ONE YEAR LATER: Boston Warm's successes, challenges, and future

Boston Warm was formed on November 20, 2014, a bit over a month after the Long Island bridge was closed. A group of interfaith leaders felt the city wasn’t handling the situation and decided to take action. Since then, the group has opened two warming centers, advocated for the reestablishment of treatment beds, produced a postcard campaign to City Hall (alongside many other letters) and helped Victory Programs in their on-going battle with Philadelphia Insurance.

Now, one year after the bridge closed, Boston Warm is coming under the leadership of outdoors church Common Cathedral as it moves into its second year of operations.

Boston Warm had a very busy winter. Opening back in January, the drop-in day center at Old South Church offered 100 storage lockers, food and warmth. A couple of weeks later, a second location at Emmanuel Episcopal Church opened.

During the summer, Boston Warm closed the second location and was a bit uncertain about its direction. Would they continue to operate as an organization of church volunteers? Would they become an official nonprofit?

“It became very natural for us to fall under the umbrella of Common Cathedral,” says the Rev. Kate Layzer, a key player in running Boston Warm and director of the Friday Café day center. Now, Boston Warm’s staff will report to Common Cathedral and the services will be located at Emmanuel Church.

Emmanuel is handicapped accessible and has a kitchen, things that Old South couldn’t offer. It’s an upgraded space, a big hall rather than a church basement.

Unfortunately, Boston Warm will lose the lockers at Old South, one of the biggest commodities they offered. The homeless often struggle to find storage, an issue that was highlighted when the city took more than a month to return items left behind on Long Island. Boston Warm will try to soften this blow by providing duffel bags.

Still, the upgrades to the space bring Boston Warm to a new level in quality, one that should prove comfortable and caring for guests as the cold weather approaches.

Additionally, the current Boston Warm staff will join the new location, something Layzer thinks will ease the transition. “We’ve always had a strong sense of community,” she says, adding it was Boston Warm’s greatest strength.

As the one-year anniversary of the bridge’s closure approaches, Layzer hopes to bring the community together in smaller, personal discussions to better serve them going forward.

Of course, Boston Warm is more than just a charity. Its leaders also played a role in Victory Programs’ fight against Philadelphia Insurance. One of the private programs on Long Island, when Victory Programs closed, Philadelphia Insurance refused to cover their losses.

While the insurance company is stalling any court action, Boston Warm helped bring Massachusetts’ state insurance commission and Victory Programs to the table together.

The Rev. John Edgerton, another Boston Warm leader, was particularly impressed with their fight for those displaced from the treatment facilities on Long Island.

“We’re really proud of Boston Warm for their advocacy and leadership,” says Jonathan Scott, president and CEO of Victory Programs. Scott adds that Victory Programs will be opening a 10-bed treatment center for women in Dorchester by Thanksgiving and a 25-bed women’s rehab center sometime next year in Boston. Scott notes that Boston’s Chief of Neighborhood Development Sheila Dillon has been a big help.

Boston Warm also tried lobbying the city to take faster action, but those campaigns weren’t as successful. While Edgerton and Layzer both feel the city still has more to do when it comes to helping the homeless and those recovering, they also acknowledge that some of their earlier approaches may have been flawed.

“For better or worse, the city reacted as if we were being belligerent,” says Edgerton.

As the one-year mark approaches, Edgerton hopes Boston will use this as a reason to ignite conversations about offering shelter, recovery and resources.

“I hope we see a continued focus on treatment,” says Layzer. She also calls for improved street outreach, more focus on rapid rehousing and more trauma-informed care.

Boston Warm reopens on October 5 at 8 a.m. and will run from Monday through Friday.

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