4 Solutions to Make Homelessness History

Ending homelessness is within our grasp. We’ve identified 4 innovative solutions to end homelessness for families and individuals in our region.

Aishia was about to lose her apartment. Laid off from two jobs and unable to find another – despite over 30 job interviews – she had fallen months behind on her rent. Her two little girls were outgrowing their clothes and shoes. She was creating meals with the food she was able to afford. And she was dipping into her daughters’ piggy banks just to get by each day.

“I found myself crying daily and being comforted by my children,” she recalled. “This is not how life was supposed to be. The day that I received notification that an eviction process was beginning, I didn’t think that I could continue living. I felt defeated and somber. My children deserved better than this.”

The day of Aishia’s eviction hearing at Boston Housing Court, she found a housing attorney who introduced her to a case manager at HomeStart.

“They made me feel like a person and not a case number,” she said. “They laid out a plan and, together, we created the blueprint for long-term stability. I found a job, and HomeStart kept me from being evicted and stabilized my housing. And I could protect my girls like every child needs to be protected.”

Moving Beyond Shelters

On any given day in Massachusetts, there are approximately 3,500 homeless families who are seeking safety and stability for their children. There are over 1,400 chronically homeless individuals who no longer know a life other than one on the streets.

But more importantly, there are also proven, innovative programs and partnerships that are providing safe, supportive housing for homeless families and individuals – as well as programs that are helping to prevent thousands of other families from becoming homeless in the first place. If scaled, these innovations could provide housing and stability to even more individuals and families.

For over a decade, United Way has been identifying and funding innovative solutions to end homelessness in our region. United Way was a key leader in bringing a new approach known as “Housing First” to Massachusetts. In partnership with corporations and other leading nonprofits, United Way played a key role informing community organizations and government leaders of the effectiveness of Housing First as a philanthropic opportunity and policy priority.

United Way also raised the funding necessary and provided the expertise to help its network of homeless shelters shift to a Housing First service delivery approach, ending homelessness for 1,200 families over a three-year period. After three years, 77% of those families remained housed, and the initiative saved taxpayers $3.6 million in long-term shelter costs.

Innovative Solutions Ahead

Today, United Way continually scans our network of partner agencies and other community-based organizations to identify the “hidden gems” that are implementing new solutions to the often-complex issue of homelessness and delivering real results. Here’s our list of four innovative programs and partnerships to watch in 2018:

 Pay for Success Initiative to Reduce Chronic Individual Homelessness

The first-in-the-nation Pay for Success initiative to reduce chronic individual homelessness has significantly exceeded targets and successfully placed over 621 high-need individuals into stable, supportive housing, with 93% remaining housed after one year. These achievements have saved Massachusetts an estimated $2.2 million in shelter, emergency room and in-patient hospitalization care costs.

Pay for Success, launched in June 2015, is a partnership of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), Santander Bank, N.A. and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley that aims to house up to 800 chronically homeless individuals by 2019.

The Pay for Success initiative leverages a mix of philanthropic funding and private investor capital from Santander Bank, CSH and United Way to provide the upfront funding for social services. Under the innovative financing model, if the goals of the PFS initiative are met, the government compensates the investors for undertaking the investment risk. If the goals are not met, the government is not obligated to repay the investors. An independent evaluator, Root Cause, determines whether the Pay for Success initiative has achieved its goals.

HomeStart Eviction Prevention Program

HomeStart operates a successful eviction prevention program that is currently run in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). According to HomeStart, evictions for non-payment of rent make up the vast majority (85%) of eviction cases in Boston Housing Court. HomeStart’s partnership with the BHA provides one-on-one case management with families facing eviction to identify why they were unable to make payments and connect them to emergency assistance and other resources to remain in their housing. This reduces the cost of eviction by more than 400%.

From 2010-2013, this partnership preserved tenancy for 554 residents, with 97% of them still in housing after one year. With support from United Way and the Center for Innovation at the Boston College School of Social Work, HomeStart is creating a Homelessness Prevention Toolkit that it will use to replicate its eviction prevention program in other cities and with private property development owners, potentially preventing thousands of families per year from experiencing homelessness.

Realizing Inter-Generational Success through Education (RISE)

Based in Lynn, MA, this highly successful and unique program addresses poverty and homelessness through a multi-generational approach. Working with Lynn Public Schools and Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development, two case managers provide intensive wrap-around support for families: one connects the adult(s) to housing assistance, job coaching, and other services, while the other helps children receive access to tutoring, building social-emotional skills, and joining out-of-school programs.

This innovative, replicable partnership, seeded with funding from the Siemer Institute of Financial Stability, has provided more than 150 families that are homeless or in unstable housing with intensive support. Through this work, 98% of children served avoided a disruptive move during the school year, and 40% of families took significant steps to increase their financial stability. By leveraging schools as the central access point for families, this innovative model has not only reached outcomes for adults and children, but it has strengthened school-community partnerships allowing for a continuum of support across the community for families in need.

Children’s HealthWatch

Children’s HealthWatch is currently researching a campaign for a tailored Earned Income Tax Credit, adjusted for the regional cost of housing, to help low- and lower-middle income families pay for housing in Massachusetts. A Massachusetts family housing EITC would increase the ability of working families to afford existing market-rate housing in the short-term, and could spur creation of additional units as more people can afford market rents without falling behind on other necessary expenses; this could help address supply issues.

Public-private partnerships to address homelessness are also on the rise. Boston Medical Center recently announced it will invest $6.5 million over five years in affordable housing and stabilization programs. During his inaugural address, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced a new campaign to raise $10 million to build 200 more housing units for individuals in Boston.

A Point in Time

January 31st marks the annual Point-in-Time count, or Homeless Census, in the City of Boston, a night when volunteers and outreach workers count the number of homeless individuals and families living on the streets. Let’s make this the point in time when we make homelessness history.