On the verge of shutting down after the state pulled its funding, the only Massachusetts homeless shelter network with a largely Spanish-speaking staff will continue operations under a new partnership with another local nonprofit.
Casa Nueva Vida, which has shelters in Boston and Lawrence, is now part of Heading Home, one of the largest emergency housing and shelter providers in Greater Boston, officials said in a statement.
Heading Home will handle financial and administrative work for properties formerly managed by Casa Nueva Vida and retain the majority of its staff, officials said. Some 125 families will now come under the care of Heading Home, bringing its total to 318 families.
“It is a privilege to have Casa Nueva Vida join Heading Home as a division and we will work with their team to keep their shelters intact, families safely and stably housed, and their staff employed,” said Danielle Ferrier, CEO of Heading Home. “Preserving CNV’s cultural identity is a growth opportunity for us, a chance for us to learn and care for the families and individuals we serve from very diverse backgrounds.”
The change took effect July 1, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development. A spokesperson said the department has amended its emergency assistance shelter contract with Heading Home for fiscal year 2023 to reflect the added capacity.
Casa Nueva Vida, which had provided shelter to homeless people for more than 30 years, was set to shut down after the state told administrators in April it had no plans to renew its contract.
The state’s decision to cut ties came as its former longtime executive director, Manuel Duran, faces criminal charges for allegedly stealing at least $1.5 million from the nonprofit and millions of dollars from the state that was meant to support the homeless.
In January, Duran agreed to pay $6 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by Attorney General Maura Healey. Healey’s office alleged he stole $2.29 million from the agency, but under the state’s false claims law, the state was able to collect triple the amount.
Linda Johnson, who has worked with Casa Nueva Vida since 2014 and now heads the new division within Heading Home, said the shelter’s officials were invited to a meeting with DHCD in April and were expecting to negotiate a new contract. Instead, they learned their current contract, which was set to expire at the end of June, would be their last.
“We were blindsided,” Johnson said Thursday. “We thought we were entering negotiations when in fact we were being terminated.”
The list of families receiving services from Casa Nueva Vida was going to be divided up among other area shelters, Johnson said.
Ferrier said the state reached out to Heading Home and asked if it could add families to its portfolio to assist a struggling agency that was set to lose its contract at the end of June. She later learned the agency was Casa Nueva Vida and asked the state if there was more Heading Home could do to help.
“We just didn’t want to see them go under,” Ferrier said Thursday. “We don’t want to see folks punished for one person’s poor behavior.”
Johnson said she is grateful to Heading Home for stepping in to help.
“While everyone else was running away from us, Heading Home ran toward us and said, ‘We’re going to try to keep you all together,’” Johnson said.
“The support that we’ve received is unbelievable, the welcoming is overwhelming,” she added. “They’ve been committed to making us feel a part of the Heading Home family since day one.”
About 70 percent of the population Casa Nueva Vida serves is Hispanic, and about 85 to 90 percent of the staff speaks Spanish, Johnson said. Maintaining the nonprofit’s culture has been an important part of the transition, she said.
“There are so many things that bring people to the shelter or [cause them to become] homeless,” Johnson said. “If you can’t articulate or communicate, all that does is add to your fears, add to your anxiety, and the situation just gets worse. ... We have to be able to meet their needs and help them rise.”