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The Plan to End Homelessness

When Mayor Thomas M. Menino introduced the concept of the Leading the Way comprehensive housing strategies in 2000, he made it clear that accomplishing the housing production goals and other established benchmarks was not intended to represent a finish line. Instead, achievement of these goals was meant to be a building block, a footing on which to base more expansive aims.

As stated in Leading the Way III, the City of Boston will no longer be satisfied with successfully managing the homelessness problem; it now intends to begin eliminating it. To achieve the twin goals of eliminating long-term individual homelessness and reducing family homelessness by at least 50%, the City will enact the five core strategies listed below:

1. Prevention. The first, and most important line of defense against homelessness is prevention. Analysis of prevention efforts in Boston has shown that it takes an average $1,691 per client to help avert homelessness. By contrast, emergency shelter can cost an average of $2,250 per month for hotel or motel placements. Beyond the cost savings, however, prevention is the more humane alternative. To prevent homelessness, the City will enact, support or employ the following strategies:

  • An Early Warning System to identify those at-risk of homelessness before their only option is the emergency shelter system;
  • A Homelessness Prevention Network to deliver homelessness prevention/tenancy stabilization services to those in need;
  • Shelter Diversion Programs to quickly stabilize or re-house people and keep them out of the emergency shelter system;

Rental Housing Market Stabilization Initiatives to prevent unnecessary evictions resulting from the current state of the rental housing market. This effort may include such initiatives as regulating condominium conversions, reducing evictions resulting from foreclosures, preventing other evictions through tenant advocacy and legal representation, preventing the loss of affordable housing to abandonment, financial/physical distress, or to market rate conversion.

2. Emergency Shelter. For some households, prevention of homelessness may not possible. In these cases, individuals may continue to rely on a well-run emergency shelter system for their interim housing needs. Until the time that expanded homeless prevention activities result in significant declines from the 5,000 people a year who seek entry into emergency shelter, the shelter network will continue to be an important part of Boston’s response to homelessness. However, entry into the shelter system should be considered the first step in the process that leads a homeless client to permanent housing. Currently, some shelter providers offer substance abuse and mental health counseling and referrals, education & job training assistance, criminal justice re-entry services, as well as supportive services like daycare that aid a client in utilizing the offered programs. However, the City believes that these services should be made available to all shelter residents.

3. Housing Placement Services. Housing placement is the primary mechanism by which the City will help people exit homelessness. There are almost 50,000 units of assisted housing in Boston. While not all have the right types of subsidies to house those in extreme poverty, many do. In addition, the BHA issues about 800 mobile housing vouchers each year. These vouchers may be used by homeless clients to access private market-rate housing stock, especially if appropriate support services for both the tenants and landlords can be linked to these placements. Connecting the homeless to these units as they become available at turnover could greatly increase the rate at which the homeless are placed out of the shelters. To aid in the effort to successfully arrange permanent housing, the City will enact, support or employ the following strategies:

  • Universal Housing Database will identify all units potentially available to the homeless with real-time vacancy information;
  • A Rapid Re-housing Program to quickly re-house those that have entered an emergency shelter but have few barriers to housing;
  • A System of Housing Placement to effectively coordinate housing placement programs in order to appropriately match the homeless with available housing opportunities;
  • Reducing Barriers to Entry for the homeless to gain access to the existing affordable housing supply.

4. New Housing Production. Boston has a long history of creating new affordable and supportive housing for its homeless; this new strategy does not alter that commitment. However, housing production goals may change as critical gaps in the housing system are identified and prioritized. For example, there may be a considerable number of homeless individuals or families currently in the shelter system for whom the housing supply, even with mobile support services, will not be workable. The production agenda for Boston will be determined by the identification of these key gaps in the supportive housing system. When identified, the City will find the developers and resources to produce new supportive housing to meet those needs. At the same time, continuing new production for ELI households will be needed to expand the long-term supply of units into which Boston’s homeless can be placed.

5. Sustainable Permanent Housing. The success of the City’s efforts to reduce homelessness over the longer term will require that all placements into permanent housing are sustainable over time, providing the kind of support services that aid clients in addressing the root problems that led to their homelessness. Without these services, some recently re-housed people will drift back toward homelessness, only to repeat the cycle. The City also recognizes that these services must reflect the diversity of issues that lead to homelessness: some clients will require workforce skill development and job placement; others may need medically-based support services; and still others will need services to gain access to the right income support programs. The City’s efforts to end homelessness will include ensuring that appropriate support services are attached to as many homeless placements as possible, either as mobile client-linked services, or as development-based services.

A Plan To Implement This Strategy

Successful implementation of this strategy will require organizing all available resources in a manner that supports the five core components of the City’s strategy. To be successful, each of these functions must be well coordinated with clear goals and benchmarks to show progress over time. This effort will also require collaboration and cooperation among agencies, State agencies, and providers. To facilitate this effort, working groups populated by a wide variety of stakeholders are currently operating in teams to implement these five core components. To ensure the successful implementation of this effort, the City will assume responsibility for two key services:

1. Information Support. When there is good information about the target population, much more effective strategies and better outcomes result. It will be the City’s responsibility to collect and disseminate critical information that supports the effective delivery of the five strategies. This includes establishing and maintaining a centralized listing of all those at-risk for homelessness, further developing a universal shelter client tracking and reporting system that can be used to analyze the shelter populations, especially target populations such as long-term stayers, and creating and maintaining a real-time database of housing units available to the homeless.

2. Advocacy & Resource Development. It will be important that the City, along with the service-provider and advocacy community, continue to work together ensure that homelessness remains a priority public issue and that sufficient resources to deliver this strategy are available. This will include a new effort to promote new civic, business, and institutional involvement in the campaign to substantially reduce homelessness. Resource priorities for the City include restoring/increasing funding to the Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) programs in a manner that most targets these resources to the homeless, developing a resource transition plan to ensure long-term sustainability for the homeless prevention and rapid re-housing services as the federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) resources decline over the next three years, and identifying and correcting key elements of existing resources that impede their effectiveness for the homeless agenda.

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