Bringing Boston Home: New city plan tackles homelessness

A man sleeps on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
A man sleeps on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

A new homelessness plan called Bringing Boston Home aims to significantly reduce homelessness in the city by 2016. 

“We’ve had great success in reducing homelessness, and the Leadership Council has courageously taken on some of the most difficult remaining issues faced by our homeless population,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said.

“We are going to help our most challenged and medically frail homeless off the street; make sure that the mentally ill, ex-offenders, and youth don’t unnecessarily wind up in shelter, and help families in subsidized housing keep their homes, even when unexpected circumstances make it hard to pay rent.”

The new plan examines seven key issues facing homeless individuals and provides recommendations aimed at solving the root causes of homelessness, including providing permanent housing and reducing the number of persistently unsheltered homeless individuals by 50 percent.

Specifically, the plan will address:

Street Homelessness – While Boston has a comparatively low number of people living on the street, this population tends to be particularly vulnerable, including seniors, unaccompanied youth, and individuals with chronic substance abuse issues, and mental and physical disabilities.

The goal of the plan is to reduce the number of persistently unsheltered homeless by 50 percent by the end of FY14.

High Utilizers of Emergency Services – 80 homeless individuals in the city use Boston’s hospital emergency rooms as a regular shelter option and health care provider; data have shown that permanent supportive housing options for these individuals produce not only improved health outcomes, but also an average 50 percent reduction in emergency room use.

The plan seeks to house all 80 of these individuals by 2016.

Homeless Individuals in Shelter – While there will always be a need for an emergency shelter system, it is designed only for short-term stays, not as a long-term solution.

The plan seeks to reduce the number of long-term homeless in Boston’s shelters by 50 percent, and to reduce their average length of stay by 25 percent.

Reducing Unnecessary Shelter Placement – Boston’s shelters are often used as a housing solution for institutions or communities without housing solutions of their own; often, individuals are released from the criminal justice and social service systems without sufficient housing support, and a lack of regional services and housing support outside the city means that Boston shelters a disproportionate number of homeless individuals from outside the city.

The plan will improve coordination with key Federal and State institutions, with a priority on getting veterans, the mentally ill, ex-offenders, and youth appropriate support to avoid placement in shelter.

Family Homelessness – The eviction of subsidized tenants is one of the key systems that can unnecessarily generate new family homelessness; once a family loses a rent subsidy due to eviction, it becomes more difficult for them to find permanent housing.

The plan seeks to reduce the number families with housing subsidies who are evicted solely for rent arrearages by 25 percent.

Workforce Development – To promote long-term stability and prevent recurring homelessness, the City will seek to expand access to appropriate educational, skill training and advancement opportunities.

Homeless Housing Production – Declining Federal resources mean that it will be much harder for the City to produce housing for the homeless at the historic rates of the last 20 years.

The plan calls for the City to maintain homeless housing production rates as close as possible to historic production rates, creating 225 units though FY16.
They city’s Leadership Council on Homelessness developed the plan over the last four years.

Last year, the city reported roughly 6,650 people in Boston were homeless – in 2002 there were 6,210.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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