Massachusetts Self-Help Groups Working to End Homelessness, USA


The Northampton group, the Centre for Better Living, CBL, consists of homeless and formerly homeless single women and men starting a community centre which hopes to offer job search, skills training, income generation and small business development.

Roofless Womens Action Research Mobilization Project. RWARM, is a research, education and organizing collective whose leadership is made of six formerly homeless women and two technical advisors. RWARM began as in based in Boston, but has been networking state-wide through participatory research.

A steering committee comprised of NGOs, city agencies and an academic institution provide additional guidance and support. Their experience is explored in terms of connections to and conflicts with, long standing and new efforts by non-profit social service agencies, advocates and city, state and federal governments dealing with US homelessness.

Both of these efforts to bring homeless people into dialogue with government as well as with more established non-governmental organizations are driven by the belief that homeless and formerly homeless people are by virtue of their experiences the real experts in the field.

A background is the history of the development of contemporary homelessness in the US and the responses to it, including the most recent vigorous federal program by the Clinton Administration called the Continuum of Care, an initiative directed by the federal governments Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Lessons Learned
The general conclusion is that the Continuum of Care is a vast improvement over prior federal actions because it adds needed resources to social service provision, but that it seems to fail to fund remedies to the causes of homelessness, and is also endangered by current political realities.

Further, the self-help group members call for a shift in resource prioritisation to their own approaches to dealing with homelessness, away from concentration in government and non-profit social service programs. The groups recognize the need for collaborations with governmental and non-governmental actors, but call for a different balance of power and participation than has been the case to date.