Real Estate Today: Mayor announces plan to house homeless

Mayor Thomas Menino last week announced a plan to provide more housing and support for Boston’s homeless people.

The city’s homeless population is currently estimated at about 7,000, an increase from last year. Only about 190 of those people live on the streets without shelter, almost none of them in Jamaica Plain, according a City census. A large shelter, hopeFound, operates at the Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park.

Menino’s new plan, called “Bringing Boston Home,” is set to span three years. However, Menino leaves office in January, and it is unclear what a new mayoral administration might do long-term.

The plan is the product of a four-year process with members of the Leadership Council on Homelessness.

“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,” Mayor Menino said in a press statement. “We are going to help our most challenged and medically frail homeless off the street; make sure that the mentally ill, ex-offenders and youths 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.”

Compared to other cities its size, Boston has a small number of homeless residents living on the streets. While showing a recent increase, the homeless population number is 23 percent lower than in 2009, when a new collaboration with the state and nonprofit agencies began.

But, while Boston has had great success in sheltering homeless people, shelter is not the ideal or only outcome. As its central theme, “Bringing Boston Home” addresses some of the root causes of homelessness, including providing permanent housing and other support in addition to shelter. The plan is framed around seven key issues:

1. 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 youths, 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 Fiscal Year 2014.

2. High Utilizers of Emergency Services. Eighty homeless people 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.

3. 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.

4. 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, people 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 youths appropriate support to avoid placement in shelter.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 Fiscal Year 2016.

From press materials and Gazette archives.

Mayor Thomas Menino is joined by Boston Public Health Commissioner Barbara Ferrer, a JP resident, at City Hall Sept. 19 as he announces the “Bringing Boston Home” plan.

Mayor Thomas Menino is joined by Boston Public Health Commissioner Barbara Ferrer, a JP resident, at City Hall Sept. 19 as he announces the “Bringing Boston Home” plan.

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