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Economic instability and meeting basic needs in Massachusetts

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We hear all the time that the economy nationwide is in a healthy place, but a recent article in the Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts is a leading state when it comes to "elder economic insecurity." The article details that half of older Americans (age 65 and over and living alone) and nearly one-quarter of older couples struggle to afford basic necessities. In Boston, the cost of living is higher than in other areas of the state, and nearly three out of every four adults living alone lack the income to cover necessary expenses.

Catholic Charities of Boston sees this elder economic insecurity every day. Twelve percent of clients receiving services from our Basic Needs programs are over age 70, and 28 percent of households receiving services from our Basic Need programs have at least one household member over the age of 70. While it's a population that is often overlooked when thinking about the need in our neighborhoods, we serve close to 800 seniors each week across our programs.

Our Basic Needs programs are commonly one of the first touchpoints for individuals and families into our network of services. Basic needs include emergency assistance services, food pantries, rent and mortgage assistance, utility assistance, clothing and other necessities, and seasonal and holiday assistance. Whether people have fallen on hard times due to illness or unemployment, or their income is not enough to make ends meet, our goal is to provide tools to help them move to a place of stability and self-sufficiency.

It is not just the elderly who face economic instability. About 67 percent of individuals who apply for our utility and housing assistance program are under age 55. Housing in the Boston area is expensive, and affordable housing options are extremely competitive. Our basic needs department exists to serve these individuals and families, too.

Our program centers of excellence focus on Basic Needs, Family and Youth Services (including child care), Workforce Development and Immigration Services, all of which offer a wide range of programs and services to respond to those in need within the community. With each of the programs and services that we offer, our mission is the same: to build a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people.

Many may not be aware of the breadth of the programs that we provide to some of the neediest members of our communities, so to give an idea, in our Greater Boston division alone we operate four shelters that serve homeless families and women in Boston, Newton, and Somerville, two adult education programs in Boston, one high school GED program in Boston, three food pantries in Boston and Somerville, and a very busy office in Dorchester that, in addition to the aforementioned programs, also houses a leadership team and a childcare center that serves 100 children from age three months to kindergarten.

To demonstrate more clearly the impact that our services have on the community, I asked each of our programs to count exactly how many people were served on one Wednesday in December. For many people, Wednesday is thought of as "Prince Spaghetti Day," others call it "Hump Day," but for Catholic Charities Greater Boston, it's a day like any other. On that one Wednesday, we served 759 individuals between our shelters, education programs, food pantries, emergency assistance programs, and many phone calls from those seeking out assistance.

The work that we do would not be possible without the generosity of our supporters. We are immensely grateful to be able to serve the neediest in our communities, thanks to this support. In this last year, we were able to serve over 165,000 individuals across our locations.

The weather is getting colder by the day, and there is always more that can be done to serve our neighbors. If you are interested in learning more about our programs or getting involved, I encourage you to visit ccab.org, reach out to me directly at Beth_Chambers@ccab.org, and follow us on social media (@CharitiesBoston).

BETH CHAMBERS IS DIRECTOR OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF GREATER BOSTON AND CATHOLIC CHARITIES SOUTH.



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