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City announces new plan for ending youth homelessness

From left to right: Melissa MacDonnell, president of the Liberty Mutual Foundation, Nick Pippin of the Boston Youth Action Board and Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George applauded during an announcement at Bridge Over Troubled Waters Inc., in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

City officials announced Thursday that Boston will provide more than 150 homeless young people with housing assistance through partnerships with local organizations, part of a wide-reaching plan to end youth homelessness here.

The city estimates that around 325 people under the age of 24 live on Boston’s streets or in its shelters. They are on their own — unaccompanied by parents and without a regular place to sleep.

Boston was awarded nearly $5 million in federal funding last year from the Office of Housing and Urban Development. This week the city awarded that money to five organizations, including Bridge Over Troubled Waters and the Justice Resource Institute, which will be responsible for building the new housing and filling it. The city said it would use some of the money generated from taxing short-term rentals and hotel rooms to end homelessness among young people.

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The city also released a new plan to address the crisis, an approach spearheaded in part by a Youth Action Board that includes currently and formerly homeless young people.

“We can’t sugarcoat it, we can’t build a bunch of shelters and say, ‘OK there’s no problem on the street now, everyone’s in a shelter, we have everyone hidden,’ ” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh while announcing the new plan. “It’s not about that. It’s about, how do we get people back on their feet?”

The 157 “housing opportunities” include long-term subsidies for permanent supportive housing, where tenants have access to medical care, social workers, and job training; medium-term subsidies for what the city calls “rapid re-housing,” which provides money for security deposits and utilities; and a small number of crisis beds in shelters.

“I’m gonna get that housing! I would like that right away!” a young person who goes by the name Azlan Azitiz shouted from the crowd during the mayor’s speech, in a reminder of just how high the stakes are for the young people who currently live on Boston’s streets. The city’s estimate is likely a significant undercount because it does not include young people who are couch surfing or doubling up with friends and relatives.

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Some of the youth homelessness action plan is concrete, with specific funding, and some of it is aspirational. The city would need 285 new housing opportunities to eradicate youth homelessness within three years, the plan says, far more than the 157 units announced Thursday. But city officials defended the plan as a positive start, and stressed how important it was that those who will be affected helped to design it.

Katherine Holbrook, of the Boston Youth Action Board, sat with her daughter Ember King, 3, during an announcement at Bridge Over Troubled Waters Inc.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“That’s what we got from HUD, so it’s a fabulous start,” said Sheila Dillon, chief of housing for the city, about the funding for the housing assistance. “This is new for us, and we’re going to have to get in and start the plan and see how far these resources take us.”

The young homeless population in Boston is disproportionately black and Hispanic, and some young people living precariously remain largely hidden from view.

“A lot of people who are 18 to 24 don’t even realize they are homeless because they still have friends and family who let them stay from time to time,” said Jocelyn Flores, 26, a facilitator on the Youth Action Board. She said she struggled to find housing after she turned 18 and was homeless until she was about 22.

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Nick Pippin, 21, is a member of the Youth Action Board who has experienced homelessness and contributed to the plan. He said the process differed from others in the past, in which a “bunch of older, white, upper-class people” made decisions about what should happen for those living on the street.

The young people who were involved in crafting the plan had nuanced ideas about how homelessness affected them. Kaytie Holbrook, 24, a Youth Action Board facilitator, explained that a lack of housing often leads to a cascading series of problems, including difficulty finding or keeping a job, because of something as simple as not having an alarm clock.

“If there’s no outlet to charge a phone, how will you get anywhere?” she said. She currently lives in a shelter with her daughter, Ember King, who is 3, but said she had just received housing.

Ominique Garner of the Boston Youth Action Board.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.