City Manager’s 2006 “Report on Homelessness”

posted by Mike on March 5th, 2006

Here’s the full text of the report, typed from the copy (6MB, .pdf format) leaked at Indymedia. Notes will be added as comments to this post, rather than as a separate post.

Letter from City Manager Michael O’Brien

Report on Homelessness

TO: Michael V. O’Brien, City Manager
FROM: Jill C. Dagilis, Commissioner, Health and Human Services
DATE: March 2, 2006
RE: Report on Homelessness

The following is a comprehensive report, pursuant to your request, with a current status summary of seven months of research and a recommended action strategy for an interagency plan to address homelessness in the City of Worcester.

Building upon the important interdepartmental and interagency efforts to address panhandling over the summer of 2005, along with engaging these same partners to address the needs of the Katrina evacuees arriving in Worcester during September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began reviewing the existing draft homelessness plan, as you requested.

An initial, large roundtable meeting was held in early October with close to 40 people representing human service, health and medical, and shelter agencies; local foundation representatives; and staff from appropriate City departments to review the panhandling and Katrina efforts and to discuss ideas for moving forward to address homelessness in the City of Worcester as part of a local and regional solution.

Research and Best Practices

At the City Manager’s direction, Donna McGrath, the City’s Grants Coordinator, has been working with the HHS team one to two days a week since October 2005 conducting research, attending interagency meetings, and providing follow-up on various topics relating to homelessness. National “Best Practice” models were carefully reviewed and are summarized in Attachment I, along with information on current draft homeless plans from selected Massachusetts cities.

A copy of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness report, Examples of Cost Benefit Studies Regarding Use of Public Services by Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness, is also included in Appendix I that provides an overview of the healthcare costs of chronic homelessness in nine cities across the nation. “The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program,[“] for example, tracked 119 persons experiencing chronic homelessness over 5 years. BHCHP discovered that the 119 had over 18,000 emergency room visits at an average cost of $1,000 per visit. A copy of the November 19, 2004 Cost of Serving Homeless Individuals in Nine Cities: chart book prepared for The Partnership to End Long-Term Homelessness, Corporation for Supportive Housing, is included in Appendix I. Supportive housing, jail, prison, shelter, mental health hospital and hospital costs per day per person is tracked. These are startling statistics.

It is extremely important to underscore that homelessness is a very complex, human and societal issue. Through this work, we identified numerous homeless subcomponents that should be addresses in the new, revised Worcester plan. A chart delineating the numerous topics is included in Attachment II. Please note that the chart is not an all-inclusive description of the myriad overlapping issues.

An important component of a comprehensive strategy to address homelessness includes targeted prevention strategies. In an effort to explore local efforts, as well as best practices in the areas of prevention, my staff and I met with a Brandeis University doctoral student who is writing her disseration on prevention programs relating to homelessness. Both Worcester and Barnstable County were selected for this research/case study, since these communities were identified by the Center for Social Policy Research as the two most successful prevention models that are most likely to be considered replicable by the State. Worcester and Barnstable County have been highlighted as instituting coordinated systems of prevention service providers in this field who meet formally and informally, developing a Service Delivery Team with Emergency Shelter Grant funding, sharing resources, and maintaining open lines of communication.

The extensive research we have conducted over these recent months points clearly to the fact that Worcester is rich with and fortunate to have credentialed, experienced, and committed human service providers who are working to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens—particularly Worcester’s most vulnerable populations.

Worcester’s Homeless: 2006 Point-in-Time Count

“The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocates HUD homeless assistance grants to organizations that participate in local homeless assistance program planning networks. Each of these networks is called a Continuum of Care. (CoC). HUD introduced the CoC concept to encourage and support local organizations in coordinating their efforts to address housing and homeless issues and reduce homeless. The CoC Plan is a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximum self-sufficienty….HUD funds are awarded through the CoC planning, which completments and overlaps the Consolidated Plan.” [HUD Homeless Continuum of Care brochure (pdf)]

The lead entity for the Worcester County Massachusetts CoC is the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, Inc. (CMHA), a private, not-for-profit corporation. As required by HUD, CoCs must conduct an annual Point-in-Time count of homeless populations and subpopulations. The CoC conducted its “Point-in-Time” count for Worcester County on January 25, 2006. The report from CMHA refers to Worcester data and cautions the City to note that the numbers reflect the “best possible” ‘point in time’ estimate of the homeless population for meeting the HUD definition of homeless. This survey “does not account for thousands of families and individuals who lack their own home and are living in doubled or tripled up housing situations.” Of the total 1,172 Worcester County individuals and persons in homeless families with children, it is reported at 843 (or 71.9%) individuals and persons in homeless families with children are located in the City of Worcester.

City of Worcester
Homeless Individuals26614517428
Persons in Homeless Families with Children2241910415

CMHA. City of Worcester, Point in Time: January 25, 2006

Of the 428 homeless individuals, 266 live in emergency shelter, 145 live in transitional housing, and 17 are unsheltered [note]. Findings indicated that of the 415 persons in homeless families with children, 224 are in emergency shelters, 191 are in transitional housing, and 0 are unsheltered.

In a conversation with the Worcester Public Schools’ HUD McKinney/Vento Homeless Liason, Judith Thompson, she underscored the fact that the number of homeless students and their families is often underreported, since people are reluctant to say that they are homeless. Students often “double up” with relatives who live outside the city. For the 2005-2006 school year, the Worcester Public School instituted a “Student Address Verification” form and learned that, through December 2005, 600 students were identified as homeless. School administrators expect that number to reach 3,000 by June. The WPS McKinney liason is required to work with families to ensure that children, either in shelter, transitional housing, or living with relatives, continue their education either in their original school or, by choice of the family, at another school. If the family chooses to have the child remain in his/her “school of origin,” school buses myst be rerouted so that children can be picked up aat their temporary location and driven to school. This also requires the liason to arrange for transportation for those students living in Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner and attending their Worcester school of origin. Although education continuity is a mandate of the HUD McKinney/Vento Act, transportation funds and liason salaries are unfunded. The WPS estimates that WRTA bus tickets (an option for older children) and alternative transportation for those children living in North County, for example, will cost approximately $25,000 per year (WPS believes this is a conservative estimate.)

U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Region I

On January 19, 2006, John O’Brien, Region I Coordinator of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, attended an HHS meeting to offer guidance and technical assistance for Worcester’s plan. He will provide Worcester support and recommendations, as we move forward to review and implement the strategy through a ten-year plan.

Worcester’s Efforts to Date

  • Since July 2005, the HHS team has been meeting in small groups with service providers, the Worcester Police Department, and other appropriate agencies to discuss and identify outreach methods used, gaps in staff training and/or staff levels, and institutionalize cross-training programs for agency workers as a means to address the homeless street individuals. Currently, the HHS team is developing and distributing a survey to collect information among these organizations in efforts to develop and strengthen outreach and other collaborative strategies.
  • Other small group meetings were convened with various agencies to review the Continuum of Care model and various funding sources to support integral service components. HHS representatives have since attended the Continuum’s monthly meetings.
  • SMOC representatives met with the city manager, interdepartmental city representatives and later with HHS administration regarding their plan to downsize PIP and establish five scattered sites. SMOC strategies and policies were delivered to HHS this week and are under review by HHS pursuant to the many questions raised by the city manager and by city council.
  • In November 2005, Donna McGrath visited seven emergency, transitional, and substance abuse treatment shelters to gain an understanding of various populations served, staff training, financing, operations and management including policies and procedures, referral mechanisms, and options for permanent housing placement. Most recently, the HHS team met with the administrators at the Salvation Army, Adult Rehabilitation Center on Cambridge Street to learn about their 6-month counseling, education, and rehab program, population served, operations, policies, service provider partners, and permanent housing placement.
  • Attachment III includes a copy of the City Manager’s Commission on Homelessness: plan to end chronic homelessness in Worcester, June 23, 2004, the Second Revised Draft dated November 16, 2004, and a copy of the Minority Report (to the same report) dated July 25, 2004 for your review.

Next steps

It is important to note that, in all of our discussions with myriad organizations over the past seven months, several common themes and ardent requests emerged:

  • Strong City leadership, supported by community leadership and commitment, is critical to bring organization and coordination to address the homeless issue and to implement a responsive homelessness plan.
  • The PIP shelter location and its operations are seen as a problem for the neighborhood.
  • SMOC’s plan to address the placement and support of the individuals who are homeless has raised questions among the community.
  • The Worcester Regional Research Bureau’s report and the findings of the Mayor’s Social Service Task Force regarding siting have heightened additional neighborhood and service provider concerns.
  • Providers report that the prejudice, discrimination, and other human rights violations against the homeless population and several service provider agencies have made it difficult to breakdown barriers to pursure harmonious discussions with the community. Concurrently, appointed and elected officials have called for open, comprehensive, and honest communications and exchange of information regarding proposed services, accountability measures to ensure balanced quality of life for all (clients, neighbors, and agencies alike).
  • Community organizations are frustrated, anxious, and want to move forward with the ten-year homelessness plan.
  • The current draft 10-year homeless plan targets only the chronic homeless individual. A minority report, as well as other local service providers and community leaders, asked for inclusion for other populations including families, youth, and groups of peopel living in homemade shanties.

Based on these concerns, and because the process is bogged down in polarized positions and emotions, couples with the numerous issues identified as a result of seven months of research regarding homelessness, I am providing the following prioritized recommended action steps relating to each component.

  • Authorize and approve a Health and Human Services Project Administrator II position, reporting to the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, to serve as liason to the social service agency community, develop/strengthen working partnerships to address homelessness and social service agency sitings, maintain intergovernmental relations in regards to these topics, conduct assessments, prepare periodic progress reports, and respond to requests for information from the city Administration. The position calls for a professional with extensive experience in research, grantwriting, and funding; ability to meet multiple deadlines; and coordinating skills to work with diverse groups of people. The Position Description is attached.
  • Establish and secure commitment from a 12-member Leadership Committee: Worcester City Manager; representative from City Council; Human Rights, United Way, Chamber of Commerce/business, faith, foundation, legal, hospital, and health leaders; regional legislative representation; and a consumer leader advisory board member are suggested for inclusion.

    The committee must be actively engaged members who review research, garner legislative and monetary support, oversee subcommittees to address various segments of homelessness; build momentum for further community, business, housing, sheltering, financial, legislative, neighborhood, and health/medical participation; and market Worcester’s strategy. The committee will assist in prioritizing action steps (many of which can and/or must occur simultaneously).

Homeless activities include:

  • Review and select activities from state and national “best practices” model homelessness programs (e.h. Housing First, Direct Access to Housing, Pathways to Housing) that may be appropriate for Worcester.
  • Review and craft “Good Neighbor Policies,” “Fair Share Analyses,” and other possible siting procedures that lead to open, ongoing communication among the City, developers, agencies, and neighbors.
  • Research state contract licensing, authority for accountability for city-based human service programs and support systems with a long-term goal of addressing state legislative restrictions.
  • Rework the City’s draft 10-year Plan to incorporate new strategies; the minority report issues; updated statistics; targeted populations; a business plan with annual benchmarks, timelines, and budget; further identified needs including a menu of affordable housing options, employment and training programs; comprehensive wraparound services, and substance abuse treatment/detox programs and funding.
  • Integrate and strengthen the Continuum of Care and social service providers into the planning component and identify the mentally- and physically-challenged needs, gaps, and new collaborative services.
  • Work with the District Medical Society to develop methods for studying the pathology of homelessness.
  • Identify and secure targeted/supportive and standard grants (McKinney, Continuum of Care, Department of Transitional Assistance, HUD) and new funding sources including philanthropic entities such as the Melville Charitable Trust, Oprah Winfrey Foundation, local organizations—Health and Greater Worcester Foundation and United Way, legislative earmarks, and incentive financing;
  • Identify and learn about Department of Transitional Assistance, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Department of Mental Health, and Mass Health funds, reimbursement, and state licensing, with a long-term goal of developing systemic change regarding state department processes in which state funds are disbursed, accountability measures upheld, and to streamline/coordinate collective priorities, funding, and programmatic strategies;
  • Work with State administrators and regional municipal partners to address and develop regional/state housing and homelessness partners that also maintain safety, personal rights and protections, while balancing quality of life within neighborhoods.
  • Identify and remediate needs of the population through permanent housing, job skills training, childcare, transportation, employment, GED/ESL programs, healthcare programs, and comprehensive wraparound services.
  • Develop and evaluation, program outcome component measuring success through thoughtful formative and summative assessments and longitudinal studies.
  • Work with the SMOC Board of Directors and community leaders to move a downsized triage emergecy shelter–People in Peril Shelter; incorporate support services, police collaboration, and coordination with a revised Ten-Year Homelessness Plan.
  • Continue to update the 5-year housing projections, availability of Single Room Occupancy sites/units, and subsidized housing.
  • Develop a Housing Trust Fund and revise the City’s Housing Policy, as needed.
  • Continue collaborative municipal interdepartmental work to ensure the integration of funds, programs, and priorities within Code Enforcement, Public Health, Police, Planning, Economic Development, Housing, Neighborhood Services (CDBG and NRSA), Human Rights, Veterans’ Services, and Parks.

The core component for a successful plan to addresss homelessness is coordination and community integration; members of the community must understand, communicate, and participate in this process. Guided by City leadership, respectful, honest, balanced, and compassionate dialogue will realize a vision to a comprehensive business plan model. Working along side a new Commission on Homelessness, the City is committed and poised to become a leader to address homelessness both within the region and the state with a responsive, interactive, data-driven, and results-oriented program.

I am confident that, under your leadership and the committed team of city and regional leaders, we will achieve a framework of identified solutions designed to address this multifaceted homeless issue.


Attachment I
National “Best Practices” Notes and information from websites
Massachusetts’ Cities Status on Draft Plans
U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
Examples of Cost Benefit Studies Regarding use of Public Services by Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness
Costs of Serving Homeless Individuals in Nine Cities: chart book [Link]
Position Description
Attachment II
Condensed Overview of Homelessness Issues
Attachment III
City Manager’s Commission on Homelessness: Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Worcester, June 23, 2004
Second Revised Draft, November 24, 2004
Minority Report

Attachment I

National Best Practices Models


Massachusetts Programs


CITY OF WORCESTER: EM/M Schedule Position Description

[for Health and Human Services Project Adninistrator II. Omitted.]

San Francisco

[“A Roof to Start With,” by Christopher Swope, Governing, December 2005. Link]

[Corporation for Supportive Housing, “Direct Access to Housing.” Link]

[“Shame of the City: A Way Out,” by Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2003. Link]

[National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Direct Access to Housing.” Link]


[“75 hard-core alcoholics to be offered apartments,” by Stuart Eskenazi, The Seattle Times, Thursday, December 15, 2005. Link]



New York City


United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: Examples of Cost Benefit Studies Regarding Use of Public Services by Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness


Costs of Serving Homeless Individuals in Nine Cities: Chart Book, November 19, 2004


Attachment II

[Block diagram of local “Condensed Overview of Homelessness Issues.” Omitted.]

Attachment III

[City Manager’s Commission on Homelessness: Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Worcester, June 23, 2004; Second Revised Draft, November 24, 2004; and Minority Report. Omitted.]

[more to come…]

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One Comment Leave a comment.

  1. On March 5, 2006 at 20:01 Mike (Worcester) said:

    This report estimates 17 people on the street in Worcester in January 2006; Pie and Coffee estimated 16.

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