serious health problem, you can ask for an "accommodation" for a disability. This means that you can ask DHCD to treat your family differently than other families because of the health problems. You can ask to be moved to the top of the waiting list for a closer placement. You can also ask to be allowed to stay with friends or family members until a closer placement opens up.

What do I have to do while in shelter?

  1. You have to sign a "rehousing plan", which is a paper that lists things you have to do. The paper may say that you need to look for housing, look for a job, save money, etc. DTA has to let you help create your plan. The plan should only list things that you are able to do. If you cannot do something for a good reason, ask DHCD to take it out of your plan.
  2. You have to follow all shelter rules.
  3. If your income goes over the limit, you can stay in shelter six more months as long as you save the extra money.
  4. If you have to leave shelter for a time period, ask your worker first. Your worker will give you a form to fill out. If you do not fill out this form before leaving, you may not be able to get back into shelter for 12 months.

Can DHCD stop giving me shelter?

DTA can stop giving you shelter if you do any of these things:

  • you do not follow shelter rules,
  • you do not do the things listed in your rehousing plan,
  • you don't accept a shelter placement,
  • you leave a shelter placement without permission,
  • someone in your family does something unsafe or against the law, or
  • your income goes over the limit - but in this case you get to stay in shelter for 6 more months.

If DHCD stops giving you shelter, you cannot get shelter again for 12 months.

What if I do not agree with something DHCD does?

If you do not agree with DHCD about something, you can file an "appeal." This means you can ask for a hearing.

You can appeal if DHCD does not give you shelter, stops your shelter, places you too far away or in the wrong kind of shelter, transfers you to a different shelter, or gives you a warning notice.

You have to file an appeal within 21 days. If you have been denied shelter and need a hearing right away, ask for an "expedited hearing."

If you are already in shelter and DHCD tries to stop your shelter benefits, you mustappeal within 10 days to be able to stay in shelter while waiting for the hearing.

How do I file an appeal?

If you got a written notice from DHCD, there should be an appeal form on the back. Fill out the form. If you do not have a notice with an appeal form, write on a piece of paper that you want a hearing, and why.

Fax or mail the appeal to the Hearings Division at 617-573-1285. It is best to fax it. Then call the Hearings Division at (617) 617-573-1528 to make sure they got it.

Hearings Division

Department of Housing and Community Development

100 Cambridge Street
Suite 300
Boston, MA 02114

Fax: 617-573-1285
Phone: (617) 617-573-1528

It is better not to rely on your DHCD worker to send in the appeal for you. If you can, you should send it in yourself. But if you do not have a way to file the appeal yourself, ask your worker to fax the appeal for you. Also ask your worker to give you a copy of the fax receipt showing that the Division of Hearings got the appeal.

Can I get help with an appeal?

Call your local Legal Services office for help with your appeal.

For more help or information, you can also call:

Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless at 781-595-7570

www.mahomeless.org


Produced by Ruth Bourquin, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated January 2011


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