Homestart, Boston, MA


Best Practice | August 11, 2006

   ·            History and Background
In 1994, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA) developed a project to meet the housing needs of people experiencing homelessness. MHSA recognized that case managers in homeless service agencies were becoming increasingly specialized to deal with the multiple challenges many of their clients presented. When programs were taxed with high demands and high levels of complex needs, it was the housing search services that were often lost. Initially, the project relied on one grant that funded three staff positions and was housed under MHSA. By 1999, HomeStart was an independent agency consisting of 22 employees and an annual budget of $1 million. It currently employs 28 people with an annual budget of $1.6 million.

Target Population
HomeStart receives referrals from 50 different agencies in the Greater Boston area. Homeless individuals or families who are referred must have some source of income, such as SSI/SSDI, employment or TANF and must be able to sustain their housing.

Program Overview

HomeStart's focus is to move individuals into housing and provide the stabilization support services necessary to help them retain their homes. Each of the housing search staff work with several referring agencies, allowing for close working relationships. A housing search staff advocate meets with a client while they remain in the shelter to explore the client's housing needs, potential resources and barriers. The housing staff will work with the client to access and maximize existing benefits. If they are denied housing services, an advocate will help them through the appeal process. The housing search staff is responsible for locating appropriate housing options for the clients they work with.

When an individual or family is housed, they are transferred to a stabilization staff person. Stabilization services are usually voluntary and are focused on providing support to help the family or individual sustain their housing. Services may include help accessing programs in the community, such as mental health services, and dealing with life skills issues such as budgeting. Stabilization advocates work with clients to help them deal with any landlord/tenant conflicts that may arise. Staff members support individuals and families by meeting them in their homes as well as in their communities.

To facilitate the successful housing of clients, HomeStart staff members rely on the resources known as their "toolbox." The toolbox includes an array of resources they have developed or secured including housing subsidies and financial assistance for security deposit and first month's rent.

Source of Funding
The agency has 28 staff and an annual budget of $1.6 million. The majority (80-85%) of their funding is through McKinney-Vento grants. HomeStart also has contracts with state agencies to help house individuals who are exiting state-funded programs, partly because of the state's commitment to improving housing outcomes for those discharged from state-funded programs who are vulnerable to homelessness.

Service Utilization/Data
Since 1994, the project has moved more than 1,400 people into permanent housing.

Approximately 65% of the households served by HomeStart are single adults and 35% are families.

About 35% - 40% of individuals and families that find permanent housing also receive stabilization services.

81% of individuals placed into housing through HomeStart are still housed one year later. In 2001, 218 individuals moved into housing with HomeStart assistance:72% moved into subsidized housing;

  • 28% moved into unsubsidized housing;
  • The average length of time to find housing was 6.7 months;
  • 63% received financial assistance such as first or last month's rent or security deposits.


Impressions of Administrators/Advocates
The program is committed to specializing on the "back door" i.e. finding and maintaining housing for those who are homeless. Expanding housing search and stabilization services within existing homeless service centers was considered a less effective approach because staff would inevitably be pulled from housing efforts to meet the daily demands of residential programs. Separate funding streams and dedicated staff essentially produce a "firewall" that allows HomeStart staff to focus solely on re-housing.

The absence of a separate dedicated homeless prevention program has been problematic. HomeStart staff has received a number of inquiries from individuals and families who would more appropriately be served with prevention assistance. This has a demoralizing effect on the staff, who would like to be able to help people before they become homeless. It also signals a gap in the overall safety net. However, HomeStart has just received private funding to begin a small pilot prevention program.

Stabilization services that are essential to the success of the program include home visiting and budget management. If resources were available, staff members believe that having a mental health specialist or psychiatrist on staff would be beneficial to clients.

For More Information Contact:
Linda Wood-Boyle
Executive Director
HomeStart Inc.
105 Chauncy Street
Boston, MA 02111
617-542-1454 (fax)