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Boston joins with House America to combat homelessness

The federal program provides cities with funding from a $5 billion grant meant to eradicate homelessness.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston officials are joining a national push to provide housing and support to the vulnerable homeless population.

Mayor Kim Janey’s Office on Wednesday announced the city’s participation in President Joe Biden’s House America program, a federal response to the ongoing crisis of housing insecurity which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative provides cities with funding from a $5 billion grant from the American Rescue Plan that aims to reduce homelessness. 

As part of Boston’s participation in House America, the city has committed to rehouse 1,100 local households and create 650 housing units for the local homeless population between now and December 2022. Additionally, many of the housing recipients will be paired with services to help them stay consistently housed.

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“It is crucial that we ensure that residents of Boston have safe, stable housing especially during this time of global pandemic,” Janey said in a press release. “This support from the federal government builds on the progress Boston is already making with our Housing Stability Agenda, making sure our most vulnerable residents are protected.” 

In March, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said in its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report that more than 580,00 people across the U.S. experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2020, a 2% increase from the year before. But as the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAE) notes, comprehensive national-level data on homelessness was last collected before COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.

“Thus, this report does not reflect shifts in homelessness that may have occurred because of steps taken to address COVID or elevated unemployment rates tied to the pandemic or the recession,” the NAE said in a statement.

Boston’s annual homeless census counted 1,591 homeless individuals on the night of Jan. 27, 2021, which was down from 2,115 in 2020. Despite the 24% drop, economic disparities and the heightened health risks brought on by the pandemic have created a greater urgency to find a solution. Furthermore, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on rehousing activity due to capacity issues and impacts on rental market vacancies. And like the national data on homelessness counts, there are unknowns about the true number of Boston’s current homeless population.

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“We know that encampments of people who are homeless have gone up so we deduce that is a direct result of more people becoming homeless,” said Danielle Ferrier, CEO of Heading Home Inc., a non-profit organization that provides emergency shelter, transitional, and permanent housing for low-income families and individuals.

What else is being done to help Boston’s homeless population?

Boston’s participation in House America is just one of several ways city officials are working to ensure citizens have safe housing. In August, Mayor Janey’s office announced the Housing Stability Agenda, which created a citywide moratorium and plans for a Foreclosure Prevention Fund. In December 2019, the city managed to house more than 156 youth between the ages of 18 and 24 with its Rising to the Challenge program. 

Boston’s Way Home, launched in 2015, aims to end chronic and veteran homelessness. The plan has changed the way city agencies and community partners respond to homelessness. HUD defines chronically homeless individuals as adults with a disability who have been either living in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation continuously for 12 months or more, or who have had four occasions of homelessness in the past three years that total 12 months or more.

By the Numbers: Here’s what Boston’s Way Home has done since its 2015 launch

  • Housed more than 1,094 chronically homeless individuals, representing more than 7,000 years of homelessness ended. 
  • Reduced chronic homelessness in Boston by 19% since 2016, at a time when chronic homelessness has been rising nationally
  • Housed more than 1,500 homeless veterans and ended chronic homelessness among veterans
  • Reduced the number of homeless veterans in Boston on a single night by 32% since 2014
  • Reached the goal of raising more than $10 million for the Boston’s Way Home Fund to build 200 new units of supportive, long-term housing for chronically homeless men and women.

Ferrier says Boston’s participation in House America highlights the city’s accomplishments in providing support for those experiencing homelessness, but city and state agencies must work together to ensure a clear and equitable plan to address homelessness.

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This federal initiative appears to be a good start.

“The city, and the commonwealth, must prioritize families and their children alongside, and interwoven with, its priorities for individuals, youth and veterans,” Ferrier told Boston.com. “Our system must be equitably inclusive of all populations and system solutions must occur from a true systemic perspective, not from a population to population lens only. The city, and commonwealth, must commit to finding solutions that fund and integrate housing with services.”

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