Plan to fight homelessness would use ‘triage system’
Eight months after the Long Island shelter abruptly closed, the Walsh administration will unveil an ambitious multimillion-dollar plan to end homelessness among veterans this year and to end chronic homelessness by 2018.
“I think we’re going to look back on it as a turning point,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said about the closure of the 450-bed Long Island facility, which set off a scramble to house the city’s homeless as winter approached. “It’s a bold plan.”
The plan, which will be formally released Thursday, aims to improve emergency and street outreach; coordinate access to resources; and increase rapid rehousing and permanent housing.
Although Walsh plans to raise $12.7 million from state, city, and private sources for additional support, the basic strategy uses existing institutions.
“What we really need to do is use the resources around us better,” said Felix Arroyo, Boston’s chief of health and human services. “That’s really what’s sort of magical about this plan.”
The first part of the program, dubbed a “triage system,” will identify the needs of each person and provides specialized services to groups such as youths, women, disabled individuals, and addicts. In particular, the report from by the mayor’s office will mention LGBTQ youths and young adults of color.
The triage approach tries to fix solvable problems instead of sending people immediately to an emergency shelter.
“Just think about how you would receive someone at your front door,” Arroyo said.
A centralized system — the first in Boston to handle homelessness, according to officials — will soon match people with the best housing service. Without such a system, the city struggles to find available housing for those in need, said Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon. The new system is “very thoughtful” and “very coordinated,” Dillon said.
For those on the brink of chronic homelessness, the city hopes to provide pathways to employment and rapid rehousing. A little monetary boost or a bit of guidance can prevent many in temporary — or “crisis” — homelessness from slipping into a chronic homelessness, the report states.
By using existing buildings and developing about 200 new housing units, Walsh and his team believe all chronically homeless individuals will be permanently housed in three years. Chronically homeless individuals are defined as those who have disabling conditions, who have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or who have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
The number of chronically homeless people in Boston has plummeted since 2004, but in the past two years, that number has inched upward this year by more than 100, to the current 600, according to the report.
Veteran homelessness is still a problem in Boston, but Walsh believes he can solve it. In 2014, Walsh joined a coalition of mayors pledging to end veteran homelessness. Of the 414 homeless veterans at the time of Walsh’s announcement, only 80 remained homeless a year later. However, more veterans frequently become homeless.
On Wednesday afternoon, Brian Eilert stood, with the help of a cane, outside the New England Center for Homeless Veterans on Court Street. Eilert’s pathway to homelessness, he said, began in 2003 when he became addicted to prescription medication.
“I can say it’s a miracle that I’m clean today,” said Eilert, who served in the Army.
The shelter has its problems, he said. There are drug addicts. Other residents complained of bedbugs. Next to Eilert sat a homeless veteran with a ripped red shirt and feet full of blisters, preparing for a morning smoke. Yet Eilert had few complaints.
“I think they’re doing the best they can,” he said. “They continue to help me.”
The announcement of the new plan to aid the homeless coincides with the opening of 150 more beds in the Southampton Street Shelter on Thursday.