By Seth Daniel
Some 40 slots for men in recovery and HIV-postive homeless people in recovery at the Southampton Shelter were cut last week when the City Administration announced the two programs will no longer be funded.
It is estimated that the two programs, Safe Harbor and Project SOAR, cost about $800,000 per year, and serve homeless individuals in the shelter who are addicted and in recovery.
According to Erin Curran, speaking for the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) – which operates the shelter on Southampton Street, the beds are not being lost and are being repurposed for emergency shelter. The recovery programs attached to those beds, however, are being discontinued.
“Although Project SOAR and Safe Harbor have been impacted by this shift in federal funding, it is important to note that no shelter beds have been lost,” she wrote in an e-mail. “There are currently the same number of beds at the Southampton Street shelter as there were before. The Boston Public Health Commission is currently creating individual plans for each guest that will help them become stable in permanent housing. Using the combined resources of the Boston Housing Authority, the Department of Neighborhood Development, and the Mayor’s Bureau of Recovery Services, these plans will use the City’s new rapid re-housing programs and recovery support services to help guests not only leave shelter for good, but also provide them the services they need to retain their housing.”
The announcement left many confused in the neighborhood, as there has been a highly-publicized relentless push by the City for the last six months or so to include and coordinate existing recovery programs – with no indication that some existing services would be cut.
Residents in the Worcester Square area who had heard the news had no immediate comment, and said it was a bit confusing as to what was exactly happening with the cuts – and how that might affect their neighborhoods.
Curran said the cuts to the programs follow the City’s goal to end chronic homelessness by 2018, which follows a plan for federal funds by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The solution within that program is to move away from shelter-based transitional housing and to a housing first model, she said.
“As part of this national shift towards housing first, HUD has curtailed its funding of transitional shelter beds,” she wrote. “Transitional shelter beds are beds in shelter that have some additional services – such as recovery or other types of services – attached to them. While these services are extremely useful, transitional beds are still shelter beds. They are not permanent solutions to homelessness.”
She said HUD is now funding programs that point homeless people towards permanent housing, rather than shelter beds with services. Those services are presumably going to be available in permanent housing solutions.
The decision, however, sparked major outrage from Councilor Tito Jackson, also a candidate for mayor.
He said there has been a promise to increase recovery services in the South End, not pull them away. He said the decision was based upon the release of President Donald Trump’s federal budget, which cuts transitional services. He added it was too soon to make that kind of decision based on Trump’s submission.
“The City has failed those seeking recovery in Boston – twice,” he said. “This is a disgrace. It is critical that we afford every opportunity to those who are seeking treatment and beginning new lives. I call on the Mayor to return these crucial services. I am working with my colleagues in government, advocates, and care providers to find an immediate and permanent solution…Boston’s residents in every neighborhood have felt the impact of the Long Island shelter closing, which offered vital substance abuse recovery services. Some of these were remediated in the Southampton Shelter. Now, again, these services are lost. It is the responsibility of the Mayor and the entire city government, including myself, to protect and serve the most vulnerable among us.”
Councilor Jackson called for a public hearing on the matter, which was held on Wednesday, March 29, at City Hall.
One participant in the Safe Harbor program said it was transferred from the Long Island Shelter, and it is a crucial program for those in recovery who are HIV positive.
“Safe Harbor literally saved my life and helped me to build a new one in recovery,” said Jo Ann Coull. “Women lost this amazing program when Long Island was shuttered over two years ago, but it breaks my heart to think it won’t be there for the next HIV positive man in need. The HIV community desperately needs this vital program.”
Curran said it’s important to note that the City has added an additional $1 million to its budget request to assist homeless individuals in finding and retaining permanent housing. Since the launch of the program, Boston’s Way Home, two years ago, Curran said that more than 1,000 homeless people have been housed and stabilized.