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HHS Subcommittee consultant assesses response to city’s homeless population

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  The City Council’s Health and Human Services Subcommittee met this week to hear an assessment of Revere’s homelessness response.

  Julia Newhall, head of Revere’s Substance Use Disorder and Homeless Initiatives Office, explained that the city approved using ARPA funds to hire consultant Lori Pampilo Harris, a national expert on homelessness and housing, to assess Revere’s response to the rising problem of homelessness. Harris, who lives out of state, prepared a prerecorded presentation outlining the assessment’s major findings. Newhall explained that the city’s decision to invest in the study grew out of the successful response to the local homeless population during the pandemic. Revere provided emergency services, including testing, screening, washing stations, single tents to avoid transmission, food, shelter and other types of support. As a result, there was not a single case of covid being transmitted among the city’s homeless population.

  Harris highlighted the city’s response to the homeless population during Covid. She also noted that the city’s open attitude toward innovation and collaboration was a significant strength, as well as a deep-rooted sense of compassion and empathy throughout the community.

  Harris’s first recommendation was for Revere to adopt a housing first approach. HUD and state agencies have adopted a housing first approach which prioritizes providing permanent housing as the main goal to end homelessness. According to Harris, permanent housing is a springboard to improve quality of life. Once in a permanent home, people can begin to deal with problems, such as substance abuse, unemployment, education and other needs. She also said that once people enter the shelter and homelessness system, it’s difficult to get out.

  “Without housing first, you’ll continue to manage but not solve homelessness,” said Harris.

  Harris explained that different factors are contributing to Revere’s rising homeless population. First and most obvious is the lack of affordable housing. Also exacerbating the problem is the continual influx of new residents. Individuals and families also have inadequate incomes to access available housing, despite that many have jobs. Other issues, such as substance abuse and mental health problems, also contribute to the homelessness problem.

  Harris said the city’s outreach to homeless people and those on the verge of homelessness is limited and should be increased. The assessment also found limited communication and coordination with services in nearby communities.

  She recommended that Revere articulate a long-term goal and create an action plan to achieve it. “If you don’t have a target, you won’t hit it,” she said. Harris described an action plan as a set of strategies and people with roles and responsibilities. She suggested a public/private partnership with a coordinated system and someone who is owning the issue and providing oversight.

  She emphasized the need for frequent engagement with homeless people using services to maintain a baseline understanding of the need and to measure success.

  Harris also urged the council’s subcommittee members to consider a housing navigation service that helps people find housing available at their income levels. A housing navigator can provide hope and direction and serve as a lynch pin for clients, landlords and housing professionals. “There is a deep need for guidance, support and assistance to find housing,” said Harris, who also spoke about incentives for landlords, such as cash bonuses for signing a lease with a referral from a housing navigator and a contingency fund to cover repairs and lost rent.

  The city’s assessment is several hundred pages long and is filled with details and ideas for the city.

  “We want to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring,” Newhall told councillors.

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