SOC 350 blog post – Child homelessness in New Bedford

Child homelessness in New Bedford

Authors: Jessica Jorge, Carmelle Phillipe, Michaela Mello,students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)

Homelessness is experienced by children, families and adults with or without disabilities. Homelessness affects all people whether they are homeless themselves or know of someone who has become homeless. Although homelessness can affect all people it occurs disproportionately among people of color. Our research specifically concentrated on children and their education. Being a homeless child, it can have a great impact on a child’s performance and education. As a result a homeless child is less likely to be successful in their studies. This was our hypothesis that we developed in order to help us achieve a better understanding to our main research question; “What is it like to be a homeless child going to school?”

In order to answer this question, we also came up with sub-questions to better understand the issues of child homelessness. These sub-questions included:

  • How is homelessness defined?
  • Who experiences homelessness?
  • What is the homeless population like in New Bedford?
  • How did these children become homeless?
  • How does being homeless affect a child’s education and learning?
  • How are their families affected as a whole?

The research methods we used to answer these questions were interviews, observations, archival research, and data analysis. Through these approaches, we were able to gain insight into the issue of child homelessness. It also helped us to answer our research questions as we were able to see how a child is affected by homelessness and the impact that homelessness has on a child’s education.

Below is an example of some of the data we used in developing answers for our research question. There are a total of fourteen middle and high schools in New Bedford. Of those schools we were able to compare the differences between the school, district and state. We concentrated on three of the most known schools; Keith Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School and New Bedford High School. The graph below is just one of the graphs we used for Keith Middle School. The data we found we were able to use and analyze the differences in the percentages of those with limited English proficiency, low income and students in special education. The low income percentage for each schools where extremely high which we found crucial to our findings of our overall research to why the dropout rates and homelessness is extremely high in New Bedford.

child homelessnessThis data represents the risk behaviors and different factors that can affect a student in school and the comparison between students who are homeless and who are not. In the Protective factors section on the graph (below) we see that homeless students do not receive the necessary help and support as do housed students. Risk behaviors shows that homeless students develop a higher risk for drug abuse and gang violence. This was another important finding that helps us show the many influences that can affect a student’s education and the negative effects for a homeless student as well.

child homelessness2Below is also some data analysis that we found helpful for our research:

  • In the 2012-2013 school year, 432 students in the New Bedford Public Schools were homeless
  • This equals 3.4% of the school district
  • This is double the state percentage (1.7%)
  • In the United States, 1 in 45 children are considered homeless
  • Child and Family Homelessness is considered an “escalating crisis” and an “epidemic” but data is difficult to obtain because the homeless population is largely considered “invisible”

There are multiple definitions of homelessness; federal, state, McKinney-Vento or a person’s personal opinion. They all have one thing in common, that the realization that homelessness affects everyone and it has a great impact on a community.

Through the findings of our project, we were able to see that homeless children have many educational disadvantages compared to children who are housed. We stress the concept of more public policies for the issue of homeless children and families. There are many things that can be done to help and support these homeless children however without the public policies to be enforced there would be no change. Support services that enhance and expand the academic environment for children, like Horizons for Homeless Children, is needed to give extra support to children who are homeless. Children who are homeless need more academic support than children who are not homeless because they not only face struggles in their academics but they also face emotional, physical and social issues. It is necessary to implement educational programs into homeless shelters in order to end the cycle of homelessness for children.

Homelessness is not a choice or an option.Homelessness can be a temporary or a lifetime living situation. Improving public policies would provide more programs which focus on kids who are homeless. Another idea is a program which can guide the parents of homeless children to help improve their living situation and focus more on education. Another concept would be similar to the no child left behind act but by having homeless children survivors become mentors to those who are currently in shelters or homeless. Limitations to our project was not being able to survey as much children as we would like. That limitation did not hinder us from finding an exceptional amount of information to strengthen our findings.

This project has contributed to our academic/professional growth because it has allowed us to do research on a global issue but narrow it down to a neighborhood such as New Bedford. Researching homelessness within a local neighborhood has opened doors of awareness of how we can make change possible. Knowing the impact on what homelessness can do to a child has allowed us to know that we can be a helping hand as well. Academically the research has enhanced our interpersonal skills with one another and our researching skills to reach out to programs like Fall River Family Center and Horizons for Homeless Children which allow us to know about resources which we can refer to students of New Bedford.

SOC 350 blog post – Just another day on the street: homelessness in New Bedford

Just another day on the street: homelessness in New Bedford

Authors:  Asia Strothers, Azia Johnson, Rachelle Jeanty, and Samantha Panek, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)

For our research topic, we focused on homeless single adults in the city of New Bedford. Homelessness is a major issue in the city of New Bedford and has been for many years. What is homelessness? Homelessness refers to the lack of stable, safe, and permanent residence that is fit for human habitation. This is an important issue to cover because it affects many people on a day-to-day basis. It is also important for understanding the causes and circumstances of people who become homeless. The question that our group set out to answer was how does it feel to be a homeless individual in New Bedford?

We went about answering our questions by visiting homeless shelters in the city that welcomed our presence. We visited two shelters, which were Sister Rose House and the Donovan House. We were able to interview the program directors about the type of residents in the shelter, the procedure for a person that has been accepted to stay at the shelter, and their personal solutions for homelessness in New Bedford. We found that the causes for most of the homelessness in the city of New Bedford are loss of job, domestic violence, disability (physical and mental), and substance/drug abuse.


Here is a graph that represents the number of homeless people living in New Bedford and Fall River. This graph clearly shows how homeless individuals make up most of the homeless population in New Bedford, while homeless families make up most of the homeless population in Fall River.

Based on our findings we concluded that the major reason for homelessness in the city of New Bedford is the lack of services and resources needed to help people of this underprivileged and impoverished class. As a group, we believe one solution for homelessness would be to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Not many people can afford housing in these areas, especially working a minimum wage job. For many people living in this city it seems that the only possible way to live comfortably while eliminating issues is by living on assistance whether it is housing, food stamps, etc. The two program directors that we interviewed came up with their own solutions for homelessness in the city of New Bedford. The program director from Sister Rose House solution is for the city to facilitate the homeless to help them with their job search. She recommended that the city make use of the vacant buildings to create career centers. “All you need is heat and lights,”are her exact words. She claims that this will give the homeless something to do rather than sitting around and loitering throughout the day. As for the program director of Donovan’s House solution, she believes there should be stricter laws regarding drugs and domestic violence. Her words, “The system is failing, giving too much time for abusers to be free.”Coincidentally a day after we conducted this interview, the Massachusetts House passed a bill on domestic violence. It included new bail guidelines and tougher penalties for abusers. As for the city as a whole’s solution, New Bedford nonprofits were recently awarded a grant of $1.8 million to fight homelessness. The competitive awards were made through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care Funding. With that being said, grants are one of the ways nonprofit organizations such as Sister Rose House and Donovan House receive funding.

Limitations of our study included not being able to conduct interviews with actual homeless persons. We felt that it would be intrusive and offensive to interview the homeless that we came across on the street. Another limitation we faced was that we were unable to conduct interviews with homeless residents in the shelters to do confidentiality issues. We were really looking forward to interviewing homeless to get a better understanding of their day-to-day routine. We also wanted to interview them because it would make for a more accurate representation of the personal struggles and dilemmas a homeless person living in this city faces.

Our initial interest in this project was sparked by our own personal experiences with the homeless. Over the course of the semester, we realized the prevalence of homelessness in New Bedford, the numerous factors that cause the issue, and the programs that help. In addition to obtaining more insight on the problem of homelessness, we also improved our research, organization and collaboration skills. The limitations and problems we encountered in conducting interviews and acquiring information may have been disappointing and frustrating, but will aid us in improving on future projects and endeavors. We also gained even more empathy and compassion for those struggling with homelessness and a great appreciation for those whose efforts make a difference in the lives of the homeless. This experience has inspired us to raise awareness about the issues that cause homelessness and join the efforts in preventing and solving homelessness in the city.

SOC 350 blog post – Family homelessness in New Bedford

Family homelessness in New Bedford

Authors: Fabiola Antoine, Genesis Barrientos, and Leslie Mercure, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)


In our first class we learned that we would need to choose a project and present our findings to the class. As a group we were very excited about the topic of “Why are there so many Homeless in New Bedford” and immediately knew this was going to be the project for us. The topic of homelessness or poverty has always struck a chord with each of us. Growing up in poor neighborhoods was what ignited our curiosity. Being poor is not fun. Being homeless and poor are even worse. Homelessness can affect any of us; it can happen to you, it can be someone you love dearly. Some people are just a paycheck away from being in the same situation others have found themselves in and thought “how did I get here?”

Homelessness is an issue that can affect anyone and any city. Shelters have recently been seeing an increase in homeless families. We are defining a family as a least one parent with one child or a pregnant mother. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that in 2013 37.8 per cent of the American homeless population was people in families. In the city of New Bedford there were 97 homeless families and 257 homeless individuals in 2011. Our main objective was to find out how being homeless affects the family. Also, what are some of the causes that contribute to the homelessness of a family?

The first step taken towards answering the research questions was looking at the background of homelessness in the United States, Massachusetts and then a more narrow focus on the city of New Bedford. The City of New Bedford’s Community Development website has a lot of information on the City of New Bedford in the Community Development Consolidated Plan (revised for 2014). This plan outlines the homeless by several different factors: race, color, level of poverty, etc. It also lists all of the services that are provided to the homeless and what is being done to help “band aid” the situation. We all scoured the internet for any type of accurate information regarding the homeless. It’s unfortunate to say this but it was really easy to find information. Homelessness is a nationwide issue.

Local shelters were contacted in hope of being able to speak to a homeless family. Unfortunately we were not able to sit and speak with anyone at the shelters due to privacy issues. This hampered our research in that we wanted to get a firsthand look and feel to how it is to be homeless. We also wanted to be able to find out how the person got to that point in their life, what their future plans were and what they think should be done to help the homeless. Because we were not allowed to speak with anyone, this could not be done.

However, we attained background information from the shelter employees. We asked questions such as: how long the shelter had been open, how many clients live in the shelter, who was allowed in the shelter, how long could one stay in the shelter and how the shelter was funded? Some of the answers we received were interesting, the answers vary from each shelter; they were able to give us the information we needed. They were funded differently and hold different quantity of family. We thanked everyone that we called and asked two of the shelters if we could come by to just visit the location and get a feel for what the homeless dealt with on a daily basis. Sheltered homelessness is a better situation for anyone especially for a family. It beats living out on the streets. The centers were clean and the people were polite and seemed very caring. It was an eye opening experience and also sad at the same time. There is no privacy in the shelter. Everyone is in pretty close quarters.

Housing is one of the causes of homelessness and low cost housing attracts people to New Bedford. A lack of jobs then causes people and families to become homeless. High unemployment rates, lack of skills and/or education, domestic violence and long waiting lists for housing supplements that can lead to homelessness. In New Bedford the average homeless family consists of two people. These families were also more likely to be made up of a woman and a child.

Being a homeless family has many consequences for both the parent/s and the children involved. Through research we found that the consequences can be emotional and physical. Some shelters only allow women and children causing a family to break up if the husband is in the picture. A family takes this opportunity for the safety of their children but it then leaves the man out in the streets to fend for himself. Women’s shelters tend to shy away from allowing men since most of the women they help are victims of domestic violence. The Women’s Center of New Bedford has two family shelters and each with the capacity of holding six families. Families are allowed to stay there as long as they need but the longest stay was two years. They provide numerous services for the mother and the children. These programs range from legal advocacy to helping with doctor’s appointments and housing.

In conclusion, homelessness prevention is an essential element to end homelessness either locally or nationwide. In order to close the entry to homelessness, we come up with some strategies that can help both individuals and families. Such strategies include: creating more jobs in the underprivileged areas, increasing the minimum wage so parents can afford to support their family, create more housing programs and increasing the case management services substance abuse. This was an interesting learning project; we learned that homelessness is an undesirable condition that can affect us and the society in general.

SOC 350 blog post – Opioid addiction

Opioid addiction

Authors: Zachary Richard & Eric Andrade, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)

Editor’s note: Zach and Eric also produced an excellent presentation which you can view here: Opioid addiction presentation – PDF.


Recent Opioid Discussion & Trends

Opioid abuse and overdoses have become central topics of discussion both locally and nationally in recent months. The heroin related death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman stoked these discussions and brought them to the forefront of public discourse via media coverage and public officials. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated nearly his entire state of the state address back in January to discussing the heroin / opioid problem in his state. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a “public health emergency” in Massachusetts in March resultant of heroin /opioid abuse in the commonwealth. Attorney General Eric Holder even weighed in to the discussion earlier this year calling it an “urgent public health crisis.”

Here in Massachusetts Governor Patrick has implemented a policy to make Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, available to police officers and first responders to combat opioid overdoses; which are believed to be increasingly resultant of the incorporation of fentanyl in opioids, primarily heroin. Governor Patrick recently even tried to ban ‘Zohydro’ in the commonwealth; a new FDA approved prescription opioid. Federal courts quickly rejected the ban and overturned it; much to the dismay of Governor Patrick. Zohydro sparked a firestorm amid already opioid weary politicians and citizens both in Massachusetts and beyond. Locally Mayor William Flanagan of Fall River (one of the most opioid afflicted cities in Massachusetts) beseeched President Obama to weigh in and speak on behalf of those trying to ban Zohydro. This discussion has landed on the national stage where senators have also expressed concern over the new potent opioid which some have called, “heroin in a capsule.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse “Prescription opioid pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin can have effects similar to heroin when taken in doses or in ways other than prescribed, and research now suggests that abuse of these drugs may actually open the door to heroin abuse.” With the rising prevalence of prescription opioids in the U.S one can infer that this is having a substantial effect on opioid abuse and is a leading cause of addiction.

Statistically speaking Massachusetts has, overall, seen in increase in opioid related overdoses over the past decade. “The rate of unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths, which includes deaths related to heroin, reached levels in 2012 previously unseen in Massachusetts. The rate of 10.1 deaths per 100,000 residents for 2012 (the most recent full year of data available) was the highest ever for unintentional opioid overdoses and represents a 90% increase from the rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2000. In 2012, 668 Massachusetts residents died from unintentional opioid overdoses, a ten percent increase over the previous year. While data are still preliminary, unintentional overdose deaths for the first six months of 2013 point to even higher numbers than 2012.” ( Nationally the figure is up as well.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), “in 2012 about 669,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year,a number that has been on the rise since 2007. This trend appears to be driven largely by young adults aged 18–25 among whom there have been the greatest increases. The number of people using heroin for the first time is unacceptably high, with 156,000 people starting heroin use in 2012, nearly double the number of people in 2006 (90,000).” The report goes on to state that “Heroin use no longer predominates solely in urban areas.” This information correlates with Massachusetts data which states that “In addition to the burden in major cities, many smaller communities saw increases” in opioid abuse and overdoes between 2003 and 2012, according to the most recent information from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

As far as New Bedford and Fall River are concerned opioid overdoses haven’t changed too much. Though yearly fluctuation does occur, fatal overdoses in these cities are continuously higher than others in Massachusetts. Due to its much larger population, Boston had the most opioid overdoses each year between 2000 and 2012. However it is quite clear that opioid abuse is particularly high in the South Coast due to the fact that New Bedford and Fall River literally alternate between 2nd to 4th place for opioid overdoses each year, despite the fact that these cities are currently the 6th and 10th most populated cities in Massachusetts, respectively. (2010 census data) In 2012 New Bedford had the second most opioid overdoses in Massachusetts with 25. New Bedford also came in second in the years 2010 and 2008. In 2011 Fall River was tied for second with Lowell with 25. It was also in second in 2009. These numbers have remained largely similar in the South Coast since the year 2003 ( statistics, refer to table 1) Another telling fact is that according to the Herald News, which cites the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program, 72% of prescriptions given to Fall River residents were opioid based, while in New Bedford that number is 70%. Both cities are well above the Massachusetts prescription rate of 40%. It is clear that opioid abuse is a serious and sustained problem in the South Coast.

From Criminal Justice to Public Health

Unquestionably the topic of opioid abuse has been at the forefront of much discussion. Whether or not there is a full-fledged epidemic, as is claimed by many, remains to be seen – as data for 2014 and the second half of 2013 is not yet available. However, one may agree that irrespective of the semantics of whether or not opioid abuse constitutes an epidemic something should be done to alleviate and resolve this problem. Opioid abuse is a serious and troubling affliction that should most certainly be addressed and discussed by lawmakers, media outlets, and the public at large. We must also, and most importantly, adjust our understanding of drug addiction and remove it from the realm of criminal justice; shifting it to the jurisdiction of public health where it rightfully belongs. Persecution has arguably gotten us nowhere. Let us heal and not condemn. Also we should critically examine the role of the pharmaceutical industry in potentially stoking this surge in opioid abuse and overdoses. As a society we should begin the debate as to whether or not the benefits of prescription opioids outweigh the costs.


Table 1. Cities/Towns with Over 7 Unintentional Opioid Overdose Deaths in 2012, MA Residents

opioid1Source: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, MDPH

Figure 1. Rate of Unintentional Opioid Overdose Deaths, MA Residents, 2000-2013


Source: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, MDPH


Figure 2. Number of Unintentional Opioid Overdose Deaths, MA Residents, 2000-2013

opioid3Source: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, MDPH



SOC 350 blog post – Minimum wage in New Bedford

Based on what minimum? Getting by on the minimum wage in New Bedford

Authors: Victoria Wood and Lioma Terrero Soto, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)

Editor’s note: Victoria and Lioma wrote a terrific paper that extended far beyond a blog post. We’ve excerpted the document here, but we encourage you to read their full report available as a PDF: Getting by on the minimum wage in New Bedford


As researchers who are concerned about this issue, we decided that we would explore what it is actually like to live on the minimum wage our local community. We wanted to better understand and also to bring to light the problems that minimum wage earners face so that citizens, advocates, and policymakers alike have a more accurate picture of this issue. We hope that this valuable information will be used to help formulate effective policies—instead of or in addition to raising the minimum wage—to address these struggles.

Research questions

What is it like to live on the minimum wage in New Bedford? Is the minimum wage in New Bedford enough to cover the cost of living? How do minimum-wage earners make ends meet? What types of policies could address the problems of minimum wage workers?


We first calculated the monthly and annual wages of minimum wage earners working 40 hours a week in New Bedford using the Massachusetts minimum wage. We then compared the monthly wages of minimum wage earners to current cost of living data for New Bedford. To calculate the cost of living in New Bedford, we used two different cost of living calculators. We used the Crittenton Women’s Union (CWU) Economic Independence Calculator and MIT’s living wage calculator. . . . To supplement our cost of living research, we also looked at apartment listings in New Bedford to find actual rent costs for one and two bedroom apartments. We looked at the rent for one and two bedroom apartments in three different apartment complexes in New Bedford. We also looked independent apartment listings on Zillow and Craigslist and calculated the mean rent for one and two bedroom apartments (based on seven apartment listings for one-bedroom apartments and seven apartment listings for two-bedroom apartments).

Finally, we conducted ten interviews with New Bedford residents earning the minimum wage. Four of the interviews were conducted by phone, and six were in-person. . . . We conducted interviews with seven women and three men. All interviewees were adults over the age of 25.

We were able to compensate each participant with a $20 gift card to Stop & Shop thanks to a generous research grant awarded to us by the Office of Undergraduate Research at UMass Dartmouth.


Monthly wages of a minimum wage earner before taxes:

$8.00/hour ⋅ 40 hours/week = $320/week

$320/week ⋅ 4.35weeks/month = $1,392/month

$1,392/month ⋅ 12 months/year = $16,704/year

. . .

Interpretations/Policy Implications

Based on our findings, we have concluded that a minimum wage worker does not earn enough money to live independently. Despite this finding, many of the single minimum wage earners were not able to qualify for government assistance because they earned too much money.

Earning the minimum wage has adverse effects on physical and psychological health. Constant stress contributes to depression and feelings of worthlessness. Feelings of embarrassment about their income level were not uncommon. The workers with children expressed concern for their children’s futures because of their inability to pay for necessities and provide opportunities. Many of the minimum wage earners we interviewed felt that they were trapped due to a lack of upward mobility.

Education was regarded by all interviewees as the key to a brighter future. Having access to education seemed to be the problem; many of the workers we interviewed could not afford to go to school.

It is clear that public policy is needed to help address these pressing problems that minimum wage earners face.

. . .


There are limitations to our study. The cost of living will inherently vary per individual/family, and the cost of living calculators can’t reflect this. Additionally, we were only able to conduct ten interviews, so we don’t have a representative sample of New Bedford residents.


This project was humbling. The people we interviewed gave us intimate glimpses into their everyday struggles, and it made us reflect on how fortunate we are to be in school working towards our goals. This project also helped us learn how to create a detailed work plan in order to explore an issue of interest to us, and this skill will certainly help us both in our future personal, academic, and professional endeavors.

Trash talk in Fall River & New Bedford

Our Gateway City neighbors to the east and west are shaking things up when it comes to trash collection, resulting in significant changes for Fall River and New Bedford residents this summer. Unless you’re a fan of The Sopranos, it’s hard to find excitement in the topic of solid waste management. Nevertheless, these changes shed light on how these two cities are approaching the kinds of fiscal and public management challenges that are threatening the viability of municipalities nationwide. Below is a primer on each city’s plan and the potential implications thereof.


Fall River

What’s happening? Earlier this year, Fall River accepted six proposals from solid waste management contractors to provide the city with trash and recycling services. One of the proposals came from the City of Fall River, which currently provides these services through its Sanitation Division (which strangely offers trolley services for hire as well).

At the end of May 2014, Mayor Will Flanagan announced that his administration had selected Waste Zero as the city’s new vendor, which proposed a unit-based pricing system commonly known as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT). If the City Council approves the proposed budget for FY15, PAYT will begin on August 1.

What’s the reason for this change? The change was precipitated by the impending closure of Fall River’s landfill. According to Herald News reports, Mayor Flanagan, who was once “adamantly opposed” to PAYT, now sees this system as a means for generating $3.5 million that will in turn fund 22 firefighter positions slated for elimination (click here to learn more about that).

What does this mean for residents? Starting on August 1, city residents will be required to place their household trash in special bags that must be purchased at city retailers (the most expensive bag will hold 30 gallons at a cost of $2). It is expected that recycling, which generates revenue for the city, will increase as a result.

What are the benefits of this change?As Mayor Flanagan noted in this article, this shift represents thinking about trash and recycling as a utility for which the customer pays according to use. The MA Department of Environmental Protection states on this PAYT fact sheet that this shift makes PAYT more equitable when compared to a system in which households generating little trash subsidize those disposing of greater quantities. Another benefit is that recycling rates are likely to increase significantly while reducing overall solid waste generated, the latter of which is estimated to save $900,000 per year on landfill costs.

What are the potential challenges with PAYT in Fall River? Enough communities, including cities like Worcester, have implemented PAYT successfully and in a way that dispels the idea that it will lead to problems like illegal dumping. Some cities are concerned that PAYT disproportionately impacts low-income residents, but as this Rappaport Briefing argues, there are options like discounted bags that could be implemented to alleviate any burden.

While PAYT looks like a no-brainer for Fall River, there may be some issues surrounding the management of the transition itself. First, will city employees who currently haul trash and recycling be carrying out the operations of PAYT? Just one month ago, Mayor Flanagan told these employees that privatization was unlikely, but the most recent reports suggest that the program will be managed by Waste Zero. Second, what happens to the significant investment Fall River made to automate its trash and recycling collection? This investment included the purchase of 16 new trucks and compatible carts, all of which cost $7 million.

Finally, PAYT can be perceived as an end-run tax. This is particularly acute in Fall River, where this change was announced just weeks ago and as a way to stave off firefighter cuts. Even MassDEP, which would be expected to remain agnostic on this front, recommends that municipalities make PAYT “revenue neutral, by reducing property taxes or flat fees by the amount that unit-based fees are expected to generate.”


New Bedford

What’s happening? Beginning later this month, city residents will scrap (well, hopefully recycle) their personal garbage bins and begin using bins provided by the city that will accommodate a new, automated system of trash and recycling pickup. There’s nothing revolutionary about this–Fall River made the change in 2009, and other SouthCoast municipalities (many of which also contract with ABC Disposal, which is New Bedford’s waste management vendor) are following suit.

What’s the reason for this change? The reasons cited for moving toward automation include cost savings (reportedly $100,000 per year) resulting from increased recycling and reduced landfill costs. However, this article suggests that this estimate is based on New Bedford’s recycling rate doubling, which may or may not transpire. Other anticipated benefits include a reduced amount of trash spilling out of bins and onto city streets, the improved ease of recycling (separating paper and cardboard will no longer be required), and possibly improved measurement and tracking of recycling rates. The last item is not verified, but because bins are equipped with barcodes, this seems like a distinct possibility.

What does this mean for residents? City residents will now put all recyclables into one bin, without needing to sort them, and all trash into another. Single-family homes will have a 65-gallon bin for each, while two-family homes will receive bins that can hold 95 gallons. Bins have the capacity to be picked up from the curb with automated arms connected to the truck, reducing staffing on the trucks and the physical toll on those workers.

What are the benefits of this change? As noted, potential benefits include cost savings of approximately $100,000 per year (depending on resident behavior) and tidier streets.

What are the potential challenges with New Bedford’s new system? First, it seems like the city is paying quite a bit more for waste disposal with the new system (and new contract with ABC Disposal). In FY14, the city spent $4,155,576; in FY15, it is projected to spend $4,560,637. The increase of over $400,000 may reflect one-time costs, but this isn’t entirely clear. Second, the size of the bins (quite large, and the same for trash and recycling) may not actually encourage more recycling, because there is plenty of room for trash–65 gallons, which would cost a Fall River resident over $4 to dispose of. And was the requirement to sort really holding many people back from recycling in the first place? It will be interesting to see that answered, and if that answer is yes, perhaps those projected savings will be realized.

Finally, compared to other cities, New Bedford is a bit behind the times when it comes to single-stream recycling and automated pickup. As more municipalities shift to PAYT, this change may make it harder for New Bedford to do so if the need to cut costs becomes more acute. After all, while bins like these can be used for PAYT, this would require the implementation of a billing system to charge for the trash collected. Other communities have also found that bins in the 60+ gallon range are too large for PAYT.

June project update

Our workload this month eases off a bit with the completion of our report for the United Way Hunger Commission and the wrapping up of our evaluation of the LifeWork Project. (This easing is well-timed, given the loss of two graduate research assistants to graduation!)

This summer, the projects we’ll be immersed in include:

  • The pilot evaluation and evaluation design for Friends Academy’s Center for Education Innovation, which includes a post-participation survey of teachers as well as a New Bedford Public Schools district-wide teacher survey about things like technology in the classroom, collaboration with fellow teachers, and approaches to instruction;
  • Continuing this year’s evaluation of Taunton’s HOPE VI project, which includes distilling the results of our 25 heads of household interviews, conducting a series of focus groups on issues like health and early childhood education, and compiling data related to the surrounding neighborhood and the City of Taunton;
  • Reporting on the findings of the New Bedford Regeneration Committee, in partnership with our colleagues at MassINC; and
  • Working with what promises to be a terrific team of high school interns on a project we mutually identify and design.

We also have a few proposals in the pipeline, so we hope next month’s update will include news of new endeavors!