In an attempt to combat homelessness in the city of Boston, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino introduced a plan called “Bringing Boston Home” on Sept. 19 to look into housing options for homeless individuals and to offer them support in their time of need.
“We have the top sheltering rate of any city in the United States of America … we do a really good job on this, but the mayor believes very strongly that we can’t stop until every Bostonian has a place to call home,” said Lisa Pollack, director of media and public relations at the Department of Neighborhood Development.
Since 2009, the homelessness rate in Boston has dropped by 23 percent. Compared to other cities across the country, Boston has a relatively small population without shelter, as about 3 percent of homeless persons go unsheltered, according to a Sept. 19 press release from the mayor’s office.
“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,” Menino said in the release. “We are going to help our most challenged and medically frail homeless off the street, make sure that the mentally ill, ex-offenders, and youth 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.”
Bringing Boston Home has seven steps, starting with helping Boston’s street homeless and ending with discharging some to homes rather than shelters, according to the plan. document. The plan also has built in support systems so that someone is making sure these individuals are taking their medication and looking for employment.
Pollack said a large focus of the plan would be housing those who use a large amount of emergency services.
“There is a cohort of homeless people who use emergency rooms as their primary source of both shelter and healthcare … that is the most expensive way to do it,” she said. “We’ve identified 80 of these people and our goal is to help all 80 of them.”
The total cost of the plan is estimated at $7.3 million. The city already has $2.4 million in existing resources and the other $4.9 million will come from re-prioritizing existing resources and from new fundraising efforts from public and private entities, Pollack said.
“I think by 2016, we’d like to see the shelter system working the way the shelter system is supposed to work, and we’d really like to see people with roofs over their head, a table to eat around, a place for kids to thrive in school and a place where families can gather,” she said.
Pollack said the Leadership Council on Homelessness has worked with the city to put the plan together and she is proud of what they have accomplished thus far.
“What’s great about this is that it’s not just a thing that the city’s saying we’re going to go do,” she said. “It’s the city and the Leadership Council saying, ‘This is how we’re going to work together. This is how the whole network of providers and funders is going to work together to get this done.’ That’s what’s going to make it work.”
Eliezer Garcia, 25, from Puerto Rico, said he experienced firsthand the effects of an aggressive plan against homelessness.
“I have broken English, and it was hard,” he said. “I couldn’t get a job.”
Garcia said he lost his home due to unemployment and spent a year at the Woods-Mullen Shelter on Massachusetts Avenue, one of two emergency shelters run by the Boston Public Health Commission.
“Homeless … I don’t like that name,” he said. “But I was only here for a year … housing helped me and I got an apartment now.”
Garcia said he now lives in a housing development, not far from the Woods-Mullen Shelter, that helps formerly homeless individuals get back on their feet. He said he is gracious for the assistance he has received and hopes that Bringing Boston Home will help other people like him.
“I come back here and talk to my friends and sometimes they [make fun of] my house, but I am thankful,” he said. “I like a home. This plan is good. Whenever you’re helping people, it’s a good idea.”