City’s emergency shelter system to be redesigned

The City of Boston is requesting proposals to redesign the emergency shelter system to better support people experiencing homelessness, according to a press release. Proposals are due Feb. 20.

The request for proposals (RFP) outlines the City’s goals of modernizing the emergency shelter system to ensure that people seeking shelter are quickly connected to the right resources.

“We have made significant progress in our efforts to end chronic and veteran homelessness in the City of Boston,” said Mayor Martin Walsh, according to the press release. “There is more work to be done though, and modernizing our shelter system will make sure that if a person becomes homeless, they are assessed and quickly connected with the right services to help them get back on their feet.”

The Walsh administration implemented Boston’s Way Home in 2015, an action plan that aims to end chronic homelessness in Boston by 2018. Since then, nearly 1,300 formerly homeless individuals have attained housing, yet the demand for shelter continues to grow each year. Boston’s individual shelters now serve 7 percent more people annually than they did in June 2015.

“Pine Street applauds Mayor Walsh’s efforts to connect those who are homeless with the best resources to move them out of homelessness,” said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn, according to the press release. “Our goal is to move people out of shelter as quickly as possible; and better yet, to prevent them from entering in the first place. We look forward to exploring best practices as we work with the city to help people rebuild their lives.”

Boston’s emergency response system to homelessness includes offering a shelter bed to anyone in need, regardless of sobriety, criminal record, or income. Shelters in Boston also accept individuals regardless of their ties to the area; more than half of all individuals entering Boston’s shelter system report their last known address in a zip code outside of Boston.

An 18-month Front Door Triage pilot at the City’s four largest adult shelters revealed that there are still individuals entering shelter who have viable alternatives other than entering shelter. Shelter guests may need a different type of assistance, such as family mediation, inpatient treatment, or nursing home care, to become stable in housing. Data shows that in other cases, emergency shelter has become an over-utilized safety net for people exiting other systems of care, such as hospitals, jails, and psychiatric facilities. These facilities provide minimal discharge support, or in some cases, make referrals to shelter with the false expectation that it is a fast track to housing.

The RFP aims to reduce demand on shelters by creating a shelter system that is accessed only by those who need it. A successful proposal will include ways to connect homeless individuals with other options and assistance where necessary. Other goals are to ensure that people experiencing homelessness exit to housing as quickly as possible and with low rates of return.

The shelter redesign process will take place after a City review of the policies, procedures, operations, staffing, and outcomes in the city’s shelters. The proposed plan will be based on proven strategies and outcomes, and will be tailored to the context and resources available within Boston.  Shelter management, staff, and clients will be consulted throughout the process.

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