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Massachusetts Analysis

In Massachusetts, a temporary shelter may only provide shelter for a period of seventy-two hours. This is stated in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119 23 (2002):

This law, while simple in nature, has far reaching effects that have shaped the way that services are provided to homeless youth.

Originally this law was passed as part of the 1974 legislative agenda of the Office for Children.172 The intention of the Amendment to Ch. 119 was to "remove the cloud of civil or criminal liability for appropriately licensed facilities able to satisfy the emergency needs of runaways."173 The main goal of the legislative proposals were as follows;

The Office for Children intended to open up services to runaway children and not restrict their access to shelter and services. In fact, the law was meant to clarify that despite the fact that statutes against aiding and abetting runaways exist, this does not apply to shelters as long as they stay within the federal guidelines of only providing shelter to a youth for seventy-two hours. Although the bill was titled ``An Act Providing a Temporary Shelter Program for Children,'' the Office for Children recognized that "(t)his law is mislabeled. It really gives the Office for Children authority to license and regulate temporary shelter facilities."175 While the law allowed for temporary shelter of minors in adult shelters, unfortunately, runaways often see homeless shelters as more dangerous than the streets, and so they choose not to stay. Another result is that there are far too few shelters that house only youth, as they are seen to be taken care of by the temporary shelters. When youth become homeless, it is often not because they do not have a home. They may have a place to live that is temporary or sporadic and so do not fit into the population that DSS serves, namely youth in need of foster care. This population is in desperate need of temporary shelter. Unfortunately, while they are legally able to seek temporary shelter for up to seventy-two hours, they almost always feel that the streets are a safer alternative.176 The regular population in homeless shelters sees homeless youth as vulnerable. Youth are therefore often targeted and become victims of crimes against person and property. Genny Price, the Clinical Director at Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a drop-in center for homeless minors, comments that minors "don't belong in the adult shelters. They are really designed for an older, chronically homeless population. And so you don't want ... even 18 and 19 year olds in there getting comfortable, never mind kids under 18."177 What Massachusetts General Laws ch. 119 23 (2002) does is take away the possibility of providing homeless shelters designated for youth. It effectively makes the youth's situation more dangerous. Runaway youth are forced to live in camps, live in dangerous shelter conditions, or trade sexual favors for shelter.178 In making recommendations for possible changes to the shelter restriction statute in Massachusetts, the LO has accounted for JRI's position as a small organization with limited resources. Therefore, our recommendations focus on state shelter restriction advocacy positions that are feasible for JRI.

In sum, while the massachusetts' statute is meant to clarify the meaning of the Federal reporting regulation for Massachusetts' shelters, it has actually made it difficult for youths to access service. Therefore, in our recommendations, we will focus on how some States have dealt with the Federal reporting regulation while still providing adequate shelter services for runaways.


Letter to the Massachusetts Senate and House from David S. Liederman, Director, Massachusetts Office for Children.
Cost Estimates, Explanations of Proposed Office of Children Legislation.
See Interview with Genny Price, supra n. 75.
See Interview with Dave Clark, supra, n. 79.

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LCD Law Office #2