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City and state team up to house chronically homeless elders


The City of Boston, in partnership with the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs, hosted a first of its kind “housing surge,” designed to connect chronically homeless seniors with housing and services. The event, held at the Laboure Center in South Boston, marked the first time housing and integrated care services have been offered together and launched a new partnership between the city and state designed to end chronic homelessness in senior populations across Massachusetts.

“Innovative ways of removing the barriers to health and housing are how we will end chronic homelessness in Boston,” Mayor Martin Walsh said. “We are so lucky to have such strong partners working with us to house our homeless residents. I am grateful to the state for coming to the table, allowing us to offer services and housing at the same time.”

Secretary MaryLou Sudders of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said, “The Baker Administration is committed to working in full partnership with the City of Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh’s efforts to provide housing for some of our city’s most vulnerable residents. Addressing the complex care needs of elders jointly with housing is a huge part of the solution and crucial to providing a stable living situation.”

Secretary Alice Bonner, of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, said, “We are pleased to be a partner in this important initiative helping older adults to live independently and thrive by pairing housing with vital services and supports.”

Attended by Secretary Alice F. Bonner, PhD, RN of the State’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs, Daniel Tsai, Assistant Secretary for MassHealth, Boston’s Elderly Commissioner Emily Shea, Boston Housing Authority’s Gail Livingston, Deputy Administrator for Housing Programs and Boston’s Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon, the surge was staffed by 25 different agencies. Seniors attending the event were given “passports”, which guided them from table to table where they were able to determine their eligibility for various types of support services.

Seniors were able to meet with representatives from state programs including the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE); Senior Care Options (SCO) and Pay for Success and Community Supports for Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness (CSPECH) to determine their eligibility and interest in these programs.

At the surge, the Boston Housing Authority was able to connect 16 homeless seniors with units of permanent supportive housing. This was the first time that guests at a housing surge had been offered specific units of housing, rather than vouchers. The BHA was able to accomplish this by creating a super-priority for chronically homeless elders who are going to be receiving services.

In preparation for the event, city, state and non-profit partners worked together to create a list of chronically homeless older adults and undertook significant outreach at shelters and throughout the city to spread awareness of this opportunity.

The chronically homeless seniors who attended the surge were identified as likely eligible for state benefits including long-term services, supports and integrated care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines chronically homeless individuals as adults with a disability who have been either living in an emergency shelter or in a place not meant for human habitation continuously for 12 months or more, or who have had four occasions of homelessness in the past three years that total 12 months or more.

Those individuals in need of translation services were identified in advance, and translators were on hand to assist with language barriers. In addition, individuals with accessibility issues also were identified ahead of time, with accommodations made in advance for their specific issues. Individuals also received breakfast and coffee, provided and served by volunteers from the BostonHome Interfaith Collaborative. BostonHome Interfaith Collaborative faith community partners also donated gift cards for attendees.

This was the sixth in a series of housing surges hosted by the City of Boston. The first three surges focused on homeless veterans; the last two focused on all chronically homeless individuals. The previous events have in total served over 200 homeless individuals, during which 41 received permanent housing vouchers on the spot, along with enrollment in housing search, while others received rapid rehousing assistance, applied for housing and obtained documentation that will help them secure permanent housing.

Partners for the day’s surge included (alphabetical):

  • Bay Cove
  • Boston Department of Neighborhood Development
  • Boston Elderly Commission
  • Boston Health Care for the Homeless
  • Boston Housing Authority
  • Boston Medical Center HealthNet
  • Boston Public Health Commission
  • BostonHome Interfaith Collaborative
  • Children’s Services of Roxbury
  • Commonwealth Care Alliance
  • East Boston Elder Service Plan
  • Eliot Human Services
  • Hearth, Inc.
  • HomeStart
  • Labouré Center / Catholic Charities
  • MassHealth
  • Massachusetts Department of Mental Health
  • Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs
  • Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services
  • Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance
  • Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness
  • Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership
  • NaviCare
  • Pine Street Inn
  • Saint Francis House
  • Senior Whole Health
  • Social Security Administration
  • Tufts Health Plan
  • United Healthcare
  • Uphams Corner Elder Service Program