New Van Outreach Program Gives Homeless Folks Better Resources

Two men in one van led by Richard Matos-Haile of Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) drive along the Mystic Valley region looking for people who need help.

“They are out in the van,” Matos-Haile, housing resource coordinator and supervisor for the new Mobile Homeless Outreach Team, said. “We go from city to city. We stop outside a particular area and outreach to the homeless folks.”

The team, which was created in March 2016, drives across Malden, Medford, and Everett, Matos-Haile said.

The aim of the van is to engage with the homeless community at a ground level, Sharon Scott Chandler, vice president of ABCD, said.

“What the outreach workers do is partner with police, churches and health organizations in the community to identify folks on the street that are homeless,” she said. “They might find someone at an ATM machine at 6 o’clock at night setting up. They try and see where they came from and what their situation is.”

Scott Chandler, who has been a part of ABCD for 19 years, said this van outreach approach is a more intimate way of engaging with the community.

“We have neighborhood service centers all across Boston,” she said. “We are on the ground in every single neighborhood serving people from low-income communities. This is a little bit of a different model because we are proactively going out to see folks who are under a bridge and who have lost hope to going to a center.”

The staff—Spanish-speaking L. A. Roman and Haitian-Creole-speaking Wislyn Durosca—drive around four days a week on Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Tuesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A doctor from the Cambridge Health Alliance also comes into the van a few times a week to help advise members of the community, Matos-Haile said.

Previously, there was a different organization that covered Malden, Medford and Everett, but the team folded about two years ago, Scott Chandler said.

There aren’t any shelters for people to go to in the area of Malden, Matos-Haile said, so folks are used to traveling into Boston or sleeping on the street.

“For those individuals to actually see a team coming to them, it’s surprising. The community at large is very happy that the need is being met,” he said.

The team also works with clients to schedule appointments for primary care, he said. They supply MBTA Charlie Cards for those who are more street savvy, he said.

Matos-Haile said the team has identified 45 individuals who have accepted services from them.

“Word gets around,” Matos-Haile said. “Folks know we are out there between the MBTA stations. We get a lot of referrals to the respective city halls, and we have relationships with the libraries. People know that we are here.”

The van is also equipped with Narcan in case of heroin overdoses. Matos-Haile said the team has only had to use it once since starting up but that “addiction is a large part of the population.”

While the colder weather sweeps through the state, ABCD continues to work on warming centers.

Matos-Haile said he has been having conversations with churches to see if they will open their doors.

“Considering we are a new program, I think that we are getting out there. Everyone can always say there’s a lot more we can do,” he said. “I think considering we have been around for 6 months now, the winter is concerning. I hope we can work on getting warming centers and getting people off the streets.”

During the colder months, the team will be handing out gloves, hats and long underwear to those in need. They also partner with Bread of Life in Malden to help feed folks.

On the thought of expanding, Scott Chandler said, “It’s one of those things where, you wish there weren’t a need for the program, but we want to make sure there is enough support for those on the streets struggling. We hope that where there’s a need, we would have the resources.”

Correction: The outreach van no longer serves the areas of Chelsea and Revere. Those areas are now served by Community Action Programs Inter-City, Inc.

Rebecca Fiore is a freelance writer who has previously written for The Boston Globe.

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