Children’s HealthWatch Principal Investigator, Dr. Megan Sandel, was featured in a Boston Globe article on Massachusetts’ “right to shelter” law and the challenges homeless families face in order to qualify.

Strict shelter rules for homeless families draw critics

A mother and her year-old son spent their nights shuttling between a hospital emergency room and South Station after a friend kicked them out. Another woman, eight months pregnant, huddled overnight on a Quincy beach with her 3-year-old.

Eventually, both families received spots in the state’s emergency shelter system, but only after proving they had stayed somewhere that posed a health or safety risk, such as a car or an unheated basement.

As many as 15 families a month go to the pediatric emergency room at Boston Medical Center seeking a place to sleep — a rare occurrence a few years ago — and many reported they were sent there by state workers, said Megan Sandel, a pediatrician and researcher at the South End hospital. ER staff are required to assess each child who comes in, billing Medicaid for any tests or care provided, and families are given a room for the night, taking up valuable resources, Sandel said. They are discharged with a diagnosis of “homelessness,” which is their ticket to getting shelter.

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