Splitting the PIP Shelter

As reported by the Telegram:

WORCESTER —  Contracts have been awarded for programs to close the People in Peril shelter on Main Street and change the way that homelessness is dealt with throughout the county.

City Manager Michael V. O’Brien yesterday announced the award of six contracts worth $2.6 million to provide additional services including assessment, triage and case management for homeless individuals; and shelter diversion and prevention and rapid re-housing for homeless families and families at risk of homelessness.

“These contracts represent our collective goal to end the failed practice of emergency sheltering and to replace it with a new paradigm to end homelessness,” Mr. O’Brien said in a report to the city council.

The contracts went to these nonprofit agencies: Community Healthlink, South Middlesex Opportunity Council and Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance for services in Worcester and its surrounding towns, with CMHA’s contract also extending to families in southern Worcester County; and Our Father’s House and Montachusett Opportunity Council in northern Worcester County.

The contracts use state and federal grants. There have been numerous attempts going back at least a decade to close the PIP shelter, which has drawn complaints from neighbors about the crime it attracts and its residents being in the neighborhood.

In Worcester, the city manager promised that SMOC’s long-criticized PIP shelter would become a closed-referral shelter by this fall. Community Healthlink and SMOC are confident that it will happen by November, according to the city manager’s office.

Mr. O’Brien told the City Council that PIP will close entirely in 2010. He recently said it would close by the end of fiscal 2010, which is June 30 next year.

Community Healthlink in Worcester won two contracts worth $1.36 million to provide assessment, triage and case management to individuals as well as to operate an assessment center, with a total of 25 beds. Those would be located in the old city hospital property on Jaques Avenue and Queen Street, where it already operates a detoxification program.

Anyone needing to go to the PIP shelter would have to go to the triage and assessment center first. The PIP shelter has long operated with far more overnight guests than its 88-person occupancy permit allows — on cold winter nights in the past with more than double the allowed occupancy — and allowed unlimited stays.

The triage/assessment center is expected to keep individuals for a day or two and extended observation would be for perhaps six days, according to Michael P. Gilleberto, the city manager’s staff assistant for operations. “Those who require extended clinical observation of a week or more would be referred to the appropriate facility,” he said.

The idea is for case managers at the assessment center to match people with services to stabilize them. “Individuals will then be referred to appropriate housing throughout the region, with wraparound services, where their progress will be monitored,” Mr. O’Brien said.

The city manager finalized the contracts last week after the Leadership Council of the Worcester County Regional Network made its recommendations on responses received Aug. 6 to a request for proposals.

Mr. O’Brien first set June 30 and then this fall as a target to close the PIP. Mr. Gilleberto said that the manager is confident in the date next year because “the flow of funding that begins now, coupled with the coordination of services on a regional basis through the Leadership Council and the city, has positioned the city to successfully implement its plan to end homelessness.”

William T. Breault, chairman of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety and a member of the Leadership Council, helped scuttle the recommendations of the 2004 City Manager’s Commission on Homelessness. But he is ecstatic about yesterday’s plan, which is a result of Mr. O’Brien’s 2007 Task Force on Homelessness. Putting the beds to replace the PIP shelter in a medical setting was discussed by the previous commission, but there was never the money to do it, he said.

Besides the PIP shelter, the placement of group homes in neighborhoods has long sparked rancor. Mr. O’Brien said, “The city, as the contracting entity, will play an integral role in monitoring our progress to ensure compassionate and efficient services balanced with neighborhood/city/county quality of life.”

With $2.6 million in federal stimulus funds the state awarded the city last week, the countywide attack on homelessness will have $5 million. The contracts announced yesterday include 89 rental subsidies for homeless individuals and flexible funds for shelter diversion for 30 families. The Task Force on Homelessness two years ago called for 600 additional housing units to end homelessness.

The Leadership Council adopted the Housing First concept of providing permanent housing to people who need it, not conditioned on tenants accepting services, although it makes “wraparound services” available to those who will accept them.



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