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Walsh’s budget aims to tackle chronic homelessness

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (left) spoke with a homeless man in January, when the city was conducting its annual homeless census. Advocates are banking on Walsh’s newly proposed budget to help wipe out homelessness in the city.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (left) spoke with a homeless man in January, when the city was conducting its annual homeless census. Advocates are banking on Walsh’s newly proposed budget to help wipe out homelessness in the city.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Gl

They come at night, desperate, looking for a place to rest.

For Boston's homeless, the staff running shelters swoops in to offer assistance — a bed, warm meals, a safe place. Figuring out the root causes for why a person shows up must wait.

Now, for the first time, city housing advocates are banking on Mayor Martin J. Walsh's newly proposed budget to wipe out homelessness in Boston.

Walsh's pledge to spend $1.3 million on the homeless, city housing and public health officials say, will do more than offer people a bed for the night.

"It's more money than we've had for these activities,'' said Sheila Dillon, the city's housing chief.

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Walsh is expected to formally present his budget Wednesday morning to the City Council. Hearings on the proposed budget are expected to begin April 25, with a full council vote at the end of June.

City housing and public health officials say the money will further Walsh's plan to end chronic homelessness by 2018.

The city spent the past two years working to end homelessness among veterans by cutting the bureaucratic maze that frustrates clients and by building a community response system and finding housing for 628 veterans — effectively eliminating the crisis among that population.

Officials are hoping to replicate that success among other homeless people.

"We . . . say go forth and get reunited with families, get a roommate, but leave the shelter system,'' Dillon said. "We know the longer people stay in the shelter system, the worse they become."

The city's proposal includes $150,000 for "front-door triage" so staff at the Pine Street Inn or the Southampton Street and Woods Mullen city shelters can assess the causes of people's homeless situation as soon as they walk in, officials said.

Another $900,000 provides "rapid housing rental assistance" to get clients into permanent housing by offering training for a steady job, addiction treatment, or first and last month's down payment for an apartment, officials said.

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And $250,000 would help cover hotel or motel costs for families in crisis.

Elizabeth Doyle, the city's deputy director for supportive housing, said the aim is to change the culture in delivery of client services.

Shelter staff would "love to be able to provide resources to people at the front door,'' she said. "But they never had that ability to actually greet people when they walk through the door for the first time, assess their needs, and figure out what would be the best thing for them."

But some housing advocates said the city is not going far enough.

Michael Kane, director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, said Walsh should consider including $5 million in the budget for the Housing First voucher program that would help low-income residents find affordable housing.

Kane said Washington, D.C., has budgeted a successful voucher program.

"If the mayor can provide . . . free rent for GE, why can't he provide $5 million in vouchers to lower rents for Bostonians?'' Kane said, referring to the city's efforts to attract General Electric's headquarters to Boston.

Members of the City Council wrote a letter to the mayor this month urging his support.

"We know that housing is a top priority for you and we applaud the goals set in your administration's long-term housing plan,'' said the letter, signed by nine councilors. "However, for many families and individuals in Boston, the pressing need for affordable housing cannot wait."

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There is no allocation for the voucher program in the proposed budget, Dillon said.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeghanIrons.