Back in the early 1990s, when homeless shelters were overflowing, the state placed more than 100 homeless families in motels and family facilities on Cape Cod. Some remained there for months.
"Kids went months with no privacy; parents went months worried about their kids playing in needle-littered motel parking lots," wrote Bob Murray of the Falmouth Housing Corp . in a mailing this week to more than 30,000 Cape Codders. The letter was signed by nine other homeless advocates.
The cost to house the homeless in motels, both in human suffering and taxpayer dollars, was astronomical.
As a result, a group of Cape Codders decided to act. By 1994, the motels were empty, and the family shelter beds began to decrease.
"Our collective success with prevention over the last 15 years has led to a 50 percent decrease in the number of Cape families in shelters, and has eliminated the need to place any families in motels," said Rick Presbrey of the Housing Assistance Corp.
In other regions of the state with less-effective prevention programs, the shelters are full and a record number of families end up in motels.
"Cape Cod became known for its homelessness prevention success," Murray said, "and the group declared to themselves and each other 'never again!'"
But now, unless another prevention effort succeeds, it will happen again.
This fiscal year, the Cape lost a $300,000 earmark for homeless prevention that had been in the state budget since 1993. The budget cuts reduced or eliminated other homeless prevention programs. Today the number of homeless families on Cape Cod and in Massachusetts continues to climb.
"More individuals are facing homelessness than at any time in the past 10 years," said Murray. "The shelters and motels are filling up faster than families are finding permanent housing."
Fortunately, the same individuals and groups that worked to keep families housed since the early 1990s are participating, along with several others, in a new initiative to raise money to prevent homelessness.
"We don't want the motels on Cape Cod filling up like they did in the 90s," Murray said. "We're calling our effort 'Home with a Heart' because it's love and big hearts that will solve this current situation."
Presbrey said the cost of homeless prevention is a fraction of the cost of housing homeless people. "It costs about $2,100 to prevent a family from becoming homeless, but about $4,600 a month to keep a family in a shelter or a motel," he said.
As a result, the group of Cape homeless advocates successfully sought permission from the state to rearrange the Regional Network to End Homelessness budget to create a pool of about $150,000 that is to be used as a challenge match. The current Capewide fund-raising drive is trying to match that amount dollar for dollar to replace the $300,000 earmark.
Money raised will be distributed to the Falmouth Housing Corp., the Housing Assistance Corp., the Barnstable Interfaith Council, the Cape Cod Council of Churches, the Community Action Council, the Dennis-Yarmouth Ecumenical Council, the Duffy Health Center, the Homeless Prevention Council, the Harwich Ecumenical Council and the Cape and Islands' District of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Please make checks payable to Home with a Heart, and send to Falmouth Housing Corp ., 704 Main St., Falmouth, MA 02540.