By Virginia Spencer
First Parish in Bedford opened its doors on March 1 to the 11th Annual Forum on Family Homelessness, sponsored by a group of organizations grappling with this challenge.
Lead sponsors were the Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness, and Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries; Co-sponsors were the Episcopal City Mission, Citizens Housing & Planning Association, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, and UU Mass Action Network. The event began by inviting attendees to browse a series of exhibits from supporting organizations prior to a panel discussion.
The panel speakers provided information about homelessness in Massachusetts and the state of various programs now in place assisting the homeless with housing, employment readiness and training, and job searches. Jessica Cohen and Sher Omerovic, director and manager, respectively, of the Secure Jobs Partnership; and Connie Martin, associate director of Community Teamwork, Inc., of Greater Lowell, spoke to these issues. Exa Mendez, community organizer and legislative advocate for the Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, talked about the need for advocacy as the new state budget is unveiled.
Bedford’s state legislators, Rep. Ken Gordon and Sen. Mike Barrett, along with Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) reviewed current needs and upcoming budget priorities.
Two Bedford residents, Sue Baldauf and Ann Guay, spoke specifically about Bedford’s experience with families in transition living at the Bedford Plaza Hotel. Baldauf is Director of Youth and Family Services for the town of Bedford, and both women are members of the Bedford Housing Task Force.
The comments of Baldauf and Guay with respect to families in transition housed at the Bedford Plaza Hotel were illuminating in terms of the needs they observe in their work on behalf of the Bedford Housing Task Force.
Most families arrive with no knowledge of Bedford, its school system, its resources, or even its geography. Both speakers praised the long list of local volunteers and organizations who have demonstrated an active and sustained commitment to the well-being of these families as they await long-term housing.
Guay described several poignant examples of children and parents expressing gratitude for the support shown by the community. Baldauf said one of the challenges faced by the Task Force is ensuring that the response to the families’ needs neither encourages dependency nor slights the needs of other Bedford residents.
Legislative Workshops, including one in Concord on March 22
The Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, represented by Mendez, organized a Legislative Action Day on March 5, 2015, at the State House. Described as a day of advocacy, education, and inspiration, the call to action focused on FY16 budget priorities and 2015-2016 bill priorities.
The Advocacy Network to End Family Homelessness will sponsor a workshop on learning and enhancing communication skills to interact effectively with legislators on March 22nd, 2:00-3:30 pm, at First Parish Church in Concord. Details at www.endfamilyhomelessness.net or contact Jane Blumberg at [email protected] or call 978-369-8520.
Watch the forum on Bedford TV