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City of Boston Sees Significant Decline in Individual Youth Homelessness

Over 500 young people housed with supportive housing programs since the program launched

Mayor Michelle Wu today announced that since the launch of Rising to the Challenge: Boston's Plan to Prevent and End Youth and Young Adult Homelessness in 2019, the City of Boston has housed more than 500 homeless youth, resulting in a 44 percent decline in individual youth homelessness when comparing the number of young people experiencing homelessness on a single night from 2019 to 2022.  The City of Boston defines youth experiencing homelessness as unaccompanied individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. 

“Boston’s most pressing challenge is our housing crisis, which has significantly impacted young adults across our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “This significant decline in youth and young adult homelessness shows what is possible when we partner across sectors to make Boston a city for everyone. I’m grateful to the Office of Housing and all of our partners for working collaboratively to ensure that young adults have a safe and stable place to live.”

The Rising to the Challenge plan was informed b y the voices of 240 community members representing more than 110 public and private organizations across Boston. The community engagement process prioritized young people with lived experience of homelessness in Boston. The plan launched in 2019 to bring attention, resources, and a coordinated strategy to ending homelessness among youth and young adults. 

The City of Boston seeks to end youth and young adult homelessness by expanding access to housing and opportunities, including education, meaningful employment, mentorship, and support from adults. To address homelessness, the plan focused on four primary strategies:

  1. Identify youth who are at-risk of becoming homeless or who are currently homeless and connect them to resources 
  2. Increase access to and effectiveness of existing resources
  3. Invest in new housing and services
  4. Develop a collaborative system. 

Identify youth who are at-risk of becoming homeless or who are currently homeless and connecting them to resources

In 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and its partners launched a new peer housing navigation program to assist young people in accessing housing and services. The peer housing navigation program is low-threshold and accessible to all young people experiencing homelessness in Boston, including those living with others. This navigation system created the Youth Flex Fund, a flexible pool of funds to pay for one-time housing and housing-related costs, which are not covered by other systems. Young people and advocates can access the Youth Peer Housing Navigation through an online referral:

Increase access to and effectiveness of existing resources

The Rising to the Challenge plan included making existing emergency shelter and housing programs more accessible, supportive, and effective for youth and young adults. Additionally, the plan included training nonprofits to achieve youth-centered care approaches for resources such as housing, workforce development, and education. This includes trauma-informed care and positive youth development.

In partnership with the Office of Workforce Development and Human Services, the Mayor’s Office of Housing launched an initiative connecting 40 young people placed in housing to employment and educational  opportunities. 

Invest in new housing and services

 In 2019, Boston was awarded $4.7 million in federal grant funding to create 157 new housing opportunities dedicated to serving homeless youth and young adults. In addition, the City invested local funding to expand housing and related services. Prior to 2019, Boston had only 40 youth-dedicated housing units. Since then, the Mayor’s Office of Housing added 277 new youth-dedicated housing units, for a total of 317 youth-dedicated housing opportunities.  The Mayor’s Office of Housing also launched a youth peer housing navigation program to serve 30 young people enrolled at Boston Public Schools (BPS) experiencing unaccompanied homelessness. In 2022, this program was enhanced to provide rental assistance and housing navigation, creating a low-threshold, BPS-focused rapid rehousing program to serve 15 BPS students.

“The Supportive Housing team at the Office of Housing has worked tirelessly to address the issue of youth and young adult homelessness,” said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing. “The Rising to the Challenge plan enabled them to work collaboratively with partners within the City to achieve this significant reduction in youth homelessness. Ensuring that our homeless youth and young adults receive age appropriate housing and meaningful services at this time in their lives gives them the support they need to build their futures.”

“By housing youth in safe apartments, Rapid Re-housing provides youth with the stability to focus on long-term housing goals. Our partnership with the City of Boston has provided over 200 youth with this opportunity since we started Rising to the Challenge.”  Elisabeth Jackson, President and CEO, Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

“Rapid Re-housing has helped me find and secure major resources in the community and provided moral support during this transition and journey out of homelessness,” said Aysha G., a young adult who has been housed. “This opportunity is not the end of my housing journey. I’m working on setting goals around obtaining affordable housing that is based on my income, knowing the rental assistance is time and funds limited.” 

Develop a collaborative system

With the implementation of Rising to the Challenge in 2019, Boston has completely redesigned the way the City responds to young people experiencing homelessness, tailoring resources and opportunities based on the needs of each person. Some individuals experiencing homelessness have additional challenges compounded by trauma including physical abuse, substance use disorders, and mental health challenges. As part of Boston's plan, the City is committed to a "Housing First" approach to homelessness, which is based on the belief that everyone should have access to permanent housing regardless of their conditions or circumstances.

“Youth and young adult homelessness is a complex social problem with various underlying economic and social factors, such as a lack of affordable housing, physical and mental health issues, and a lack of behavioral health supports and career pathways,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, which served as the convening organization for the plan. “It is critical that we ensure disconnected and under-connected youth have access to strong postsecondary pathways and opportunities. Rising to the Challenge demonstrates that through collaborative action,  our young people can thrive and be prosperous, and we remain committed to working with the City of Boston to provide that support.”

“It has truly been amazing to see all the work that has been done over the last 3 years in effort to drastically impact the scope of youth homelessness in the City of Boston,” said Dana Mendes Director of Youth and Young Adult Homelssness Initiatives for the Mayor’s Office of Humans Services. “What's even more exciting, is the opportunity to continue providing exceptional resources and appropriate support to youth and young adults experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Through continued commitment by city agencies like The Mayor's Office of Human Services, stakeholders, community members, and youth, we can continue to work together to create a Boston where every Youth and Young Adult has a place to call HOME.

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