Homeless housing, care proposed for former Barbara McInnis House

July 9, 2010
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Gazette Photo by David Taber The 50-unit, Pine Street Inn-run single-room occupancy housing development for the formerly homeless at the former Bowditch School, 80-82 Green St.

EGLESTON SQ.—Two years after the Barbara McInnis House—an innovative health care facility for the homeless—moved out of its building at 461 Walnut St., Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) is looking to return to the Egleston Square location.

BHCHP has invited the Pine Street Inn to join it. The plan is to open a new 20-bed short-term respite care facility for the homeless on the ground floor and about 30 single-room occupancy (SRO) units on the upper two floors of the three-story building. Those units would be developed by the non-profit Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC).

JPNDC hopes to begin construction in 2012, if zoning approval and funding come through, JPNDC staffer Andrew Winter said at the meeting.

The programming at the building would combine two popular trends in social services for the homeless, BHCHP and Pine Street Inn officials said in a presentation at the June 29 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC).

Opened in 1985 at the Shattuck Shelter on Morton Street, the homeless respite program eventually housed at the Walnut Street location was “a pilot facility that spawned over 50 similar facilities across the country,” BHCHP Executive Director Robert Taube said at the meeting. It provides temporary care for patients with serious medical conditions who are “homeless, but not acute enough to be in the hospital,” Taube said.

The need for such care has grown since the McInnis House opened, Taube said, because “lengths of stays in hospitals have grown shorter” and patients recovering from things like surgery and chemotherapy are more regularly discharged while they are still recuperating.

The respite care program was named the McInnis House—after a JP nurse—and moved into the Walnut Street location in 1993, but had outgrown the 90-bed space by 2008, and moved to the South End.

The upper floors at the Walnut Avenue site are proposed for conversion to “permanent supportive housing for the very same [type of] people we would be supporting medically,” Taube said.

The extent to which homeless patients in the respite care program will be able to cycle into the housing program in the building is not yet clear, Pine Street Inn executive director Lyndia Downie said at the meeting. The Boston Housing Authority (BHA), which will likely be a major funder for the project, uses a federally mandated wait-list system to distribute subsidized housing units, she said.

Pine Street has increasingly focused on providing permanent housing for the homeless in recent years.

Pine Street currently manages over 550 SRO units in Boston and Brookline, including in JP, Downie said. In the next few years it is expected that Pine Street’s permanent housing units will exceed its shelter beds.

Pine Street and the JPNDC are working together on another 29-unit SRO facility on the campus of the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hyde Square.

JPNC member Francesca Fordiani, a social worker, praised the project. “Homelessness perpetuates more homelessness,” she said. “We see people…[with housing] making a lot more progress.”

Downie said that Pine Street plans a permanent commitment to serve as both property manager and support-service provider at the new Walnut Street location.

Pine Street Inn and JPNDC staffers offered a tour of another Pine Street SRO development in JP—the 50-unit former Bowditch School at 80-82 Green St.—to abutters of the former McIinnis House and others.

At the beginning of that tour, community activist and Sumner Hill resident Carlos Icaza told the small crowd that “fears” about homeless housing in the neighborhood have proven to be unfounded.

“Three for-profit developers have built on three sides” of the former school since Pine Street moved in, he said. “I am convinced density and economic diversity in our neighborhood are key to making it work,” he said.

The handful of Egleston residents who toured the Bowditch site were supportive of the Egleston Square plans.

“I am really supportive and I wanted to see the space,” said Julianna Brody-Fialkin of Montebello Road.

“I was interested in seeing the space, seeing the residents and hearing from neighbors of an existing facility—in seeing how it feels,” said Kate Peppard, also of Montebello Road.

Peppard said she believes most neighbors’ concerns about the project “will be easily allayed by a well-managed program.”

At the conclusion of the tour, JPNDC organizer Kyle Robidoux said JPNDC will host a community meeting July 19 to review preliminary architectural plans for the site. Those plans will include reducing parking and expanding green space at the site, he said.

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