Ending homelessness: Turning a point in time into a moment in time


Last night, cities and towns across the country participated in the “Point in Time” count, an annual census of homeless individuals and families that provides a baseline for measuring progress on this complex issue.  United Way marked the important evening by sending a team of volunteers to join Mayor Marty Walsh to canvass the streets for the Boston Homeless Census and by hosting an educational event to raise awareness in the community about the impact of homelessness and the strategies underway to address it.

“Often the prescription I want to write is for a safe and stable home,” says Dr. Megan Sandel, pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and principal investigator at Children’s HealthWatch. Sandel noted that the negative health effects of homelessness on children are also seen among those who have moved at least twice in one year and those whose families have fallen behind on their rent.  “Housing is a vaccine,” Sandel added.  “It will help keep children healthy now and in the future.”

Linn Torto, executive director of the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness stressed the value of collaboration among state agencies that touch the different aspects of homelessness and the progress being made to better coordinate services for individuals and families who become homeless.

One innovative partnership underway is the first-in-the-nation Pay for Success initiative to reduce homelessness among chronically homeless individuals in Massachusetts.  The partnership, led by the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Way and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is working to cut the number of chronically homeless individuals in half in six years and house 800 of the 1,400 chronically homeless individuals.

The model works by leveraging private and philanthropic funding to jump start a supportive housing model, also known as “Housing First,” and the investors are paid back only if individuals remain housed for one year or more.  “It’s a recognition that supportive housing is a model that works,” says Larry Oaks of Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Tiziana Dearing, Co-Director of the Boston College Center for Social Innovation, stressed how something as simple as a personal encounter with a homeless individual or family can be a powerful antidote to the issue.  Calling for an “all-out body block on suffering, rather than alleviating suffering when it’s already happened,”  Dearing spoke about the importance of humanizing the issue of homelessness as a driver to help solve it.  Those personal encounters, she stressed, lead to a human connection that in turn, motivate people to accelerate the solutions.

Last year, in addition to its investment in the Pay for Success partnership, United Way invested $1.3 million, helping over 11,800 families avoid homelessness or secure safe stable housing.