Mass. continues push to end homelessness by 2013

By Lyle Moran
Associated Press Writer / October 10, 2010

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LOWELL, Mass.—Junior Rosario spent 15 years on the streets of New York and Massachusetts, sifting through garbage bins for meals and spending cold nights sleeping under cars to stay warm.

But after a visit over the summer to the Lowell Transitional Living Center, an organization that works with the homeless, Rosario was quickly provided with something he had been without for so long: an apartment to call his own.

"It is a miracle and a dream come true for me," said Rosario, 35, of securing his own home. "It has shown me I have something to live for."

Rosario has been helped under a strategy Gov. Deval Patrick's administration is employing to end homelessness by 2013 called "Housing First."

This approach rests on the belief that if a perennially homeless person like Rosario can be placed in stable housing and provided with support services, such as health care and a case manager, they are better able to land a job and stay out of shelters.

"Not only are people living healthier lives in housing, but it is saving the system money," said Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who chairs the Governor's Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.

The council launched 10 regional networks in December 2008 with $8 million in state resources to promote Housing First.

The networks have helped place 376 people in housing and have helped prevent almost 11,000 families from becoming homeless, according to the Patrick administration. To bolster its efforts, the state announced last month it is giving an additional $1.56 million to the 10 networks.

But as the state shoots for its 2013 goal, hundreds of families still are being placed in hotels and motels on the state's dime. As of Sept. 27, there were 919 families in these facilities, which Murray attributed to the recession.

"We were making a lot of progress reducing the count, but it has spiked back up a little bit now," he said.

Joe Finn, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, says he is confident that if the economy improves and the state continues to focus its efforts on homeless prevention, the goal of eradicating homelessness can be achieved.

"I hope we don't pat ourselves on our backs before our job is done," he said.

Individual cities in the different regional networks say the new approach to combating homelessness has been effective in reducing their shelter populations and overall homeless populations.

In Springfield, city officials set a goal in 2007 of creating housing units for 250 chronically homeless individuals. So far, more than 100 formerly homeless people have been housed and 50 units are under construction.

The housing efforts have reduced the city's homeless street population from 98 in 2004 to 10 this year, and led to the elimination of 75 shelter beds. Geraldine McCafferty, the deputy director of the Springfield Office of Housing, says the reduction of the street population has been a boon to businesses in Springfield's downtown.

Boston's Pine St. Inn, which provides shelter to the homeless, has also worked toward reducing its population through housing. In 2009, the shelter eliminated 65 -- or 10 percent -- of its beds because of successful housing placements.

"That was the first time shelter beds have come down instead of going up in the city," shelter president Lyndia Downie said.

She says research has shown that providing a homeless person with housing rather than having them in shelters saves $9,000 per person, primarily because of the reduced medical costs that result from placing a person in stable housing.

The Lowell center that helped place Rosario is working on reducing the bed count from 90 to 60 beds and has placed over 40 people in housing with regional state money.

Rosario is now studying for his GED and hopes to be able to secure work in the future. But first, he says he is looking to celebrate Christmas in his new place.

"I have not set up a tree for 20 years," he said.

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