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The Homeless Conundrum

Like other state governors, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has spent much of the past year trying to figure out the best way to move welfare recipients into jobs.

In Massachusetts, all able-bodied aid recipients with school-age children are required to work or perform community service 20 hours a week in order to continue getting assistance. Currently, all homeless parents are required to seek permanent shelter four days a week as an alternative to the work-community service requirement.

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But that may change. The state Department of Transitional Assistance is considering requiring homeless families to work 20 hours a week, in addition to seeking a home four days a week, or lose their benefits.

It's hard to argue against the benefits of work. At the same time, getting their families out of shelters should be homeless parents' first priority. That means finding affordable housing, something that admittedly is difficult - some would say impossible - to do.

Also crucial is the care of their children. As the director of one Boston homeless shelter asked, what are such children to do after school when their parents are working and looking for housing? "Are they supposed to stay at the shelter by themselves?" she asked.

Mr. Weld and other welfare reformers must recognize the catch here: To find stable homes homeless parents need steady incomes, yet they're more likely to find decent jobs if they have stable homes. To solve this riddle state administrations will have to shun simplistic solutions and be flexible enough to take into consideration the special needs of homeless families.

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