Building on his commitment to ending homelessness in Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh today joined members of the City’s Youth Action Board, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and community partners at Bridge Over Troubled Waters to release a new action plan, Rising to the Challenge, to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness in Boston. The plan is the collective result of input from the Youth Action Board, the City’s advisory group of youth and young adults, who have experienced homelessness or housing instability, together with 240 community members representing more than 110 public and private organizations across Boston. As an immediate action item towards implementing the plan, Mayor Walsh awarded $4.7 million in grant funds to create 157 new housing opportunities dedicated to serving homeless youth and young adults.
“In Boston, it’s imperative that we make sure that every young person has a safe stable place to call home,” said Mayor Walsh. “I am proud that together we are Rising to the Challenge by putting forth a plan that will guide us as we take critical next steps towards ending youth and young adult homelessness in Boston. I want to thank the Youth Action Board members and all of the partners for contributing to the creation of this plan, and I look forward to our important work ahead.”
The new Rising to the Challenge plan focuses on gathering data on homeless youth, understanding the current system’s capacity, identifying unmet needs of youth and young adults, and designing a plan to address gaps in the emergency assistance system. Youth and young adults are defined as a person age 24 years and younger. In some cases, youth and young adults may be under the care and custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
To prevent and end youth homelessness, the plan prioritizes ensuring that every youth individual at-risk of or experiencing homelessness is identified and immediately linked to the resources that will address their needs; and offering safe and stable housing that supports their needs; focusing on each individual’s health and well-being; providing resources to meet their educational and employment goals; and making permanent connections so that each individual is able to build a support network that improves their ability to thrive, while providing a social safety net to prevent future homelessness.
To achieve these goals, the plan will implement four key strategies to make homelessness among youth and young adults rare, brief, and non-repeating. Strategies include:
- Develop a collaborative system that reorganizes the way that the City and various agencies work together and make decisions, with the goal of forming a clear, comprehensive and youth-specific system to end youth and young adult homelessness. Using national and local best practices, Boston has transformed its homelessness services into a coordinated and integrated system based on Housing First principles. Building on this success, the City and its partners are now turning their focus to tackling the prevalence of homelessness among unaccompanied youth and young adults.
- Improve early identification and outreach to connect with youth who are at-risk of becoming homeless, or who are currently homeless. Current gaps in identification create a challenge in connecting individuals with housing and other needed services, such as employment, education, recovery and more.
- Increase access to and effectiveness of existing resources by streamlining cross sector referrals and strengthening training for youth-serving agencies and homelessness services providers to better serve youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.
- Invest in new housing and services resources in order to house all ages 18-24 unaccompanied youth who are experiencing homelessness. The report shows that within the next three years, the City will need to add 285 new housing opportunities dedicated to this population.
The $4.7 million grant awarded by the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development will support the creation of 157 housing opportunities provided through Boston’s non-profit partners that will meet the needs of the youth and young adults experiencing homelessness by offering services tailored to each individuals needs.
“We are excited to be a part of this effort with the Youth Action Board and the City of Boston, which will create 157 new units of housing for homeless youth with this much-needed funding,” said The Executive Director of Bridge Over Troubled Waters Elizabeth Jackson. “With a roof over their heads, youth will be able to work on getting jobs, furthering their education, and creating the stability they need to move forward on their path to a self-sufficient future.”
As Boston continues to look for ways to address its housing needs, the City has identified an opportunity to utilize funds generated through Boston’s Room Occupancy Local Excise Tax to enhance housing and homelessness efforts. Of the $5 million that will be generated, $1 million of that revenue will be used to provide supportive services for youth, including professional development opportunities and permanent connections, building on the City’s action plan to support young Bostonians experiencing homelessness.
In addition, immediate steps laid out in the plan include making existing emergency shelter and housing programs more accessible, supportive, and effective for youth and young adults, as well as training nonprofits in the areas of housing, workforce development, and education on youth-centered care approaches, such as trauma-informed care and positive youth development. To oversee the implementation of this plan, the City is bringing on two new positions, a Housing Officer for the Initiative to End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness at the Department of Neighborhood Development and Youth, and Young Adult Homelessness Director at the Health and Human Services Cabinet. These two City positions, in partnership with a third position at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, will convene community partners, drive the alignment of programs addressing the housing, supportive services, education, and employment needs of young people, and monitor performance.
“This plan understands that the streets are not safe for young people at night. It means a lot to us know that we are a priority, and that the City of Boston is making a long-term commitment to build a better future for us and our peers. It makes us feel hopeful, and we know that lives will be saved,” according to a statement from the Boston Youth Action Board.
Boston’s 2019 annual homeless census shows that on a given night, 325 youth and young adults are either sleeping in Boston’s shelters or on the street. The City’s data also shows that the average stay for young adults in Boston’s shelters is approximately two months.
The City’s focus on ending homelessness among youth and young adults is part of our comprehensive approach to ending all homelessness in Boston through Boston’s Way Home. Through the efforts of Boston’s Way Home, Mayor Walsh’s initiative to end veteran and chronic homelessness, Boston has made significant progress in preventing and ending homelessness among single adults, including ending chronic veteran homelessness. Through this initiative, over 880 chronically individuals have been housed, representing more than 5,400 cumulative years of homelessness ended. As a result, chronic homelessness has been reduced by 19 percent during a time that there have been increases in chronic homelessness nationally. Furthermore, the City’s partners housed over 1,170 homeless Veterans and reduced homelessness among Veterans by 36 percent.
“We all have an obligation to do more to help young people in our region who are homeless and isolated from their families,” said Michael K. Durkin, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “By bringing the right people and partners together, we can do this in Boston. Mayor Walsh and his administration have worked with young people who have experienced homelessness, as well as nonprofit and business leaders, to develop a comprehensive plan to help young people thrive. United Way looks forward to rising to the challenge to ensure all youth and young adults at risk of, or experiencing homelessness, are on a path toward stability and economic mobility.”
“We have long supported local organizations that are doing the hard work to address the issue of youth homelessness,” said Liberty Mutual Foundation President Melissa MacDonnell. “Our goal is to help give young people at risk a sense of stability and support, because we know they are full of potential, passion and purpose. We are honored to have been a part of the City’s plan to help prevent and end youth homelessness, and thank Mayor Walsh for his leadership on this hidden epidemic. And, we are looking forward to announcing even more support in the new year.”
For more information on the City’s efforts to assist youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, please visit the youth homelessness website.