High School Without A Home: What It’s Like Living In State-Funded Hotels

By Marie Noga

High school is hard. Getting up at the crack of dawn, getting to school and sitting in a chair barely big enough for eight hours, five days a week, only to then go home and have hours of homework to complete. Between maintaining relationships with family and friends on top of that, these four years add up to a lot of stress.

Now imagine not knowing where you’ll be living one month to the next. Imagine having to transition from one high school to another, in a completely different part of the state. Imagine not knowing if you’ll graduate at all, because one school dropped the ball and lost your transcripts.

That’s what it has been like for Michael Langlois.

Michael is 17 years old, a quiet polite boy who will give up his seat for another person. He sketches houses in his spare time; he wants to be an architect. Originally from Lowell Massachusetts, his family has moved at least 5 times since May 2014, when his family became a part of the state program. I asked him about this program, and what it was like to live at the mercy of the state.

The Department of Transitional Assistance, or DTA, is the government organization dedicated to assisting low-income families and helping to improve their quality of living. They are responsible for doling out food stamps, state aid, and on average, help one in nine Massachusetts residents receive food and shelter.

The numbers of households that receive aid from the state are in the hundreds of thousands; this number is increasing by the day. Close to 3,000 people walk into the office daily, and the majority of them are there for food stamps. Massachusetts ranks 35/54 out of all states, which is proudly posted on the website.

On the surface, it appears this process is legitimate and relatively painless, right?

According to Michael, this program will only help families, and once you’re a part of this program, you can’t exactly leave. Once you leave the program you can’t get back in. this program is so overworked, it’s almost impossible to get one on one attention.

I wanted to know what it was like for other people who are living as Michael is, so Michael offered to interview a woman who is living in one of the hotels he has stayed in in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Her name is Kimeeko. This is what he learned from and about her.

I interviewed Kimeeko and found out she lived with her mom in 16 Acres Springfield. This was until her mother moved, at which time Kimeeko had to seek help from the state. The program she was put into moved her to the Econolodge in Chicopee MA. Between her husband, son, and herself they were given one room on the first floor. Whenever it rained, the water would flood the room. When she complained about it to the program, they told her all they could do is to move her one room over. Now how would that help her when it floods the other room too?

Her best experience living in this hotel was learning that you could cook almost anything in a microwave. Microwaves are the only thing residents are allowed to have in their rooms; crockpots, hot plates, toaster and other kitchen appliances are not allowed. If seen by hotel staff, they will be confiscated.

Her worst experience has been when she had cockroaches in her room. Apparently, there were three different types of them in her room. She lived there for almost a year until CHD (her state program) found her an apartment, which was on the third floor. She didn’t have to pay rent for the first month, until she was moved to the first floor, when she was expected to start paying rent. She found that the staff treated her fairly here, but the hotel did not meet the standards it should have at all. There was mold all over the wall that wasn’t removed, even thought she was pregnant and had a young son. My (Michael’s) last question to Kimeeko was whether she would go back to the state for shelter and other basic needs. She responded that no, she wouldn’t, not unless there was a dire need to.

Michael and Kimeeko are only two people going through these state programs that are designed to help people live at least somewhat decently. This is not to say the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) Program doesn’t help residents of the Commonwealth receive aid every day, which in turn helps many individuals to make ends meet. It makes sense there’s only so much funding, only so much that can be done for all these people in need. But it raises the question of what kinds of standards are people expected to live in, and at what point does state aid become unworthy the conditions?

Michael will not be completing his high school degree at Commerce High. He was recently moved back to Lowell, where he is not currently attending school.