From his wheelchair, Warren Magee looked around his first apartment in years Thursday, still a bit incredulous that his time as a man on the streets had come to a fortunate end.
Magee, 46, is one of the new residents of Francis Grady Apartments, a 30-unit development for the formerly homeless that recently opened in Jamaica Plain. An adjacent development, the 20-bed Stacy Kirkpatrick House, will provide short-term health care for homeless patients, helping to address a chronic need.
The project is a joint venture of Boston Health Care for the Homeless and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, a nonprofit developer. The Pine Street Inn will manage the property.
Magee was selected from 632 applicants for one of the coveted studio apartments. He said he had been homeless off and on — mostly on — for about seven years. He was paralyzed in a biking accident and has struggled ever since.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” Magee said of his new living arrangement. “I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my refrigerator, clothes on my back. What more can a man ask for? I’m on top of the world. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to restart my life.”
Residents of the apartments like Magee moved into will live there permanently. They will pay 30 percent of their income, be it welfare or Social Security, for rent. Most, if not all, qualify for state housing vouchers, as well.
Next door the Kirkpatrick House, which opens in a few weeks, will provide short-term housing for people who need to get off the streets temporarily for medical reasons. The average stay is expected to be around two weeks, though that’s a guess. Residents could be people suffering from short-term health problems or people with addiction waiting for a bed in detox.
“They’ll have a place to recover and have some structure,” said Barry Bock, CEO of Boston Heath Care for the Homeless. “That’s how we envision it.”
The development may be new, but the battle to open it dragged on for years. More than a decade ago, BHCHP got the idea to turn the building, then known as the Barbara McInnis House, into a residential facility that could also provide health care. It found a partner in the neighborhood development corporation, and lined up impressive support from city and state governments.
Then it ran into a buzzsaw, in the form of well-to-do neighbors. Though many residents supported the project, a handful filed suit, concerned that homeless people might lower property values. Though there was never much chance the suit would prevail — it didn’t — they delayed the project by years. One of the neighbors who spearheaded that effort told me a few years ago that he and his friends would gladly raise money for the project — if it got built someplace else.
Eventually, the majority of residents, who backed the project, carried the day. “If it wasn’t for the incredible support we had, there’s no way we could have gotten this far,” said Richard Thal, executive director of the neighborhood development council. “There was always a strong group of neighbors saying that this is the kind of community we want to have, a community that includes people.”
A fundamental premise of Boston Health Care for the Homeless is that homelessness contributes mightily to a host of health problems. What made this project worth the long fight was that it provides a chance to address both issues: health care, and homelessness itself.
Any issues with blending into the neighborhood seem to have resolved themselves, said Magee, the new resident. He said they couldn’t be more welcoming. “Yeah, you’ve got homeless people moving into the neighborhood,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’re a human being, and so are we. So what’s the problem?”