Walsh adds $1.3m to budget to bolster homeless initiative

Mayor Martin Walsh has allocated an additional $1.3 million to the city’s latest budget to focus attention on the homeless, the administration announced Tuesday.

Housing advocates, who say the money will advance the mayor’s plan to end chronic homelessness in Boston by 2018, are encouraged by their success at effectively eradicating chronic veteran homelessness in the city. Two years of streamlining a convoluted assistance structure has led to housing for 628 formerly homeless veterans, city officials said.

Between 500 and 600 individuals are chronically homeless in Boston, said Laila Bernstein, the city’s assistant director for the action plan to end chronic homelessness. Although the Pine Street Inn and the Southampton Street and Woods Mullen city shelters are crucial intermediary options, “We know the longer people stay in the shelter system, the worse they become,” said Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing.

The extra $1.3 million, a 317 percent increase over the general fund investment toward chronic homelessness in the 2016 budget, is aimed at front-of-the house services for those on the brink of homelessness, Dillon said. It will bulk up resources to connect the potentially homeless through a resource system that has, until now, not received a capital injection on this scale.

The budget sets aside $150,000 for so-called front-door programming, which would enable shelter staff to evaluate people’s homelessness status when they go through the door.

Two full-time staff members implementing the front-door system were able to take on cases for 85 individuals in five weeks, said Monica Valdes Lupi, of the Boston Public Health Commission. The staffers helped 11 individuals move out of the shelters and referred another 119 people for further assistance through the program, she said.

Between five and six staff members could be brought on with the new funding, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. Five of them would work in the shelters full-time every day and another would come in three days a week. Advocates estimate the funding would enable them to assist another 230 people this year.

The staff “never had that ability to actually greet people when they walk through the door for the first time, assess their needs, and figure out what would be the best thing for them,” said Elizabeth Doyle, the city’s deputy director for supportive housing, in a press briefing Tuesday.

Funding of rapid housing rental assistance – helping segue people into more permanent housing through job training, addiction treatment, or financial assistance – would use up $900,000 of the additional allocation, official said, with temporary hotel or motel housing for families in a short-term crisis taking up the remaining $250,000.