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Federal grant to help house and care for city's homeless

Quincy officials announced last week that the area's homeless assistance programs will receive nearly $1.9 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development -- a 17 percent increase over last year. The money will help support programs that, officials say, have reduced homelessness in the city by a fifth over the last year.

The money was awarded to the Quincy/Weymouth Continuum of Care, which serves both municipalities under Quincy's Department of Planning and Community Development. It will fund nine projects, most of which coordinate permanent housing and support services for homeless families and individuals.

By providing homeless people with permanent residences, pressure on the city's emergency services and law enforcement is reduced, officials say, and the city saves money.

This approach makes sense, said Philip Mangano, executive director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, at a press conference at Quincy City Hall Friday. "Quincy is a model for other cities of this size."

Father Bill's Place in Quincy, an emergency shelter that serves the region south of Boston, has taken the lead in transitional housing for the homeless, according to Sean Glennon, a research assistant at the Department of Planning and Community Development.

In 2005, Father Bill's moved a dozen women into their own rooms at the Claremont House, the pilot effort of the "housing first" initiative. In the year before they moved in, the women had a total of 22 emergency room visits that equaled 44 days spent in the hospital. But after a year of living in the house, emergency room visits were cut in half, and days spent in the hospital were reduced to four.

Glennon estimates that at $1,500 per day, $60,000 was saved.

The average stay at Father Bill's is two to three months, but there is a small percentage that have made it their home for as long as 10 years. John Yazwinski, executive director of Father Bill's and chairman of the board for the Continuum of Care, said it is that group that needs to be addressed. "We need to really target the chronic homeless, who are the most expensive people to serve in our community," he said.

The basic cost of housing is about $2,000 less per year than caring for them at a shelter, and placing the long-term homeless in a supportive housing model would save between $7,000 and $10,000 per person, according to Yazwinski.

"It's not just the cost of the housing unit -- it's the savings of the soft costs of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, police, corrections, and those things start adding up," he said.

Father Bill's has already chosen the individuals and families that will benefit from the grants. Teresa's Project will provide housing for 13 individuals for three years; the Empowerment Project will provide leasing for eight families; and six of the nine projects are through Shelter Plus Care, which is a tenant-based rental assistance program.

The Homeless Management Information System, a data collection system to track the city's homeless and forecast trends, will receive $75,000.

The money is part of nearly $1.4 billion distributed nationwide by HUD. The grants -- to more than 5,300 local homeless programs serving 150,000 people -- were announced last week.

In 2004, the Quincy Department of Planning and Community Development estimated there were 142 chronically homeless people on the streets and in emergency centers. Last year there were 78. This year, it has hit an all-time low, at 63. Peter Forman, chairman of the Quincy Leadership Council on Chronic Homelessness and president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased that the funding increased even as homelessness decreased.

"As the problem has gotten better, the appropriations have increased, and that goes against the model," Forman said at a press conference.

Mayor William J. Phelan praised the work of Father Bill's, as well as the city's efforts. "Based on these figures, these dollars are going to the right places," he said. The city's 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, now in its second year, is almost four years ahead of schedule, he said.