The housing crisis in Boston is often seen very clearly in the number of homeless individuals on the streets in various parts of the city, but the greater number of homeless – that being families and children – are mostly unseen, and help for them is less available and at a critical place, according to city officials.
Last Thursday afternoon, Hildebrand, a 30-plus year-old social services organization that looks to move homeless families to safe housing, celebrated the purchase and opening of an 11-unit building at 12 Humphreys St. – a property in Uphams Corner purchased in December from the Sojourner House.
Located directly across the street from buildings that Hildebrand has leased for years to provide emergency shelter to families, the new acquisition couldn’t have come soon enough.
Using her platform to issue a challenge for Hildebrand and others, the city’s chief of Housing, Sheila Dillon (above), said in an interview that “it’s great to have a portfolio of permanent supportive housing, but I am here to say we would like you to do more. We have a pipeline of 800 units or more of permanent supportive housing for individuals right now. The pipeline for families is under 50.
“There just are not a lot of organizations building permanent supportive housing for families. We have federal funds, and we have our own funding. Let’s keep the momentum going, and let’s have Hildebrand develop a larger portfolio.”
Hildebrand CEO Shiela Moore – a long-time Dorchester resident – said family homelessness is something they have worked on for decades, with a push most recently on developing permanent supportive housing to go along with their family emergency shelter housing.
While they have more than 140 units of family emergency shelter housing, they only had 11 units of permanent supportive housing, she said. The purchase at 12 Humphreys St. gives them 11 more units immediately and allows them to house 22 families moving out of shelter.
“Massachusetts has 3,000 families in shelter now and more than 10,000 seek it every year,” said Moore. “They are often invisible. You might never know they are homeless…30 percent of the people we house have been evicted and 20 percent are coming out of an abusive household. We also see a lot of families dealing with serious medical conditions. Many times, they or their children are being treated at one of the hospitals and 20 percent of them have very serious conditions.”
By and large, those served by Hildebrand in family emergency shelter and permanent supportive housing are children. The average stay in family emergency shelter is about 15 months right now, Moore said, and the push is on to find permanent housing at a low-income level.
As Dillon conceded, not much is available for families, and so every unit is a found treasure, Moore said. Once families are housed, Hildebrand staff stay in contact with clients for two years to make sure they are getting services and moving toward self-sufficiency.
“This building now gives us 22 families in permanent housing,” said Moore. “I don’t have to tell anyone how important it is to find space and permanent housing in Boston. It’s to the point you cannot put the word ‘affordable’ with the word ‘housing’ in the same sentence…Finding and securing this building was a real stroke of luck.”
Existing tenants in the building have been allowed to stay if they wish, but if they choose to leave, Hildebrand will begin placing families from emergency shelter into the units. The board of directors at Hildebrand – which is based in Cambridge and operates mostly in Dorchester – said it has been committed to establishing permanent housing options since the late 1990s.
Hildebrand Board member Dariela Villon-Maga, CEO Shiela Moore, Project Consultant Christine Rogers, and Board member Cliff Long. Seth Daniel photo