Creating homes and giving thanks
By Mayor Martin Walsh
Thanksgiving is not only a time to gather around the table with family, friends, and loved ones; it’s also a time to reflect on the year past and to consider all the things we have to be grateful for. I know I have a lot to be thankful for — my family, my friends, and my health, for starters. But as mayor, I have something else to be thankful for — the remarkable people I work with every day, and the work they do to help people.
This Thanksgiving, I’m especially grateful for the work that we have been able to do to help Boston’s homeless individuals. Since 2014, we have housed 1,200 homeless veterans and chronically homeless individuals. And each one of those people has their own unique story.
I’m thankful we’ve been able to house people like Anthony, who placed years of adversity and obstacles behind him to follow his dream of having his own set of keys and apartment to call home.
Introduced to drugs at 13, Anthony struggled with a substance use disorder for 40 years. As a person in recovery myself, I understand how challenging it can be to break the cycle of addiction. But Anthony did. He dug deep to find the courage to fight his addiction and set off in a new direction, focused on improving his quality of life.
Along the road to recovery, Anthony realized that without a safe, stable place to call home, recovery would be an even greater challenge. And, he reasoned, he wanted to have a place where his children and grandchildren could visit him.
But finding a home can be a challenge when you’ve been without one for so long. Referred to our partners at Hearth Inn by Pine Street Inn, Anthony would meet with Natacha, his Hearth Case Manager, once a week — sometimes even twice. He would arrive 30 minutes early, waiting patiently with Taz, his tiny puppy, by his side. And after more than 15 years homeless, Anthony finally achieved his goal of securing keys to a safe, permanent new home — and a second chance to start over. After receiving an offer of BHA housing at one of the City’s housing surges, today, Anthony is able to live a full life, being the father, son, brother, and grandfather he always wanted to be.
I visited Anthony in his new apartment in one of the Boston Housing Authority’s properties. It’s bright and sunny. Family photos decorate the walls, and Anthony is proud to show them off. We talked for an hour – Anthony’s a smart guy and a great storyteller.
As we left Anthony’s apartment, I thought about how much it takes to house one homeless individual. It takes front line workers to understand what a person needs at the moment they enter shelter. It takes units of housing — from the Boston Housing Authority and private landlords alike. It takes innovative thinking to come up with new ideas like our housing surges, which match individuals to housing and services, and end chronic homelessness then and there. It takes technology, like our new coordinated access engine and our new data systems. It takes landlords, like those who are participating in our new Landlord Guarantee initiative.
All of these efforts depend on the amazing people who make up our homelessness system, and work every day find stable, secure homes for Boston’s homeless individuals. From the front door triage workers in shelters to the people who hand individuals their new keys, Boston’s entire system of providers has come together as one to help: shelter partners like Pine Street Inn; healthcare organizations like Hearth; housing search experts like HomeStart. And through it all, an army of dedicated case managers keeps in touch with homeless individuals, helping guide and empower them every step of the way.
It takes a village of workers to house a homeless person. And as the holidays approach, I’m asking for your help as well. On our web site, you can find a list of ways, both small and large, that you can help us end chronic homelessness in Boston. For example, if you’re a landlord, you can participate in the Landlord Guarantee Fund and rent to a homeless household. Or you can volunteer with one of our many partners, doing everything from helping furnish peoples’ new homes to helping them prepare for job interviews.
In my time as mayor, I’ve seen the generosity and strength of this city in so many ways. I firmly believe that by working together, we can end all chronic homelessness in Boston, just as we have already ended chronic veterans homelessness. As we sit down to Thanksgiving and holiday meals, I hope you’ll join me in working to ensure people like Anthony can gather their families together, and celebrate the holidays in a home of their own.
For more information, visit bit.ly/2zXKUCP.
Reflections on passing criminal justice reform
By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez
Last week, I worked with my colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass two criminal justice reform bills. Through a number of practical and progressive policies, we made a commitment to ensure public safety while helping those in the criminal justice system turn their lives around.
I’ve been engaged in this conversation for a long time. Growing up in Boston, many of my childhood friends felt the impacts of an unjust criminal justice system. Rep. Liz Malia has long been a leader on these issues, and thanks to her work on this effort, we were able to pass a significant piece of legislation. It’s a big deal that we are reforming our criminal justice system and I am proud to have been involved in passing this comprehensive reform.
The first piece, commonly referred to as the Council of State Governments bill, builds on a $3 million investment in our state budget to reduce recidivism. It allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.
The second bill is broader in scope and addresses challenges in the system from the earliest point at which an individual makes contact, sometimes as children, up until the time that an individual reenters society after incarceration.
Addressing juvenile justice was a priority for me because kids are bound to make mistakes. If a high schooler lifts a pair of sneakers, that charge can haunt them the rest of their life. The legislation addresses juvenile justice by creating a process for records to be expunged for the first time in Massachusetts. Expungement completely erases a criminal record and applies to certain juvenile (under 18) and criminal offenses for young adults (18-21). It also allows for expungement of convictions which are no longer crimes, such as those related to marijuana.
Our legislation eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug offenses, increases the threshold for felony larceny from $250 to $1,000, and establishes a standard for fines and fees to be reduced so people don’t go to jail simply because they can’t afford to pay.
Half of the state’s prison population is comprised of individuals being held pre-trail, and a disproportionate number of those inmates are minority defendants who face higher bail. In this bill, we require the courts to consider someone’s financial situation when setting bail, ultimately preventing individuals from being jailed simply because they lack the financial means to post bail.
Individuals recently released from prison have an unemployment rate 50 percent higher than the general public. The sooner people find employment, the less likely they are to commit additional crimes. Being able to seal your CORI is a game-changer. In this legislation, we build upon our progressive actions relative to CORI in 2010 and 2012. We shorten the waiting period to seal a CORI report from 10 to 7 years for felonies and 5 to 3 years for misdemeanors. Resisting arrest becomes a sealable offense for the first time and an applicant can answer “no record” when applying for housing. These policies align with our goals of reducing recidivism and expanding access to opportunities.
Several amendments were added to the bill during debate, including one that establishes a panel on justice-involved women to review the impact of this bill and other criminal statutes on women in our criminal justice system. Another amendment ensures families of murder victims receive adequate reimbursement for funeral and burial costs.
We are in the midst of a public health crisis, so this bill requires district attorneys to create diversion programs so people with substance use disorders or mental illness and veterans can access appropriate services and programs. It creates a mechanism for compassionate release and places limitations on solitary confinement to ensure people are treated humanely.
These monumental reforms are going to make a real impact in the lives of people here in JP and across the Commonwealth. We focus on treating people as individuals, instead of applying broad-based policies. In addition to funding safe and successful youth programs that address the violence in our communities, the House has taken steps to improve the criminal justice system so people can take advantage of new opportunities and we can break the cycle of incarceration.