Access: The TAC Blog
Even though “Bill” showed up right on time for Boston’s Third Surge to End Chronic Homelessness, he told me that he "thought it was going to be stunt, a lot of talking but nothing to show for it.” But when Bill left the building — some seven hours after I greeted him as his assigned ambassador for the day — he had plenty to show for his efforts: a doctor and an appointment, an insurance provider, and best of all his own apartment. It was clear that this was no stunt but an incredible collaboration between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the City of Boston, and lots and lots of providers and volunteers.
Behind the Scenes
In many ways, an event like this is just plain old common sense: Bring together all the players — MassHealth/Medicaid, Social Security, the Boston Housing Authority, the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, accountable care organizations, homeless service providers, housing navigators, and the people who need what all of them have to offer — to resolve the barriers that have kept Boston's chronically homeless individuals from finding and keeping housing. But that view is just like looking at the face of the watch and not seeing all the intricacies that hide behind it.
Led by the Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs and Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development, the Boston Surge was the product of months of detailed planning and collaboration. Data was shared between MassHealth and homeless shelter and outreach providers, and matched to identify individuals over age 50 who had been living on the streets or in homeless shelters for a year or more or who had experienced homelessness several times over the past few years. Some of these individuals were currently on Medicaid while others had previously been, but were no longer active. For the Third Surge, 124 individuals were invited and encouraged and supported to participate. Meanwhile, the Boston Housing Authority and the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership looked through their portfolios of housing units and subsidies to identify available housing resources. An individualized "passport" with potential options of health care and support services was created for each person before the event.
The Big Day
Finally, on the day of the Surge, the teams arrived. Representing Social Security, MassHealth, the Housing Authority, service providers, and accountable care organizations, they brought computers, printers, and a determination to get the job done. Ambassadors (all volunteers like myself) were each connected to one "guest" and walked them through the process. The day was busy, chaotic at times, but filled with an energy and a collective sense of will to get people housed. There were no photo ops, no speeches — there was too much work to do.
More than half of the people experiencing chronic homelessness who had been invited — a strong turnout — came to the event. Bill and I got to know one another over breakfast. A Boston native, he fell on hard times two years ago, lost his housing, and had been living in a shelter ever since. On the spot, we got Bill's social security documentation printed out. We met with several providers from senior care organizations, and he signed up for health services, supportive services, and a primary care physician.
Next, we filled out the Boston Housing Authority application and waited while staff reviewed Bill's criminal background records and other eligibility requirements. We sat outside the room and smiled each time we heard clapping indicating that someone had received a housing unit. Then it was Bill's turn. He was told he was eligible, and then got to pick a housing development that met his needs. The applause was for him this time. He sat there just saying over and over, "I thought this was going to be a stunt, I can't believe it!"
Boston’s Third Surge to End Chronic Homelessness produced impressive results. Forty-two elders left this one-day event with offers of apartments, while another seventeen have strong linkages to housing after a few more steps. MassHealth was able to re-enroll or upgrade coverage for 12 participants. And 62 elders are now engaged with supportive services to help them stabilize their health and housing for the long term.
The best news is that Boston's model can easily be replicated. No big hero is required — or even stunt doubles. All it took to make it happen was the commitment of key individuals and agencies, along with plenty of hard work. I’m proud of Boston for coming together to end chronic homelessness, and I know your community can do it too.
Appealing to Affordable Housing Developers in Boston
When affordable housing developers and service providers collaborate, new possibilities open up for people who have been homeless to make the transition to being long-term, successful tenants. TAC, together with the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development and Mayor Marty Walsh, led a convening at City Hall on April 13 to foster such partnerships — and specifically to encourage the implementation of homeless veteran and “move on” preferences in affordable housing properties. Speakers described the key role that prioritizing vacant units for populations such as homeless veterans and supported housing residents plays in Boston’s efforts to end homelessness. TAC Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan, who helps communities across the U.S. build public-private partnerships to implement homeless preferences in HUD-assisted housing, explained how developers can adopt homeless preferences with the support of service providers to ensure successful results for everyone: new tenants, their neighbors, and property staff.
TAC Staff in Action
Senior Associate Jon Delman has joined the board of the Association for People Supporting Employment First – MA chapter; Senior Consultant Sherry Lerch presented to the leadership of AbbeHealth in Cedar Rapids, IA on ways to maximize the effectiveness of permanent supportive housing; Associate Ashley Mann-McLellan led a two-day, customized workshop on Housing First for providers in Long Island, NY, and a training on property owner engagement for organizations serving homeless veterans in Denver, CO; Executive Director Kevin Martone taught a class this semester to 3rd and 4th year medical students at Tufts University Medical School, on “Mental Health Systems and Public Health”; at the National Council for Behavioral Health Conference in Seattle, WA, Senior Consultant John O’Brien presented on Medicaid strategies for supportive housing and co-led a recovery housing workshop; Senior Policy Advisor Lisa Sloane and Associate Ellen Fitzpatrick — plus a film crew — headed to Maryland, Minnesota, and Louisiana to work on our forthcoming videos about the HUD 811 Project Rental Assistance program; Senior Consultant Jim Yates presented on “National Trends in Supportive Housing” at the Housing Leadership Group Summit in Albuquerque, NM, and on the National Housing Trust Fund at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Legislative Forum in Washington, DC; Jim has also been conducting strategic planning sessions in communities that are part of HUD’s Vets@Home initiative; the TAC Supportive Services for Veteran Families team was instrumental in planning and delivering eight regional meetings for SSVF grantees and their community partners, as well as — together with key partners at Abt Associates — eight locally driven community meetings around the country to help Continuums of Care in their efforts to end veteran homelessness.