New beds to help reduce congestion and increase physical distancing in Boston shelters
BOSTON – Sunday, March 29, 2020- Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced a comprehensive plan for individuals experiencing homelessness in the City of Boston during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency. The City, through its coordinated network of shelter providers and under the clinical leadership of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), has implemented screening protocols for shelter guests and created facilities for the testing, isolation and quarantine of individuals exposed, suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19. Today, Mayor Walsh is announcing the City has secured over 240 additional beds to increase social distancing in existing shelters and aid those in need of a home to safely quarantine or isolate themselves and reduce the further spread of COVID-19 in Boston.
“We are fully committed to protecting all of our residents, including those experiencing homelessness, because every life is worth protecting,” said Mayor Walsh. “Together with our partners, we have spent the last several years strengthening our ability to protect the health of our homeless population, no matter what challenges come our way. We will continue to ramp up resources as necessary to serve everyone in our city with the care and equity they deserve. I sincerely thank everyone who is doing their part in helping us increase our ability to help those in need.”
The City, with support from Suffolk Construction, built an isolation and quarantine facility with a capacity of 38 beds next to the 112 Southampton Shelter. This site augments the 17 existing beds at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s Barbara McInnis House. These facilities provide much needed space for people to receive medical attention. Screenings led by Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program have been happening at shelter sites to identify guests with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19. If needed, guests are referred for observation and support while awaiting test results and/or needing isolation. Collectively, the partners have conducted over 8,000 screenings, tested approximately 100 individuals and have identified five positive COVID-19 cases.
“We at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program appreciate the Mayor’s leadership in this time of crisis and are grateful for the joint partnership to combat the pandemic,” said Barry Bock, Chief Executive Officer at Boston Health Care For the Homeless Program.
“We must care for one another and never forget the individuals and families in our community who need us most, especially during these unprecedented times. We must also do everything we can to support the caregivers and healthcare professionals on the front lines battling the coronavirus every day,” said John Fish, Chairman and CEO of Suffolk. “We were honored and privileged to answer the call from the City of Boston by providing our support, sharing our resources and constructing sophisticated temporary healthcare facilities that allow healthcare professionals to treat and care for members of our homeless population with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
ALTERNATIVE SITES FOR TEMPORARY HOUSING
Suffolk University will be repurposing a dormitory to provide at least 172 beds, helping reduce congestion and increase social distancing in existing shelters in Boston. This facility will be managed in collaboration between the Pine Street Inn and the Boston Public Health Commission. Individuals who need shelter should still go to Boston’s shelters where they will be screened and triaged to another location as needed.
“Mayor Walsh has been clear that the precautions and preparations the city, its institutions, and its residents take now will be critical to successfully responding to the crisis,” said Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly. “We commend him for his leadership, and we stand ready to help in any way. Boston is our home, and the University takes very seriously its responsibility to be a good citizen at a time when we are all being called upon to pitch in and help.”
“We are so grateful to the Mayor for his leadership during this crisis,” said Lyndia Downie, President & Executive Director of the Pine Street Inn. “These sites will enable us to get some of our most vulnerable guests, especially our elders, out of a crowded situation in our congregate shelters. Pine Street is also very grateful to be working with our partners at the Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. This has been a remarkable collaboration led by the Mayor and his staff and we appreciate his focus on the homeless men and women, who until now, have had very few options.”
Another 70 beds will be available as space provided by The Davis Companies at the site of a former long-term acute care hospital in Brighton that will be ready to open within days. Davis reached out to the Mayor’s Office to see if the facility could be temporarily redeployed in a similar medical capacity and completed the necessary upgrades to return the building to a functional and code-compliant condition to be turned over for use by the city. This facility will be operated by the Boston Public Health Commission in partnership with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
“As the full magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis became clear, we knew we needed to help in some way,” said Stephen Davis, Managing Director of Development for The Davis Companies. “Concerned that the crisis posed a significant challenge to the city’s hospital infrastructure, we began identifying assets we own that might be of service. This nearly 60,000 square foot former hospital facility was sitting idle as we prepared to redevelop the site and represented an opportunity to help. We are fortunate to live and work in a City where strong leadership enables quick action to protect this high-risk population during such an unprecedented time.”
In addition to the beds the City has already made available and the beds that will become available at these sites next week, the State announced a former Boston Medical Center hospital building will be temporarily reopened and used to meet COVID-19 related medical needs of area homeless residents. The building, known as Newton Pavilion, has a capacity of 250 beds and will be operated by a consortium of providers, including Boston Medical Center, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, shelters including the Pine Street Inn, and the City of Boston.
To support the non-profit partners, Mayor Walsh recently announced Boston awarded $2.5 million from the newly-launched Boston Resiliency Fund to strengthen the health care system for the City’s homeless population and its most vulnerable residents, including Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Pine Street Inn and Boston Medical Center.
The City of Boston coordinates a network of shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness, including overnight emergency shelters, daytime services and meals, and outreach services, in addition to services serving special populations such as homeless youth, families and veterans. Because these services provide food and shelter, they remain open despite the State’s emergency order and stay-at-home advisory currently in effect until Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
Partners in Boston’s shelter system, including Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Boston Public Health Commission, Pine Street Inn, Boston Medical Center, St. Francis House, have been communicating daily to ensure that Boston can continue to operate its emergency shelter system safely and care for those needing observation, quarantine or more serious levels of care, and any additional supports needed. Shelter staff have been working with guests with imminent housing offers to move out of shelter and into housing.
City shelters have increased infection control efforts for guests and staff, including additional daily deep cleanings, increasing the availability and frequency of hand washing, providing hand sanitizers, and reminding people to practice good hygiene. Posters with prevention messages are posted throughout shelter sites, encouraging clients and employees to practice good hand hygiene and to cover their coughs. Additional resources have been provided to clients and employees at all City shelters, including hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and tissues. Boxed meals are also being provided to reduce risk.
DAY SITES AND STREET OUTREACH
The City coordinates a network of street outreach teams that work to engage with people who are not currently engaged in services, less likely to seek shelter, and may be in need of information, assessment and assistance. Street outreach teams are equipped with supplies such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and gloves, and are escorting individuals in need of care to medical sites.
The City operates an Engagement Center for individuals in need of a space to spend time during the day and to connect them to services. Since the City began its planning for COVID-19 response, the Engagement Center has implemented screening protocols and added portable wash stations, offering clients more access to practice good hand washing. Many day programs remain open to offer essential services to people experiencing homelessness, and many community meal sites remain open and are providing meals to go.
REMOTE SUPPORT SERVICES FOR RECENTLY HOUSED INDIVIDUALS
Supportive services agencies across the city have been conducting wellness checks by phone to over 1,000 clients who have been housed in the last year through the city’s initiatives to end chronic and veterans homelessness, as well as through the various Rapid Re-Housing programs across the city. The frequency of the calls is determined by the needs of the clients, with many engaging daily. Most clients need more frequent engagement than prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Much of the stabilization that is being offered by phone is the same as when the clients were able to meet with their case managers in person. However, new challenges such as access to food and medication, preparing for potential isolation, and access to medical care, are also being addressed.
Many clients are members of vulnerable populations with pre-existing health conditions or age. Studies show that homeless adults over 50 years old have health conditions similar to adults 15-20 years older who have not experienced homelessness. Because of these issues, the City team is looking into the possibility of moving resources within existing federal funding to focus more on food delivery and medication.
As part of the Boston’s Way Home initiative, Boston has housed over 1,000 chronically homeless individuals, 1,200 homeless veterans, and ended chronic veteran homelessness in Boston. From 2017 to 2018, Boston also saw a decrease of more than 12 percent in the number of individuals sleeping on the street. Nationally, the number of unsheltered homeless has increased by 9 percent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported in 2017, 2018 and 2019 that Boston maintains the lowest rate of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness among all major U.S. cities.
On the night of March 25, 2020 there were 1,441 individuals in Boston’s emergency shelters. Another 63 men and 17 women were seen staying on the street and were offered shelter or services. On the morning of March 26, there were 1,160 homeless families in Boston shelters, the majority in scattered site apartments or congregate shelter units.
For more information and updates on COVID-19, text BOSCOVID to 994-11 or visit boston.gov/coronavirus. For information on emergency shelters, day programs, community meals, and street outreach, please visit here.