For nearly a decade, Jamaica Plain residents grew accustomed to passing by the vacant building at 459 Walnut Ave. until it was given new life by the opening of the Francis Grady Apartments on April 30. Combined with the Stacy Kirkpatrick House, the affordable-housing unit provides on-site health care to its 30 residents, taking an innovative approach to combating homelessness.
The development is the product of a collaboration between the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), with additional support from the Pine Street Inn. Not only do the apartments provide housing for individuals who were formerly homeless, but they also include a medical respite facility where residents can receive both primary and emergency care.
“A lot of the people who applied for the housing, and a lot of the people who live there have chronic health issues,” said Richard Thal, executive director of JPNDC. “We’re excited about there being good quality health care right in the same building.”
Prior to housing the current facilities, the building was used as the Barbara McInnis House, which provided medical respite care for homeless people. When deciding what to do with the newly vacated space, the BHCHP thought it would be fitting to continue the mission of serving Boston’s homeless population through health care.
“Our experience is that homelessness really exacerbates health issues, so that’s what we often see,” said Barry Bock, CEO of BHCHP. “Illnesses are much harder to manage in an unstable housing environment. It’s also because of some health issues that people end up homeless.”
Because of the close link between homelessness and health issues, an easily accessible healthcare facility could make all the difference to the new residents of the Grady apartments as they begin searching for jobs and integrating into the community. In addition to the Stacy Kirkpatrick House, the residents will have access to an array of on-site services provided by the Pine Street Inn, including counseling, assistance in daily-living skills, job training, home budgeting, case management and crisis intervention.
“Part of our model is that once people come out of homelessness they need support to remain housed,” said Barbara Trevisan, director of communications at the Pine Street Inn.
Funding for the project was provided partially by United Healthcare in partnership with Enterprise Community Investment. The 30 residents were chosen out of a pool of over 600 applicants, demonstrating the ever-present need for continued access to affordable housing.
“Boston is so difficult for anybody to find housing especially those at low income,” Bock said. “Most housing is targeted at medium or low income, but for those with very low income, there’s not a lot available.”
Despite some initial pushback, the community of Jamaica Plain has welcomed its new neighbors with open arms. The grand opening event on April 30 was well-attended by community members and according to Thal, the JPNDC has heard positive feedback from a number of people eager to embrace the new additions to their neighborhood.
Above all, the apartments will provide a fresh start. One new resident, Warren Magee, said “I’m on top of the world, literally.”