Program Update: Homelessness Prevention Program

This piece is part of the "Message from Mark" series in our biannual Home for Good newsletter.

Our Homelessness Prevention Program, part of the Hearth Outreach Program, is focused on helping elders before they become homeless, using case management and stabilization services – including landlord mediation, advocacy at housing court, and rental assistance. It was launched in 2010 with a grant from Jane’s Trust and remains fully funded through March 2016 thanks to a three-year grant from the Oak Foundation.

Our traditional Outreach Program, which helps currently homeless older adults find housing and connect with services, is funded through a mix of public monies and private philanthropy. Currently, however, there is no government funding for case management for elders at-risk of homelessness. This means that for many years it was very frustrating for our case managers, having to turn away elders needing help because they weren't homeless yet.

Partnering first with Jane’s Trust and now the Oak Foundation enabled us to change this. The Oak Foundation currently fully funds the Prevention Case Manger position as well as a part-time Data Quality Control Manager who oversees the collection of data to help Hearth make the case for public and private funding and to report to our current philanthropic funders.

In addition, the Oak Foundation provides some funds for rental assistance, along with funding from the City of Boston’s Emergency Solutions Grant Program, enabling the Prevention Case Manager to offer short-term financial assistance for back rent and relocation rental costs to either prevent eviction or to relocate a client to a better situation. On average, the equivalent of a month or two of rent can keep an elder from becoming homeless. If that person loses his/her housing, however, it takes thousands of dollars and a minimum of six months (and often times closer to a year) to get them housed again – never mind the indignity or the effects on the person’s health.

The response to our Prevention Program has far exceeded our expectations. In fact, the need for prevention services for older adults far surpasses our current capacity. The high number of referrals for prevention services was unanticipated, which led to the creation of walk-in clinics which were held twice a week. However, the walk-in hours were so popular that the clinics moved to “appointment only” because so many people were arriving early and waiting hours for a chance to meet with the case manager. Our client wait-list has now grown to 83 people, and our one Prevention Case Manager simply cannot meet the demand.

Therefore, while we strive to meet the needs of our current clients and those on the wait list, the Homelessness Prevention Walk-In Hours are unfortunately suspended. We will do our best to direct those needing help to other resources, but the truth is there are simply more people in need than there are agencies and resources to help them.

One piece of good news: Hearth is still accepting applications for rental assistance. For those looking for more information and to apply for assistance, please call 617-369-1559.

Hearth’s Strategic Plan includes growing the capacity of our Homelessness Prevention Program by increasing our Client Support Funds (which includes rental assistance) to $50,000/year and securing funding for a second Prevention Case Manager. We’re actively seeking additional philanthropic partners to help fund this expansion.

The entire Fall 2014 Newsletter is available here.