Disabled Massachusetts Residents Can’t Find Housing:

After being hospitalized John Simmons arrived at a nursing home in Everett MA. He expected his stay to be relatively short. Unfortunately, three years later, he is still living there.

Simmons uses a wheelchair and requires supplemental oxygen to breathe. He is capable of living independently. However, like many disabled people in Massachusetts, he lives in a nursing facility due to a lack of affordable housing options.

Simmons, 74, is a plaintiff in a federal class action complaint filed in Boston in October, alleging that Massachusetts allows thousands of people with disabilities to languish and often deteriorate in nursing homes when they could live independently. The lawsuit seeks to force the state to extend existing programs and establish new ones to assist disabled people transitioning out of nursing homes.

Simmons is grateful that he can receive the medical care he needs. However, he misses simple daily pleasures such as grocery shopping, going for walks, and doing laundry. He hasn’t seen a full moon in years.

According to a 2015 article published by NPR, those with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty than their non-disabled counterparts. Accessible, affordable housing is hard to find. Unsurprisingly, disabled people account for 38.6% of sheltered homeless people in America, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

Simmons says he decided to join the lawsuit because he witnessed the toll that living in a nursing facility during the pandemic took on those who couldn’t go out. After being released from the hospital, he felt he had nowhere else to go. Due to his disability, he could not return to his fourth-floor apartment in Boston. The building has no elevator, and Simmons can’t climb stairs anymore. He eventually lost his housing voucher as well.

In 2021, about half of all people with disabilities who rent struggled to pay their rent. A one-bedroom apartment in the United States costs around one and a half times the monthly Supplemental Security Income amount. A person on SSI would have to spend roughly twice their allotment in the Boston region to afford a one-bedroom rental.

It is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and of The Olmstead Decision to keep disabled people in such settings. The Supreme Court issued the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision in June 1999, requiring all states to prohibit unnecessary segregation of disabled individuals and to ensure that they receive services in the most integrated setting possible.

Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, two disabled women living in Georgia nursing homes, were involved in this case. Curtis and Wilson requested permission from state officials to live in the community in their own homes.

When the state rejected their request, Susan Jamieson of Atlanta Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on their behalf. The Supreme Court heard the case after several appeals. Services for people with disabilities must be offered “in the most integrated setting possible,” according to the Supreme Court ruling.

More disabled people across the nation are living in their communities because of the decision. However, millions of people, including Simmons, live in nursing facilities or other institutional settings.

Living in these settings is much more expensive. Living at home saves the state of Massachusetts thousands of dollars a year. Nursing home care costs an average of $7,756 per month for a semi-private room. The average monthly cost for a private room is $8,821. This adds up to $93,072 and $105,852 a year, respectively.

Nobody should be forced to live in poverty. Many disabled Americans like Simmons are also staying in homeless shelters. Disability benefits must provide a livable income for those who need them in America. We must work together to ensure that no Americans with disabilities are homeless.


Fessler, Pam. “Why Disability and Poverty Still Go Hand in Hand 25 Years After Landmark Law.” NPR, NPR, 23 July 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/07/23/424990474/why-disability-and-poverty-still-go-hand-in-hand-25-years-after-landmark-law.

“Homelessness in America: Overview of Data and Causes.” The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 2018, https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet.pdf.

Shapiro, Joseph. “Lois Curtis, Who Won a Landmark Civil Rights Case for People with Disabilities, Died.” NPR, NPR, 5 Nov. 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/11/05/1134426128/lois-curtis-who-won-a-landmark-civil-rights-case-for-people-with-disabilities-di.

Smith, Meghan. “A Lawsuit Could Force the State to Help Thousands of People with Disabilities Find Housing.” WBGH, PBS, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2023/01/26/a-lawsuit-could-force-the-state-to-help-thousands-of-people-with-disabilities-find-housing.

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