On April 24 in one of Boston’s nearby suburbs, over one hundred people gathered in St. Joseph Parish Hall to discuss causes of homelessness and possible solutions to ending it. The Tri-Community Coalition to End Homelessness held their second annual program, “Housing the Homeless: From Crisis to Shelter to Home’’ in Belmont, Massachusetts. The Tri-Community Coalition is less than two years old, serving and connecting towns of Waltham, and Watertown and Belmont.
Chrystal Kornegay, Massachusetts’ Undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development, was the keynote speaker. She spoke about the reasons behind the challenge, such as rising housing costs across the Commonwealth and lack of affordable housing, as well as the state’s plans to combat this problem and what communities can do to.
“Education is the most important part of these events, getting people together and really giving them information about what the issue is as well as a call to action,” said Kornegay. “The problem is a challenge all across the commonwealth, and across a variety of incomes. [Homelessness] might be particularly acute in greater Boston, but areas all over are experiencing the same kind of issues.”
She has been undersecretary since January 2015, coming in with Charlie Baker’s administration. Prior to government Kornegay ran the local community development corporation Urban Edge, an affordable housing organization in Jamaica Plain/Roxbury.
“Be active, go off and talk in your community about not wanting neighbors, understand that you are a part of a solution and don’t be concerned about ‘new people’ in your community and what that might cost you, as opposed to what it is costing you now,” said Kornegay.
The event featured a panel of organizations that provide housing options for people experiencing homelessness after going through a shelter, such as Bristol Lodge, Middlesex Human Services, Commonwealth Land Trust, and Watertown Housing Authority. Many of these organizations provide a “holistic” approach to helping homeless people and serve hundreds of people for various amounts of time.
The attendees were given time to ask questions and share their own experiences with housing issues in Boston. Three town legislators were present to answer questions and speak about their own initiatives and priorities with homelessness. Over 20 local initiatives and organizations were also there to give people opportunities to volunteer and be active members of the community.
“I think it shows that in communities outside of Boston, places you don’t think of having serious homeless problems, still have a concern. They know that homelessness and being on the cusp of homelessness is relevant to all of us,” said Gloria Leipzig of New Roads Social Justice Ministry. She has been involved with the coalition since their inception. Faith communities, police departments, social service agencies and people who work directly with homeless people are part of the group.
“It has been wonderful. Their ideas and their work on this effort has made the program successful and we hope to continue our work,” said Leipzig. “You’re just a lost paycheck away from being in that position yourself. Especially with the rents that we have now and the fact that housing is turning over, people are raising rents.”
Massachusetts has the ninth highest rental cost in the country, according to the Belmont Housing Trust, and Boston has the fourth highest rental cost in the nation. Besides rising housing costs, low wages that have not kept pace with housing contribute to homeless issues, as well as personal, health, and many other factors. Organizations, such as Household Goods, served over 5 thousand adults and children in 2014 to provide people with furniture, appliances and other resources to stay sheltered.