How Local Leaders Are Fighting to End Homelessness
They packed a joint City Council and Planning Board public hearing in Beverly. Residents wearing buttons that said “YIMBY” in bright orange letters turned out to voice their support for the creation of a new, affordable housing development being driven by the city and Harborlight Community Partners. The development would not only create 75 units, including 60 sorely-needed units for families who earn $60,000 or less per year, but also set aside 15 units to provide stability for formerly homeless families.
“We want to provide opportunity for working families to build a life,” said Andrew DeFranza, executive director at United Way-funded Harborlight Community Partners. “Places where children can grow up with stability knowing the support structure of a great school community, of youth sports, of local places of faith and local businesses. We want those kids to know they are wanted and included so they have a chance to make better lives for themselves and their children.”
In neighboring Salem, Harborlight is also driving the creation of 26 new units of permanent housing with supportive services in partnership with Lifebridge. Both projects grew out of the Mayor’s Regional Task Force on Homelessness, a joint effort of Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill, and Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt to create housing units and develop solutions to address the long-term needs of homeless families, teens, young adults and chronically homeless individuals.
“The Regional Task Force on Homelessness was an effective way to put a spotlight on an issue facing residents of our cities.” said City of Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill. “We are excited that our work together has resulted in real housing – some already occupied and more approved and in the pipeline. We are pushing hard to move the approved Beverly projects to completion. The whole point is to create high quality, stable homes for people.”
Homelessness is on the rise
A new report issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows startling results for Massachusetts: the Commonwealth experienced a 14 percent increase in total number of people experiencing homelessness over 2017. According to the Boston Globe, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services attributes most of this increase to the large number of families resettling from Puerto Rico because of the devastation from Hurricane Maria.
Nonetheless, the numbers include over 13,200 people in families with children, over 1,300 chronically homeless individuals, and over 460 unaccompanied homeless youth. In the last academic year, there were over 5,500 school-age children experiencing homelessness in 19 Massachusetts cities, and an additional 5,000 students in Boston alone.
Fortunately, city and state leaders in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are committed to partnering with local community-based agencies and businesses to help to end homelessness. For example, the Pay for Success partnership of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United Way, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Corporation for Supportive Housing and Santander Bank, has housed nearly 780 chronically homeless individuals since 2015, and 89% of them remain housed after one year.
In addition to the exciting work in Salem and Beverly, we’re watching the efforts in several other regions and cities across our footprint:
Essex County: The North Shore Housing Advocacy Group, in partnership with Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development, recently won a $325,000 grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services to address issues facing youth and young adult homelessness in Essex County. The goal is to work with United Way to connect service providers from different communities and develop a regional approach to addressing homelessness among young people.
City of Boston: Mayor Marty Walsh recently launched Rising to the Challenge. Every two weeks, key decision makers from the City and community stakeholders sit at the table committed to carrying out the Mayor’s charge to end youth and young adult homelessness in the City of Boston. The community planning process includes current and formerly homeless youth and young adults, City department heads, leading homelessness providers like Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Pine Street Inn and funders like United Way and Liberty Mutual. Prior to the launch of the community planning process, the City received a federal grant that will provide an estimated $2 to $3 million to the City of Boston to develop and implement this work.
Greater Lowell: The greater Lowell region is also working to address youth homelessness. Community Teamwork Inc., a United Way-funded partner, convened a Youth Homelessness Summit last summer to examine how the Lowell region is responding to young adults experiencing homelessness. CTI is also taking a look at homelessness among local college students: 112 college students self-reported experiencing homelessness, according to the Lowell Sun.
South Coast: The South Coast Regional Network to End Homelessness (SoCo) serves as a central resource for coordination and collaboration among all providers and city and state agencies working to end homelessness. Partners include city & town governments, housing authorities, law enforcement agencies, state and local mental health organizations, adult & family shelters, domestic violence agencies, food providers, and others with an interest in ending homelessness & securing affordable housing.
United Way and SoCo are renewing efforts this year to convene local leaders to address homelessness in Bristol County, where at least 1,000 people are experiencing homelessness. In Attleboro, nearly 90 kids and in Fall River more than 450 school age children experience homelessness during the year. Taking a regional strategy approach means that representatives in government, in schools, and in community organizations all have an eye on the issue. SoCo will also continue its work to connect potential employees to employment resources and job opportunities in the region through the Secure Jobs Initiative.
“Progress on ending homelessness in Bristol County has had its ebbs and flows over the years,” said Janet Richardi, Executive Director of the South Coast Regional Network. “In addition to understanding the population and the existing resources, ending homelessness in our region will require the collaborative efforts of the agencies, municipalities, and businesses coming together to make a difference. SoCo continues to be committed to reducing, preventing, and eliminating homelessness and housing insecurities for all in Bristol County and empowering all to live as independently as possible.”
Seacoast, NH: The limited amount of rental housing that is both available and affordable is a contributing factor to increasing homelessness in the Greater Seacoast region. Last Fall, the Greater Seacoast Coalition to End Homelessness (GSCH), with funding from United Way, hosted an informational session for landlords and property managers to share information about the benefits of accepting Housing Choice Vouchers. The session was part of a larger strategy to increase housing opportunities through building partnerships with landlords and exploring municipal tax credits for development.
In addition to the exploration of this property tax credit, the Seacoast coalition will be increasing its focus over the next year on public awareness and advocacy and the implementation and expansion of supportive housing services for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
“The coalition has worked diligently over the past year and a half to form strong relationships with critical partners in order to solve this issue,” says Paige Farmer, Coalition Director. “These partnerships have led to increased collaboration at the community, service sector, municipal and state level, and the creation of sound strategies and policies to advance the goal of ending homelessness in the Seacoast region. We are excited to be on the precipice of implementing many of these strategies and even more excited to see their results.”