Boston is poised to create a new commission that will aim to end family homelessness in the city.
The city council this week unanimously passed a measure that would create a panel that would work to identify gaps in resources for homeless families, conduct a cost analysis of the problem, and generate a thorough plan that would unite city and state resources in a coordinated effort with the ultimate goal of ending family homelessness. It would exist for “as long as it takes to develop a comprehensive, actionable plan to end family homelessness, up to 5 years from the founding.”
Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, who filed the measure, said Thursday that it is difficult to put a number on family homelessness in the city, in part because of the stigma attached to being a homeless family, while noting that 5,000-school-age children who attend Boston Public Schools are homeless.
“We need to focus on our families, those are our kids in our schools,” said Essaibi-George, a former public school teacher.
According to federal statistics, as of January 2019, Massachusetts had an estimated 18,471 people experiencing homelessness on any given day. That total included 3,766 families.
“We need to acknowledge that they exist, make sure they have services in place to support them while they are homeless,” as well as prevention measures, said Essaibi-George.
The panel would include a mayor or their designee, a city councilor, a pair of City Hall cabinet chiefs, the schools superintendent, and the governor or their designee, among others. The ordinance passed by the council would includes authorizing a special advisor on family homelessness in the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development to implement the policy developed by the commission. The special advisor post was created during the most budget process specifically to staff the commission, and the hiring process for that job is ongoing, according to Essaibi-George.
“We really needed to have a designated effort and someone’s attention to this day-in, day-out,” said the councilor.
Now, Mayor Martin J. Walsh has two weeks to sign the passed ordinance, which he said on Thursday he supports. The commission must meet within 60 days of the mayor’s signing, according to Essaibi-George’s office.
“The purview of family homelessness is at the state, but . . . we’re jumping more and more into that conversation now as a city to offer supports,” said Walsh at a City Hall news conference.