UWMB Awards SafetyNet Shelter Grants to open Emergency Site in Boston’s Seaport

BY Brigid Boyd

Mar 4 2024

Funds will support up to 25 families with children in need of emergency overnight shelter accommodations 

BOSTON – United Way of Massachusetts Bay is awarding a coordinated coalition of community-based organizations including the Black Refugee & Immigrant Community Coalition, the Greater Boston YMCA and the Unitarian Universalist Association a Safety Net Shelter grant to provide temporary emergency housing and support to families with children, and pregnant people who have an urgent and immediate need for shelter in Boston. The grant was awarded as part of the SafetyNet Shelter Grant Program announced last fall by the Healey-Driscoll Administration in partnership with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay.

“We are grateful to the Unitarian Universalist Association who offered their space free of charge as part of their faith mission to help those most in need and to our service provider partners who will support the activation of this site for the families and children who need emergency housing and compassionate care,” Bob Giannino, President and CEO of United Way Massachusetts Bay said.  “Together, we are creating a model of how people can take care of each other in crisis while building the tools and systems necessary for longer-term solutions.”

The grant will support a temporary overnight emergency shelter for approximately 25 families and their children at the Seaport location. The SafetyNet Shelter Grant program funds 9 overnight sites across the region and are available to families who have been determined eligible for the state’s Emergency Assistance (EA) family shelter program but could not be immediately placed in an EA shelter due to a lack of availability. 

“In our faith tradition, Unitarian Universalists commit to uphold the inherent worthiness and dignity of every person, to embrace interconnectedness, and to strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” said Carey McDonald, the UUA’s Executive Vice President. “Those values are fundamental to our religious practice, and they call us to take action in the face of oppression, injustice and suffering. All children deserve a safe place to sleep. As a religious community headquartered in Boston, we consider it an act of faithful witness to use our facilities to do our part to support families in need, including migrant families who are simply seeking safety for their loved ones. We hope other building owners will take seriously whether their space can also be used in this way.”

The Black Refugee & Immigrant Coalition will provide wraparound and case management services for the families during the day at various community centers including the YMCA of Greater Boston.  The intentionally programmed day sites will facilitate community meals, and access to wrap-around services for language, employment, housing assistance, and will act as a hub to connect families to the relationships that build long-term stability. Abt Associates, one of HUD’s largest national technical assistance providers with deep expertise in managing disaster, refugee, and homeless system responses, along with the Black Refugee & Immigrant Coalition, will be working toward placement of families into jobs, more permanent housing, and enrolling children in school. 

Black Refugee and Immigrant Community Coalition is a partnership of five nonprofits and faith-based organizations lead by and serving Bostonians with roots in the Caribbean, which approached United Way in the Fall expressing interest in operating a shelter location. The coalition launched in 2013 and serves over 6,000 Afro-Caribbean/Black immigrants and refugees annually in Boston with critical resettlement services that include: emergency housing, food pantry, health, hygiene and household supplies, winter clothing, medical assistance, case management, youth services, immigration advocacy, crisis intervention, mental health, job training and placement. The Coalition has placed over 120 Haitian refugees and immigrants experiencing homelessness and housing instability in safe and culturally connected housing. United Way’s capacity building efforts and financial resources will allow this coalition with deep cultural ties and experience in supporting community members to elevate their ability to provide services at a larger scale.

YMCA Greater Boston will be providing daytime support for basic needs (food, access to showers, programming) to families who are sheltering overnight at the Seaport location. The YMCA is an experienced day shelter provider having partnered in a similar manner to support overnight shelter residents of the Transportation Building in Fall 2023 in addition to providing a wide range of supportive services and children’s activities through its locations. 

With this site, the SafetyNet Shelter grant program will be supporting nine sites that serve 122 families per night with 24/7 operations and two day centers that serve 300 individuals per day. You can learn more about the SafetyNet Shelter grant application that is administered by the United Way here. The funds support prospective community gathering spaces with restrooms and heat, such as places of worship, community centers, and school buildings, to provide safe space for families to find short-term, congregate shelter, meals and other basic necessities, and linkages to other supportive community resources such as housing programs, public benefits, health services, and mental health supports. Non-congregate models have also been considered.