By Mayor Martin J. Walsh
Thanksgiving is not only a time to gather around the table with family, friends, and loved ones; it’s also a time to reflect on the year past and to consider all the things we have to be grateful for. I know I have a lot to be thankful for — my family, my friends, and my health, for starters. But as mayor, I have something else to be thankful for — the remarkable people I work with every day, and the work they do to help people.
This Thanksgiving, I’m especially grateful for the work that we have been able to do to help Boston’s homeless individuals. Since 2014, we have housed 1,200 homeless veterans and chronically homeless individuals. And each one of those people has their own unique story.
I’m thankful we’ve been able to house people like Anthony, who placed years of adversity and obstacles behind him to follow his dream of having his own set of keys and apartment to call home.
Introduced to drugs at 13, Anthony struggled with a substance use disorder for 40 years. As a person in recovery myself, I understand how challenging it can be to break the cycle of addiction. But Anthony did. He dug deep to find the courage to fight his addiction and set off in a new direction, focused on improving his quality of life.
Along the road to recovery, Anthony realized that without a safe, stable place to call home, recovery would be an even greater challenge. And, he reasoned, he wanted to have a place where his children and grandchildren could visit him.
But finding a home can be a challenge when you’ve been without one for so long. Referred to our partners at Hearth Inn by Pine Street Inn, Anthony would meet with Natacha, his Hearth Case Manager, once a week — sometimes even twice. He would arrive 30 minutes early, waiting patiently with Taz, his tiny puppy, by his side. And after more than 15 years homeless, Anthony finally achieved his goal of securing keys to a safe, permanent new home — and a second chance to start over. After receiving an offer of BHA housing at one of the City’s housing surges, today, Anthony is able to live a full life, being the father, son, brother, and grandfather he always wanted to be.
I visited Anthony in his new apartment in one of the Boston Housing Authority’s properties. It’s bright and sunny. Family photos decorate the walls, and Anthony is proud to show them off. We talked for an hour — Anthony’s a smart guy and a great storyteller.
As we left Anthony’s apartment, I thought about how much it takes to house one homeless individual. It takes front line workers to understand what a person needs at the moment they enter shelter. It takes units of housing — from the Boston Housing Authority and private landlords alike. It takes innovative thinking to come up with new ideas like our housing surges, which match individuals to housing and services, and end chronic homelessness then and there. It takes technology, like our new coordinated access engine and our new data systems. It takes landlords, like those who are participating in our new Landlord Guarantee initiative.
All of these efforts depend on the amazing people who make up our homelessness system, and work every day find stable, secure homes for Boston’s homeless individuals. From the front door triage workers in shelters to the people who hand individuals their new keys, Boston’s entire system of providers has come together as one to help: shelter partners like Pine Street Inn; healthcare organizations like Hearth; housing search experts like HomeStart. And through it all, an army of dedicated case managers keeps in touch with homeless individuals, helping guide and empower them every step of the way.
It takes a village of workers to house a homeless person. And as the holidays approach, I’m asking for your help as well. On our Web site, you can find a list of ways, both small and large, that you can help us end chronic homelessness in Boston. For example, if you’re a landlord, you can participate in the Landlord Guarantee Fund and rent to a homeless household. Or you can volunteer with one of our many partners, doing everything from helping furnish peoples’ new homes to helping them prepare for job interviews.
In my time as mayor, I’ve seen the generosity and strength of this city in so many ways. I firmly believe that by working together, we can end all chronic homelessness in Boston, just as we have already ended chronic veterans homelessness. As we sit down to Thanksgiving and holiday meals, I hope you’ll join me in working to ensure people like Anthony can gather their families together, and celebrate the holidays in a home of their own. For information, https://www.boston.gov/departments/neighborhood-development/bostons-way-home.