Councilmember Godden left office on January 1, 2016.
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Bulletin from Boston II

While on a Study Mission to Boston Last Thursday, Bill Block, director of Seattle Committee to End Homeless, Councilmember Nick Licata and I were lucky enough to have a couple of productive and informative hours with Dr. Evelyn Friedman and several of her key staff members at Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, the city department overseeing a regional network to end homelessness.

Boston, although much denser than Seattle, has a similar homeless population. Yet it has demonstrably fewer people on the street. Quite honestly, it’s a little difficult to contrast numbers, since our one-night homeless count takes in all of King County.  Boston, on the other hand, employs regional numbers. Nevertheless, a guess is that Boston may have only 10 percent of the numbers that Seattle has on the streets.

One reason for Boston’s success is the larger involvement of the state of Massachusetts, which is responsible for sheltering homeless families under the state’s “Right to Shelter Space” provision.  Another factor is Boston’s intense focus on solutions. Friedman said, “For Mayor Menino, even one person sleeping on the street is too many.”

Boston has a goal of eliminating long-term homelessness for individuals by Dec. 31, 2012, a strategy called “Leading the Way III.”

Friedman gives much credit to a well-tended database. While Seattle allows those accessing services to opt in or opt out of identification, Boston requires service agencies to keep precise records. If the agencies receive public funds, they must keep track of clients. Otherwise, they do not receive funding.

She says, “Every homeless individual is known.”  For example, Friedman’s department has a database that shows 569 individuals as long-term shelter stayers.

She said, “Most of the shelters understand that they can’t just be shelters. They need to be part of the system.”

Another strategy that has worked in Boston is the city’s concentration on prevention. She said, “Seventy-five percent of our money is spent keeping individuals and families in housing through early warning strategies.”  She spoke of efforts to identify services for which families and individuals might be eligible, such as help with utility costs and assistance with mortgage payments.

Asked about the apparent low numbers of panhandlers – few were seen in four days walking Boston streets – Friedman said that one strategy is the number of day shelters that are open to the homeless. She estimated that 10 such shelters operate in the city. By contrast, Seattle has few places for the homeless to go during the day.

My take away from studying Boston’s approach is that making solutions to homelessness a high priority pays off. Seattle can learn from Boston’s progress toward ending homelessness.