About Family Homelessness

Homes for Families embarked on a research project from January 2014 through June of 2017. Here are four papers that we released as part of that project.

•  March 2015 : Assessment of Families Experiencing Homelessness : A Guide for Practitioners and Policy Makers

•  June 2015: The Family Shelter System in Massachusetts : a snapshot of program models, service needs, promising practices, and challenges

•  September 2017: Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts : The Case for Family Centered Care (click here for the data overview)

•  September 2017: Evidence Based Stabilization : A Solution to Reduce Family Homelessness in Massachusetts


Families come to experience homelessness for a variety of factors, but if we look to economics we can begin to put some factors together. Simply put, wages and incomes have not kept up with the high cost of housing. As a result, thousands of families are forced to choose between paying for housing and food, child care, health care, and education. Being low income in our Commonwealth too often means living at risk of becoming homeless.

Family homelessness is a national issue1

According to the Point in Time Count, a single night in 2016:

  • There were 194,716 people in families with children experiencing homelessness, representing 61,000 households and 35% of the homeless population
  • Nearly half of the individuals sheltered were those in families; 60% percent of people in families experiencing homelessness were children
  • 19,153 people in families were unsheltered

Family homelessness in Massachusetts2

  • The Emergency Assistance Program, which supports contracts for emergency family shelters across the state, has seen a steady increase since fiscal year 2005.
  • To be eligibile for the EA Program, a family must meet certain criteria. For an understanding of eligibility, please refer to our flow chart.
  • Once determined eligible by DHCD, you will receive your placement in an available unit, anywhere across the state. The four types of shelter placements are: congregate shelter, scattered site, co-shelter, or motel room (used for overflow).
  • In July of 2004, there were 1,147 families in the EA system. By December 2016, there were 4,443 families residing in the EA system, with more than 2,000 of these families living in motels.
  • Between October and December of 2016, 2,077 families applied for Emergency Assistance. In that same time period 1,118 families were placed in EA shelters or hotels / motels.

Simply put: rent is too high ...3,4

  • In the United States, a household renting a two-bedroom unit needs to earn at least $20.30 per hour in a full-time position. In Massachusetts, the income level for a two-bedroom unit needs to be at least $25.91 per hour in a full-time position. In no US state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.
  • In Massachusetts, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $11. To afford a two-bedroom apartment (at the state-wide average Fair Market Rent), the minimum wage worker would need to work 83 hours per week, every week of the year.
  • In Boston-Cambridge-Quincy HMFA, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,444. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $57,760 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $27.77.

And wages are too low.5,6,7,8

  • Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.66 per hour (in 2017 dollars). Since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 5.8% of its purchasing power to inflation.
  • Productivity in the United States has increased by 151% since 1968. The minimum wage has increased by only 19%.
  • If the minimum wage had grown with productivity it would currently be $18.85 per hour.
  • A single adult with just one preschool-age child would need to make at least $23 per hour to keep up with basic expenses plus child care.

MA is spending less on housing and more on shelter9, 10, 11

  • In 2001, the Emergency Assistance program was funded by $65.4 million. In 2017 it was funded $180 million, a 175% increase.
  • In FY90, the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program was funded at $112.6 million. In FY17, it was funded at $88.5 million, a 21% decrease.

More statistics on homeless families

  • The typical sheltered homeless family is comprised of a mother in her late twenties with two children
  • 84% of families experiencing homelessness are female headed
  • Families of color are overrepresented in the homeless population
  • 53% of homeless mothers do not have a high school diploma
  • 29% of homeless families are working
  • 92% of homeless mothers have experienced severe violence and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime; 63% report this abuse was perpetrated by an intimate partner
  • Homeless mothers have three times the rate of post traumatic stress disorder
  • About 50% of homeless mothers have experienced a major depressive episode since becoming homeless
  • Over one third of homeless mothers have a chronic physical health condition, and ulcers at four times the rate of other women
  • Children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often than other children, including four times as many respiratory infections, twice as many ear infections, and five times more gastrointestinal problems
  • Children experiencing homelessness have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems compared to non-homeless children
  • 36% of homeless children repeat a grade

Links to Solutions


1. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: The Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress
2. The Department of Housing and Community Development: Emergency Assistance Quarterly Report
3. National Low-Income Housing Coalition: Out of Reach 2016
4: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: FMR Documentation System
5. The Pew Research Center: Facts about the Minimum Wage
6. National Employment Law Project: MA Summary
7. Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center: Minimum Wage Challenges
8.Economic Policy Institute: The Economy We Could Have
9. Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center: Budget Browser, Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
10. CHAPA: A Study of the Appropriate Operating Costs for MA State-Funded Public Housing
11.Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center: Shelter and Housing for Homeless Families


National Alliance to End Homelessness’ FACT CHECKER SERIES. Available at www.endhomelessness.org
Burt, M. et al, 1999a
National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2013). Out of Reach 2013. Available at www.nlihc.org
The National Center on Family Homelessness (2011). The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness. Available at www.familyhomelessness.org
Department of Transitional Assistance (2008)
Crittenton Women’s Union 2007. Unlocking the Doors to Higher Education and Training for Massachusetts’ Working Poor Families (2007). Available here
CHAPA (2002)
MA State Government Budget, 2008. Available at www.mass.gov