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Boston Houses More Than 100 Young People In First Year Of Anti-Homelessness Initiative

More than 100 young adults experiencing homelessness were housed in the past year since Boston launched an initiative to combat homelessness among young people, according to city officials, who announced the milestone Tuesday.

Bernise Martinez, 23, is one of those housed through the initiative. She moved into an apartment in Cambridge with three roommates in July, after being housed through a rapid re-housing program through Bridge Over Troubled Waters in Boston. The organization is a partner in the city's initiative.

"When I first moved into the apartment, I was so happy because I didn't have to worry about where I was going to put all of my personal belongings or where I was going to sleep that night," Martinez said. "Living in this place with my other three roommates is also a blessing. We learn from one another. We form a bond like we're a family. And I think that's the most important. When you're homeless and you're bouncing from one place to another, you don't feel like you have a place where you can call home and people that you can come home to you can call family."

Martinez says she entered foster care when she was eight years old, and when she was 22 entered a transitional program and then an apartment she shared with others.

"My roommate situation was really great. But then I ended up getting myself into a domestic violence relationship, which basically kind of took, like, all of my plans off track," Martinez said. "So I became homeless due to the fact that my roommates didn't want to re-sign the lease with me due to my relationship, and I definitely understood where they were coming from."

She bounced between different family members' homes before seeking help.

Funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed the city to launch the plan in aimed at ending youth and young adult homelessness in November 2019. The city set goal of creating 285 "housing opportunities" for people between the ages of 18 and 24 within three years. Those opportunities include rapid re-housing with up to two years of support services, rental assistance vouchers and permanent supportive housing units. At this point 280 of those opportunities have already been created, according to Laila Bernstein, adviser to the mayor for the Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness and deputy director of the city's Supportive Housing Division.

City officials say more than 240 people from more than 100 public and private organizations and Boston's Youth Action Board — a group of teens and young adults who've experienced housing instability or homelessness — have worked together on the initiative.

"It's a major feat and it means there are 100, actually 108 young people in our community who were experiencing homelessness who no longer are," Bernstein said. "They're now in stable housing with support services. And as everyone knows, this is critical in normal times but right now the pandemic means that people who are without a stable home are in much greater danger than even ever before."

Bia Moreira, a housing officer for the city's initiative to end youth homelessness, says most of the young people were actually housed since May. That's because the first part of the year was spent figuring out who was getting referred to the program and actually tracking them down.

"What makes young adults a little bit different from other populations experiencing homelessness is that they're very transient," Moreira said. "So it's kind of hard to find them at the shelters because they don't stay that long. They stay or they bounce around. So finding them in the first place was really difficult and because of COVID it was extra difficult."

Next year the city will invest in education and training programs for young adults at risk of homelessness — with funding reallocated from the police overtime budget.

Lynn Jolicoeur Twitter Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.

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