When Boston closed down the Long Island health campus in 2014, it lost over 400 shelter beds and over 200 recovery beds. Two years later, the city has restored over 600 beds, rivaling 2014’s numbers.
The city revealed the numbers at a press roundtable in early October to highlight the early success of their Boston’s Way Home initiative to end homelessness. The city also unveiled its new streamlined model of operations, which should make it easier for folks to navigate the shelter system and find housing.
“There was not a system to this before,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh at the media roundtable. But now public and private service workers have a new, streamlined system to work in—“the system is working,” added the mayor.
According to the city’s numbers, there are once again over 600 beds in the city. However, the exact number of beds varies from program to program, with some services increasing in number and others lowered. Additionally, some beds are still slated to open in 2017, like Bay Cove’s Andrew House beds. Originally a 60-bed detox center on Long Island, Bay Cove will add 28 beds to Shattuck Hospital in January and another 60 will be sited outside of Boston, per the city’s presentation.
The city also described its new housing first model, which relies on a coordinated access database that all service providers can use. This database will allow service providers to help potential clients find the appropriate help they need—for example, assisted living housing programs for people with disabilities. It will also track openings in housing programs. The city also has shelter clients listed by name.
So far, the new system has housed 172 people in eight months, out of 612 chronically homeless individuals.
The city also highlighted housing “surge” events, which have created housing opportunities for several clients, particularly elderly homeless folks. The housing options for service clients are spread around the city, though it’s usually subsidized housing. The city now needs private landlords to step up and offer units to people in housing programs, said Laila Bernstein, an adviser for the city’s homelessness initiative.
Additionally, the city is working on creating more permanent supportive housing, affordable units that also offer healthcare services and help clients maintain housing.
Many of the programs are located near Newmarket Square, which has led to complaints from neighborhood residents, especially store owners who claim the concentration of recovery clients and homeless at New Market hurts business. However, the city believes that keeping services close together will improve operations, and the mayor claims the current system already operates better than it did on Long Island.
That said, even with the number of beds mostly restored, shelters are already full, according to WBUR—which may mean another crowded winter for shelter clients. However, the city is confident in its initiative, which has effectively ended chronic veteran homelessness in Boston. The ultimate goal is to end chronic individual homelessness by 2018.
The Long Island campus closed down in October 2014 after an inspection deemed the bridge unsafe. The city closed the bridge, citing safety concerns, but in a widely criticized move, it only offered four hours notice to workers and clients. The island housed the city’s largest shelter, which was replaced by the Southampton Street Shelter in January 2015. The city also converted Woods-Mullen to a women’s shelter, creating 200 beds for women and adding 32 more beds to the system.