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The following post is from Robyn Frost, our Executive Director, on behalf of the entire Coalition team.

January 31, 2017 

It always is hard to say goodbye to anyone, but this goodbye may be one of the hardest. Lois Ferraresso, our Associate Director, is retiring today. We are all excited for the next chapter in Lois’ life, but she will be sorely missed. There is so much the Coalition needs to thank her for since joining the team in 1992. It does not feel like it has been that many years that Lois has been with the Coalition until you begin to look at what has been accomplished during her tenure.  


Lois first started with the Coalition as a volunteer, then working with the Furniture Bank, then to event planner, and now as Associate Director. I have had the pleasure to work with her for 24 years and we have worked very closely on many, many projects, and it is because of her tireless efforts that this agency has grown to what it is today. I truly can say that she and I have been partners in crime on more than one occasion – although we never stole anything, we have been extreme party planners for events from Furnish the Future to the Boston Magazine Medfield design home. There are far too many more to name, never mind remember. 

No matter the event, Lois brought with her the energy, skills and her extreme conscientiousness to the smallest of details, which combined to insure that every event was a huge success. Lois has held many different roles that for the most part were never on her job description – actually, I am not sure she ever did have a job description. Her most recent role working on grants management will be the one of her everlasting legacy. It is her attention to detail that has made it possible for the Coalition’s grant support from foundations and corporations to grow over the years. 

There is little doubt that the time that Lois has been with the Coalition, it has grown and strengthened, making it possible for the agency to pursue its mission of helping families and individuals who are at-risk and experiencing homelessness across Massachusetts! The Coalition owes a huge amount of debt to Lois and we forever will be grateful.

Thank you, Lois!
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This is a guest post from the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at http://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org or contacti them at help@ssd-help.org.

Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) make a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans with disabilities and their families. If you’re experiencing homelessness, these benefits can not only ensure you have a steady source of income, but may also help you get your own place and keep up with the rent.

Benefits include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Dependent upon your work history and your current financial circumstances, you may qualify through both of these programs.

SSDI and SSI Benefit Eligibility

To qualify for SSI, you must have very limited income and other financial resources. Your odds of SSI approval are high as someone who is experiencing homelessness, though you must still meet the SSA other eligibility requirements. These include having a qualifying disability that will keep you from earning a substantial living for 12 months or longer.

SSDI benefits are for disabled workers who paid into the Social Security system through taxes. Provided you have worked in the past 10 years and you have sufficient work credits built up from paying Social Security taxes, you may additionally receive SSDI.

Challenges for Applicants Without a Fixed Address

  • Your Application Address – To file for benefits, you need a permanent address at which you can receive communications from the SSA. Any mailing address will suffice, as long as you can quickly and consistently receive notice that you’ve gotten mail from the SSA. Churches, shelters, social services offices, and family members are just a few options for how you can get your SSA notices.
  • Building Sufficient Medical Records – Benefit approval hinges on having appropriate medical documentation of your disability. For many people experiencing homelessness and other low-income applicants, financial restrictions may prevent regular doctor visits. Free clinics and other low cost or sliding scale medical facilities are one way to build your medical history. Just keep in mind that you need a doctor rather than a nurse practitioner as your primary healthcare provider. The SSA may also order consultative exams once you apply for benefits. A consultative exam can help fill in gaps in your medical history.
  • Benefit Payment Account – To receive payments through SSI and/or SSDI, you must have an account with a bank or sign up for a Direct Express debit card with the SSA, because all benefits are now transferred electronically each month. The staff at the local SSA office can help you apply for Direct Express. You can also sign up for direct deposit to a bank account or for a Direct Express card from any internet-connected computer.
Overcoming Hurdles in Applying for Benefits

You can submit your disability application online. If you’re living in a shelter or other transitional housing, you may or may not have access to the internet. Any internet-connected computer will do though, so you can even file from a social services office, a local church, a library computer, or with the help of a staff at the shelter in which you currently reside.

Social Security offices are located in all major cities and many smaller communities as well. You can walk in to any office to apply for benefits. Just be sure to let the SSA staff member that helps you know about your living situation. He or she can assist with navigating the application process and help you figure out how to overcome some of the unique challenges you’ll face.

For a list of Social Security offices in Massachusetts, please go to https://www.ssa.gov/boston/MA.htm.


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Boomerang

Posted in Advocacy
Boomerang

A Poem by Christine Rene Ciulla



A thought on the way home... on the way, I guess. There are pauses, there are thoughts that race across our universe headed for a place to belong, in the light.



What can I say about the swirling rivers that have flowed within me…why I smile when it hurts most. Why I feel it bigger…at times this game of tug of war...I play with life, it is who I am.  It is feeling crowded by my own presence. Distance, the only direction my eyes can see.



A cast of shadows that play their part in memories that are best long forgotten. But words, sweet words still have a softness, a cushion when blackness needs a place to fall. Down upon itself...musically surrounded by feelings that feel when bland unaffected by color... a commonplace takes a turn.



I wish it was clearer; the line between the beauty of peace, and brutality of sadness... Though, it seems neither can exist without the other… they are partners. I like to imagine it that way. To think and question and gain perspective from yesterdays foot steps. It hurts in every muscle, places deeper than a person can tumble and as it gives way.



Then there are fountains of inspiration, days of faith, and poems flowing, from a beautiful watered garden. The sweet relief of emotion its like a sort of stardust…Neither is a place I could ever completely give my myself to... So I find the open spaces where life rushes in. 



The cold air of January on my cheeks. A walk through a path of trees. A sweater I wrap myself in. A catalog of sweet something’s that could very possibly get me through another day, on the street, so I save it all. Its tiny scraps of paper, a text I reread and smile. A hint of a smell. The tune of a guitar usually acoustic becomes the string around my finger that leads me back to remembering to open my eyes.



The path is the way, catching fireflies, catching a breath, catching a smile on the way to a home through another day. Its ups and downs rights and wrongs, the grays that come in between. It's maddening and miraculous. It’s my chance, my one chance at touching this life and leaving a mark. Some would say it a curse and a blessing -- I would have to agree.



By what is given by birth, by my standing. Is my heart… my legacy… it’s purity…The good guys winning. It is looking up, lasting, evolving and placing my hand on my heart, as its purposefully beating…


It goes on and on a kind of awkward little song. I'm fine with that. Because when I measure the very best people, I often feel, they too have a beat, though a bit different and I get to live my life in the company of them…Beating the odds.


A note about the author: Christine is a poet, mother, and advocate who has experienced homelessness and housing instability. She has been advocating for the expansion of the RAFT homelessness prevention program, along with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. Read the Coalition's interview with Christine in Spare Change News here and testimony here on the bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness. To participate in the Coalition's current online action to legislators in support of expanding access to and funding for RAFT, please click here.







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When I read that we had been allotted $2 million [in the state budget, for housing and services for unaccompanied youth], I cried.

We have worked so long, with so many sleepless nights and tear-filled days, to get people to do something to support us. We have prepared speeches and wondered about all of the possible effects of our outreach, education, seminars, and presentations on both the presenters and audience. To be honest, in all of my travels, hitch hiking, and sleeping outside (I hate the word “homeless”), I have never felt more full of terror, wonder, anxiety and naked-full-frontal-in-your-face realness as when the thought "this might all be in vain” crossed my mind. “Things may never change and I have exposed myself to all these people" -- sometimes several hundred people – sometimes I didn’t think it was worth it.  

I cried when I heard the news because I can only imagine what this will mean to the teens and young adults who are at risk – who will now be able to see a significant change in services available to them.

This is one victory but it is not the end. We have much work to do with haste, diligence, and understanding.

I challenge you, the reader, to be bold, to make new friends, to try something new. I challenge you to be open, be fearless, and love like every person that walks into your life is a treasure -- unique and beautiful just like you. 

We are not an enemy.

We are houseless not homeless.

Together, we can keep this going.

This post was written by Synthia Kennedy, a 23-year old activist, advocate, traveler, adult entertainer, and dreamer. She first stayed on the streets when she was 13, and has since been to the entire continental US with plans of crossing even more borders. She calls everywhere she goes "home". She is a Youth Advisory Council Member for the Y2Y Shelter Initiative to open a new overnight shelter for young adults ages 18-24 in Cambridge, MA and has spent most of the last 12 years advocating for expanded rights, services, and support for youth experiencing homelessness as well as the LGBTQ community. Her motto is, "If I have felt scared and alone and in need of family and people to trust without fear of judgment -- then others have too." Her goal is to shed light in the dark places and to ensure anyone seeking safety and shelter has a place to do it. She believes although no one chose to be on this planet -or maybe you did- its our responsibility to care for the life on this planet. "You don't judge a flower for where or how it grows so why judge one that has two legs!" This post includes reflections on the release of the fiscal year 2016 budget by the Legislature. Click here for more details on the budget.

To learn more about Synthia, follow her on Instagram @Ladyswithpipes and Twitter @AmazonTG.

















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I pick up the phone. 

“I saw the news… ” Synthia says. “I just… I mean…” Pause. “It mattered” she finally says, quietly.


The news of the Massachusetts’ Legislature’s budget appropriations, including the $2 million in new funding for programs and housing for homeless young adults, has become public and is starting to spread.

“Isn’t it amazing?” I reply. “We’ve worked for a long time to make it happen.” I pause. “What do you mean, ‘it mattered’?”

Quietly, she repeats herself. “It mattered. It really mattered” she says again.

Another pause.

“All those times we got up in front of strangers and told our stories. All those times I felt raw and open and scared and scarred and judged and ashamed and proud…they were worth it. It mattered. It made a difference. They actually did something. They heard what we said – they heard what we’ve been through and decided they would do something about it. Things are going to change for people. Because they listened.”

“Because you talked,” I reply.

“Because we talked. And because they listened,” she says, her voice growing louder.

In 2010, a coalition of providers and advocates came together under the leadership of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless to work to improve and expand housing and services for unaccompanied homeless youth. At one of our first meetings with a legislator, he told us “This seems like an important issue, but I don’t think there are any homeless young adults in my district.” We took this as a challenge, vowing to bring the voices of young adults experiencing homelessness directly to our legislators. They might brush us off, but they wouldn’t be able to do the same to young people willing to share their stories.

At the time I was the Program Manager of Youth on Fire, a drop-in center and HIV prevention program for homeless young adults ages 18-24. We began training members to speak to legislators, educators, organizers and anyone else who would listen; we trained them to tell their stories and demand the Commonwealth to do better by them.

“The thing that keeps me on the streets is simple the lack of affordable housing. Its hard to keep a regular job when you don’t have a place to put your head, and without a job its hard to pay rent. And even when I have a job, I don’t make enough money to get a place or keep it for very long. And don’t even get me started on getting fired from jobs when they find out I’m homeless…. I am currently staying in a tent outside. I often get woken up at 4am when the tent collapses under the weight of the snow… Kids like me shouldn’t have to stay in a tent in the middle winter. Massachusetts can do better than this.” SC, age 22

He spoke. They listened.

“How did I get to this point in my life? Its easy. At 16 my mom came to me and asked me ‘are you gay?’ I said ‘no’ because I was not sure. She told me that if I was, she and my dad would still love me. Then at 19, I came out as bisexual to both of my parents, and my mom said ‘no son of mine is going to be a faggot’. … Being on the streets is a tough life – you never know where your next meal is going to come from, where you are going to lay your head, and even if you do get a chance to be inside, its usually from some dirty old man telling you ‘Hey, you can stay with me…’ but then he expects something sexual in return. You have a choice – either freeze on the streets and go hungry, or do what he asks. I have had to make that choice before – and sometimes the choice is not what I would want it to be.” SF, age 23

He spoke. They listened.

“One of the hardest things about being in this situation is feeling alone all the time – you feel that there’s no one out there for you. Its like walking on a cliff – if you fall there’s no one to help you up. You just fall. … I hope after hearing my story, you will be inspired to lend a helping hand – it doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be a simple smile or a handshake. You could help program help youth like me. Or you could do something bigger and get this legislation passed. Whatever you do – just do something.” – IM, age 20

She spoke. They listened.

“I have never actually gone to a shelter, because I don’t trust them to keep me, my belongings, or my medication safe. I have friends who were sexually assaulted at shelters, and I feel like being on the streets is safer for me. It’s a messed up situation when the streets are the safest place for me to go. You can change that.”  - MB, age 23

She spoke. They listened.

They listened. They couldn’t un-hear the stories these young people told. They couldn’t un-see the pictures they painted. And when you can’t un-see or un-hear things, the stories follow you until you do something about them.

And they did something about them.

Two million dollars is a lot of doing something. It is enough to fundamentally transform the safety net that has let too many of these young adults fall through the cracks.

The message is clear – and it is not just that the telling of these stories matter. The message this budget proclaims loudly and clearly is that the tellers of these stories matter. Powerfully and profoundly. For young adults who have been rejected and failed by every system claiming to protect and support them, mattering is not something that can be taken for granted. Being seen and heard and supported is not an every day occurrence for young people on the streets.

But this budget says something different.

It matters.

They matter.

We matter.

I couldn’t be more proud. 

This post was written by Ayala Livny, a youth advocate and consultant, key member of the Coalition's Task Team on Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness, and former program manager of Youth on Fire in Cambridge. Ayala also serves on the Y2Y Harvard Square Advisory Board, helping to plan for the upcoming opening of the new young adult shelter in Cambridge. This post includes reflections on the release of the fiscal year 2016 budget by the Legislature. Click here for more details on the budget.


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By Bianca Carreiro, Legislative Advocate/Intern

You know those butterflies you get in your stomach when you’re about to do something for the first time? Like the first time you dived into a swimming pool. You stand there paralyzed, on the diving board. You are so close to jumping in. For some of us, fear steps in. Fear stops us in our tracks before we can dive. For others, we jump and fall smoothly into the water. When our heads are finally above water, we can breathe. For about 30 seconds, we stopped breathing, either because we were too scared to jump, or we faced our fears and immersed ourselves in the unknown.

That’s kind of what it’s like when you speak to a state legislator for the first time.
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By Bianca Carreriro
Intern and advocate at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless

As one of the interns at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, I've learned so much about youth homelessness. Currently I am a social work senior at Salem State University. I am in the final stretch of my undergraduate career and I couldn't be more excited. In a little over a month, I'll have my degree in hand as proof of all my hard work these past four years.

Although I am more than excited to be finishing up at Salem State, I can't help but remember all of the unaccompanied homeless youth that I've encountered over my time at the Coalition. In January and February, I interviewed over twenty unaccompanied homeless youth from Salem and Boston. The majority of these youth were twenty-one years old, just like me. Throughout the interviews, I was slightly uncomfortable: who am I to ask questions about homelessness, when I have never seen those atrocities? My privilege struck me like a bulldozer. Of course I was aware that homeless existed, but I didn't realize that people my age could also be exposed to it....or maybe, I just didn't want to realize it.
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My name is Jiayi Liu, an advocacy intern at Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. I am a rising sophomore at the University Of Notre Dame, and with the funding from the university's First Year Research Ignition Fellowship, I was able to work for free at the Coalition on the unaccompanied homeless youth issue.

Before I started working towards my undergraduate degree, I had been volunteering at an orphanage once in a while. Children in the orphanage got abandoned for many reasons, none of which their own fault. I could only think of how unfortunate these children were and how irresponsible their parents were. The thought that I could change the situation never occurred to me until I took a few Sociology and American studies courses, in which I learned a lot from literatures and documentaries about poverty and homelessness and how improving social policies could better the situation from the roots.
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