Mayor Walsh announces plan to modernize city shelter system

Mayor Marty Walsh. (Image courtesy of the City of Boston.)

BOSTON – Friday, January 12, 2018 – Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced that the City of Boston is seeking to redesign the emergency shelter system to better support people experiencing homelessness in exiting shelter as quickly as possible, and to ensure that people seeking shelter are quickly connected with the right resources. In a request for proposals (RFP), the City outlines its goal of modernizing its emergency shelter system. Responses to the RFP are due on February 20, 2018.

“We have made significant progress in our efforts to end chronic and veteran homelessness in the City of Boston,” said Mayor Walsh. “There is more work to be done though, and modernizing our shelter system will make sure that if a person becomes homeless, they are assessed and quickly connected with the right services to help them get back on their feet.”

Since the implementation of Boston’s Way Home, the Walsh administration’s plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness, the city has seen significant success, ending chronic veteran homelessness and housing nearly 1,300 formerly homeless people. Despite this significant progress, however, demand for shelter continues to grow each year. Boston’s individual shelters now serve seven percent more people annually than they did in June 2015, when the plan was released.

“Pine Street applauds Mayor Walsh’s efforts to connect those who are homeless with the best resources to move them out of homelessness,” said Lyndia Downie, President and Executive Director of Pine Street Inn. “Our goal is to move people out of shelter as quickly as possible; and better yet, to prevent them from entering in the first place. We look forward to exploring best practices as we work with the city to help people rebuild their lives.”

Boston has one of the most intensive emergency responses to homelessness in the country, offering a shelter bed to anyone in need, regardless of sobriety, criminal record, ties to the area, income, or any other barrier that other shelters often impose. For example, more than half of all individuals entering Boston’s shelter system report their last known address in a zip code outside of Boston. To that end, a more efficient use of the city’s emergency shelter system is critical to achieving the goals of Boston’s Way Home.

An 18-month Front Door Triage pilot at the City’s four largest adult shelters revealed that there are still individuals entering shelter who have viable alternatives other than entering shelter. Shelter guests may need a different type of assistance, such as family mediation, inpatient treatment, or nursing home care, to become stable in housing. Data shows that in other cases, emergency shelter has become an over-utilized safety net for people exiting other systems of care, such as hospitals, jails, and psychiatric facilities. These facilities provide minimal discharge support, or in some cases, make referrals to shelter with the false expectation that it is a fast track to housing.

It is the goal of this RFP to reach a shelter system that is accessed only by those who need it, reducing demand on shelters and connecting clients with other options and assistance where necessary.  Boston’s shelters will also be able to operate in a manner that ensures people experiencing homelessness exit to housing as quickly as possible, and with lower rates of return. Should clients return to shelter after becoming housed, they will be connected to the appropriate resources to help them remain housed.

The shelter redesign process will take place after a thorough review of the policies, procedures, operations, staffing, and outcomes in the city’s shelters. The proposed plan will be based on proven strategies and outcomes, and will  be tailored to the context and resources available within Boston.  Shelter management, staff, and clients will be consulted throughout the process.

In his recent inaugural address, Mayor Walsh announced the establishment of the Boston’s Way Home Fund, which will raise $10 million over the course of four years. These funds will be used to create 200 new units of supportive, sustainable, long-term housing for chronically homeless men and women. The effort to redesign shelter and to create more permanent housing support one another, as often, the best solution for a chronically homeless individual exiting shelter is to become housed in a unit of permanent supportive housing.

This type of housing combines subsidized rental housing with individualized support services so that people with complex issues can receive the assistance they need to stay housed. The services are designed to build independent living skills and to connect people with services such as community-based health care, support managing mental health conditions, substance use counseling, and employment services.

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