On a Thursday morning a few weeks ago, I walked down West Broadway in Southie, into a bustling Labouré Center. Although it was 7:30 a.m., the energy was high — the room filled was with city and state officials, caseworkers, advocates and volunteers who had arrived at 5 a.m. that day. Together, they were working to provide housing to every homeless elder who walked through the door that morning. By 5:30 a.m., the first guests had begun to arrive; by the time it was over, we had housed 45 people in one morning.
Every single person walking through the door that morning had a story. As someone in recovery, I recognize that everyone has a story of their own. I know how easy it can be to fall into addiction and homelessness after your life becomes destabilized — whether through illness, losing your job, or losing your home. As I shook the hands of the morning’s attendees, I couldn’t help but think many of their stories had more similarities than differences to the mayor of Boston’s. Some of them had made mistakes when they were younger, but had gotten into recovery and were ready to turn their lives around. That’s a very familiar story to me.
Near the end of my visit, I was standing in a room where the Boston Housing Authority had set up shop, when the room erupted in cheers. I turned to see Lenny, who I had noticed earlier anxiously sitting with his caseworker waiting to hear if he was able to secure an apartment. Now, Lenny was sitting at a table, speechless. With tears in his eyes, he sat staring at a piece of paper. Written on that piece of paper was an address.
After 24 years, Lenny had a home.
Lenny also has a past, as many of us do. But he’s also spent years volunteering as a youth basketball coach, serving as an advocate at community events, and improving the youth programs in his neighborhood. His past made it hard for him to find a landlord willing to take him on as a tenant, and though he had tried to find housing many times before with no luck, his caseworker urged him to give it one final shot. I’m so glad they did.
More than 30 organizations came together that Thursday to house chronically homeless elders. As part of the City’s Boston’s Way Home initiative, the team assembled to ensure that every necessary resource was available to offer seniors the chance to receive housing with long term supportive services. The Commonwealth continues to be a critical partner, ensuring that seniors met with representatives from state programs funded by MassHealth including the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE); Senior Care Options (SCO); Pay for Success and Community Supports for Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness (CSPECH) to determine their eligibility and interest in these programs.
Healthcare professionals were on site, conducting exams to help seniors qualify for health care services. The Boston Housing Authority set up a satellite office to match seniors with available units. The state’s Department of Transitional Assistance helped seniors qualify for benefits, and the Social Security Administration was on site as well to offer assistance. I saw seniors, paired with volunteer ambassadors, with carefully-prepared “passports”, which guided them from table to table where they were able to determine their eligibility for various types of health and support services. It was a massive undertaking.
One person I spoke to said that having everything in one spot allowed them to accomplish more in one day than they had been able to achieve in two years. That’s the entire point to Boston’s Way Home. We used to help people get into shelter, and that was the end of it. But today, working with countless partners across the city, we have created a new system designed with one goal — to remove barriers to housing so that anyone who enters shelter leaves quickly, with the services they need to become stable in housing once again.
This housing surge was the eighth surge we’ve conducted. Through these surges, more than 225 people have been housed, ending more than 750 years of homelessness collectively. These surges are only one tool that we’re using; all together, since launching Boston’s Way Home, we have housed more than 1,100 formerly homeless individuals.
On Thursday, we ended 270 combined years of homelessness in one morning. Imagine what we can continue to do together.