Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2019

Emergency Assistance (EA) is the Massachusetts program providing emergency shelter and re-housing services for homeless families with children.

In 2009 the Massachusetts Legislature transferred responsibility for administering EA from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). In fiscal year 2012, the Patrick-Murray Administration implemented a program of temporary rental assistance, household assistance, and moving assistance called HomeBASE as an alternative to emergency shelter. HomeBASE currently provides up to $10,000 per year of household assistance or moving assistance to help EA-eligible families obtain housing instead of shelter, or to exit emergency shelter for housing.

In fiscal year 2013 strict new eligibility criteria were implemented for the EA program, forcing many families – including children – to sleep in cars, parks, emergency rooms, and other dangerous places before being eligible for shelter. See Out in the Cold, an MLRI policy paper. In fiscal year 2020 the Legislature amended the EA budget language to say that families should be placed “but for having spent 1 night” in a place not meant for human habitation. It is not yet clear how this policy change will be implemented, and there is legislation pending to make this change permanent.​

Families who are denied shelter are not guaranteed any other assistance, although they can apply for up to $4,000 of Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT). See What are your EA appeal rights?

As required by the Legislature, families experiencing homelessness are able to apply for EA in local DTA offices. In spite of this mandate, DHCD has reduced the number of offices where they will take EA applications. The legislature recently prohibited DHCD from closing any more in-person intake locations, although the Lowell location remains closed as of the time of publication of this guide. Appendix A of this Guide includes the locations of the local DTA offices where DHCD staff are taking applications as well as a telephone number can call to apply for EA remotely. Appendix B includes the names, phone numbers and fax numbers of the DHCD staff assigned to cover the various offices.

The EA, HomeBASE, and related DTA regulations are cited in this Guide. Some regulations may change before this Guide is updated, so always be sure to check to be sure you have the most up-to-date version of the regulations and rules.

The EA regulations refer to some Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) regulations that apply to the TAFDC (family cash assistance) program, including those that govern counting of income. The DTA regulations are available at online.

Also be sure to check the DHCD website for updated information: Emergency Housing Assistance Programs, EA Resources, and Housing Stabilization Notices. You may also check the EA section of the MassLegalServices website, where you can review historical EA policy materials from DTA and DHCD, which may help you make arguments about how DHCD should interpret the regulations.

If you think you are eligible for EA but have problems getting services, or if you receive a notice from DHCD saying your EA or HomeBASE services are being terminated or that you have been found to have violated EA shelter or HomeBASE rules, you may want to consult a legal advocate. Appendix C: Legal Services Intake Lines for EA/HomeBASE Issues includes a list of legal services offices that may be able to help you. Contact the office in your local area.

HomeBASE and RAFT are administered by several regional nonprofit housing organizations under contract with DHCD. A list of those organizations can be found in Appendix D: HomeBASE and RAFT Administering Agencies.

If you are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness and need help finding new housing or staying in your housing, you can also contact the regional housing agencies for your area listed in Appendix E: Regional Non-Profits Administering Other Housing Services.

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