BOSTON, Mass.—Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA) announced that the Boston Foundation has awarded MHSA a $20,000 grant for public policy and advocacy work.
The grant is from the Boston Foundation’s Food and Fuel Fund and, will support MHSA in developing and implementing innovative solutions to homelessness.
MHSA President and Executive Director Joe Finn said that one of the great things about the Boston Foundation is that they strive for not just immediate relief but also system change, and they advocate the policies and actions that work.
“This is the grant that Boston Foundation selected. It’s not an applied grant,” Finn said.
The funding will support the MHSA’s operational costs, according to Finn, which means helping move housing programs forward, such as Home & Healthy For Good (HHFG).
Among all the homeless people that have been accounted for, 20 percent either suffer from episodic homelessness or chronic homelessness. Individuals who experience chronic homelessness are among the highest utilizers of emergency health care. They are the people that the MHSA’s advocacy and innovative program development are focusing on, to provide them with permanent, supportive housing.
“There are three major types of homelessness: transitory, episodic and chronic,” Finn said. “If you look over the extended period of time, 80 percent of the homeless people are one-time short-terms, just immediate economic and social need that they have. They might have lost their jobs or apartments and they have no other means of support, really.”
Finn explained that people who suffer from transitory homelessness usually spend less than three months in the shelter before they get back on their feet. Once they are gone, they usually never come back.
“Episodic homeless people are in and out all the time, but the chronic are the people who are most likely to live in the shelter system,” Finn said.
The chronically homeless usually have some type of disability, mental illness and/or addiction. “On top of that, they usually have multiple house issues, particularly, the longer they are homeless, the more problems that they have,” Finn said.
“We’ve been trying to move these people to the housing system instead of the shelters, whether they are coming from the street or from the shelters,” Finn said.
Allison Lex, the director of development of MHSA, used to interview homeless people for their stories.
“One of the things people said is that when they are on the street, if they have medication that they are supposed to take for their blood pressure or mental illness, they don’t have a home or a place where they can keep their medicine or then can keep track of whether they are taking them,” Lex said “So when they have a home, it will help increase their health.”
Even though MHSA has not done any health quality studies except of the quality of life from chronically homeless people’s perspective, a statistically significant amount of people will say, “I feel better about my health since I’m in housing as opposed to when I was homeless,” according to Finn.
“We realized that once we house those homeless people, their health care utilization changes,” Finn said. “Once you have your own room, you are tied to your primary care position, you start talking care of yourself.”