By Seth Daniel
The Metro Housing Boston organization reported this month that their transition assistance program for families in crisis helped 70 families in Chelsea with a total expenditure of $190,623 locally.
Outside of Boston, Chelsea was the one community where RAFT was utilized more than others. The next closest community was Malden with 47 families helped.
The Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides families with a small amount of cash assistance and provides an option to having to enter emergency shelter. Metro Housing Boston administers RAFT in Boston and 28 surrounding communities. With RAFT, eligible families can apply for up to $4,000 that can be used to help retain housing, get new housing, keep utilities on and to avoid homelessness. To qualify, a family cannot make more than 50 percent of the area median income, which in the 2017 Boston region was $46,550 for a family of three.
“Many families are living paycheck to paycheck,” red the report. “An unplanned expense can put their housing in jeopardy. RAFT provides a safety net for families to have something to fall back on when they are in crisis and need support.”
It is the fourth year that Metro Housing Boston has shared the data about the program, which is funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Stating that Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live within in the United States, officials from Metro Housing Boston said such funding is extremely important for families with very low incomes to handle things like fires or other catastrophes that they cannot afford to plan for.
“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”
Overall, including Chelsea, the program likely saved 1,000 families from turning to a shelter – which also is estimated to have saved the state $31 million in emergency shelter funds. For the $3.8 million RAFT funding, 1,474 families were able to resolve housing crises.
With the continued commitment to funding by the state for RAFT, the program has been able to assist 60 percent more families than it did four years ago. However, this year the average benefit decreased by 3 percent to an average of $2,614 per client.
Also, a pilot program during FY17 expanded RAFT eligibility to include families of all sizes and configurations. Under this program, Metro Housing served 60 households, 31 of whom were individuals and 27 of whose head of household had a disability.
A vast majority of those receiving RAFT (48 percent) use it to pay rent that is in arrears. Some 20 percent use it to pay security deposits for a new apartment, and 11 percent use it for first/last months rent payments on a new apartment.
The Chelsea Fire Department recently received two new pieces of fire apparatus, and at the moment both are being outfitted a preparing to be put into service.
The Chelsea Fire Department (CFD) has taken delivery of two new fire vehicles this week. Both are currently being outfitted and will be put into service later this month.
First, the new Ladder 2, which replaces a 1999 aerial that runs from the Mill Hill Station on Broadway, was purchased by the City as part of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). This new truck is currently being customized with equipment and going through the training process, and will be in service by the end of November.
The addition of this new ladder truck gives the department a viable spare aerial device that can be placed in service when a front line ladder is down for service or repairs, which is a great safety net for the city.
Second, the new Rescue 1 will replace the current Squad 5 and a step van that was utilized as a Special Operations vehicle.
This Rescue was acquired through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program that was applied for by Fire Chief Len Albanese.
This $600,000 Rescue was obtained at only a 10 percent co-share by the City. This truck will be equipped with Special Operations equipment, most of which has been provided to the City through the Metro Boston Urban Area Strategic Initiative (UASI) program. As part of the regional preparedness, Chelsea specializes in Technical Search for structural collapse.
When needed for Regional Response, this new Rescue can quickly get a large amount of equipment and to the scene of an incident. This truck will be customized next, once the Ladder is completed. Then the department will conduct additional training and the project will be completed by the end of the year if not sooner.
The department hopes to be able to eventually staff this Rescue with the expansion of the additional eight firefighters obtained through SAFER Grant.
For now, it will be in service – unmanned and taken when needed, the same way the current Squad 5 has been used.
“My goal with the SAFER grant that provided eight additional firefighters and the acquisition of the Rescue was to get more boots on the ground in the field and eventually get the Rescue staffed,” said Chief Albanese. “The city manager and the council have made a commitment to support funding for these projects. Time will tell if we are able to bring this goal to fruition within our budget. There are several factors that will affect that possibility.”
A sizable donation to the Chelsea Collaborative and the Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) will assist unaccompanied immigrant children, who have fled their home countries and ended up in Chelsea, as hundreds of the children enter the public school system this year.
The Chelsea Collaborative and Greater Boston Legal Services announced a $40,000 gift from immigration and higher education advocate Bob Hildreth that will support the sheltering, feeding and providing legal services for the estimated 600 unaccompanied minors who traveled across the US border over the past two years and landed in Chelsea. About 300 of the children are expected to enter the public schools this year.
Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative that organized the response to the influx of children said, “When deciding to help, we only thought about what we were witnessing: we saw so many children coming through our doors in need. We knew that in order for a mother to make or to send her children on this journey it was because they were facing unimaginable violence in their country.”
Experts estimate that a public education costs about $13,000 per student, annually. While Chelsea, a low-income community, will struggle to educate these immigrant children with no additional funding, the city has vowed to do its best. Hildreth intends to support that effort and calls on others to do the same.
Hildreth said, “These children are all of our responsibility. My donation will hopefully spur people in rich towns to join me in helping cities like Chelsea pay for the assistance they so willingly offer to immigrant children.”
Hildreth has a history of personally supporting efforts to address the needs of Greater Boston’s immigrants. His alliances run deep with the Chelsea Collaborative through his work with FUEL Education, and with GBLS with whom he helped bail out immigrants caught in the Bianca raid in New Bedford seven years ago.
State Rep. Dan Ryan, Chelsea DTA Team Specialist Anna Jones, Honoree Ana Argueta, her son, Edwin, and DTA Commissioner Stacey Monahan.
Rosa Caraballo was used to getting up every morning and making sure she arrived just a little bit early at her day care job.
She had been doing the same routine for seven years, until this past January when the rug was pulled out from under her and she suddenly lost her job.
She had a 2-year-old daughter to support and had no choice but to turn to the state safety net programs – but for her, that wasn’t enough.
“I was determined to do whatever I could to get back to work when I lost my job,” she said at a recent Client Appreciation ceremony. “I worked in a day care for seven years and suddenly became unemployed at the beginning of this year. I struggled. I got little or no support from the father of my girls. I lived off of my income tax refund for a few months, but it didn’t last. I reached out to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and that’s when I heard about their support programs.”
In the meantime, Caraballo has been training on Microsoft Office programs and said she is very close to landing another job and getting her family back on track.
Her story is one of several that were highlighted and recognized at a ceremony in Roca Headquarters last month – a ceremony put on by the DTA and highlighting inspirational stories from the Chelsea offices’s clientele.
DTA Commissioner Stacey Monahan was also on hand to recognize the many clients of the Chelsea office that had transitioned into employment or had undergone significant training through DTA programs.
“This is about believing in people now,” she said. “It’s not just about money and benefits. That’s part of it…This is about supporting people and helping them through a transition. I need help with that. Everybody does. That’s what is required whenever there is a transition. It’s about supporting people as they move onward and upward.”
One of those very motivational stories came from Denise Rivera of Chelsea, who said she could never have gotten the training she needed to succeed without the DTA support and programs.
Rivera trained in a DTA program in food service since last October, she said.
“I never knew looking for a job would be so hard,” she said. “It definitely helps to have an agency to help us…The training I received helped me with confidence to push forward. Not only do I love to cook, but also I love to be around people. When you really love something, you have to go get it. There are no shortcuts and no one will hand you anything. I am proud to say today that I applied for a job recently and found out that I got the job. I am ready to work and be successful in my new job.”
Officials gathered at the announcement about the American Legion Hall were State Sen.
Sal DiDomenico, Roger Herzog, director of Community Economic Development Assistance
Corporation, Housing and Urban Development Regional Director Barbara Fields, State
Housing Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein, state Veterans Services Secretary Coleman Nee,
TND Director Ann Houston and City Manager Jay Ash.
Last year at this time, Veteran Al Kelly was living on the streets – homeless and on the edge of falling off society’s map.
It was at that same time that he got hit by a car and severely injured.
He decided he would go to a shelter to recover, and landed at Pine Street Inn.
That’s when he got a piece of good advice, advice that pointed him to the Veterans Administration and their numerous housing programs aimed to end homelessness among veterans. In fact, the VA is currently targeting homeless veterans with a goal of ending homelessness in their ranks by 2015.
In Chelsea, a piece of that plan is playing out at the old American Legion Post – the oldest Post in the state. The Post has been abandoned since 2010, though, and a new plan is calling for 10 units of housing and support services to be located there for homeless veterans.
Kelly told a crowd at the announcement of the facility in Chelsea just such a home in Dorchester helped re-direct his life and get him back on the right path.
“They had me in housing by June of this year,” he said. “Any vet who is homeless regardless of the issue – even with substance abuse – should take advantage of this. They have housing and programs to help. Even if you relapse, they’ll help you. They’re not going to toss you to the curb. They’ll find the resources to get you the help you need. I encourage all veterans to get off the streets and get to the VA.”
The project will be built and run through a collaboration of The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and Pine Street Inn. A third collaborator will be TND’s CONNECT program – a financial literacy and job training program that will provide services to the veterans living in the new home – which has been dubbed the North Bellingham Veterans Home.
“Our redevelopment plan honors the history of the Chelsea American Legion Hall as a meeting place for veterans,” said TND’s Executive Director Ann Houston.
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash said the new development is the confluence of several people thinking alike. He said last year they were beginning to talk about redeveloping the downtown area, and a number of people approached him to pitch a plan to help veterans. Those people included TND, City Planners, and City Councillors.
“Everyone at the same time had the same idea,” said Ash. “Staff members, people in our Planning Department, city councillors and then Ann of TND – they all were thinking about trying to do something for veterans in the downtown area. We thought that there was no better place than the Post for this, and everybody just came together.”
A little over seven months have passed since the state embarked on a plan to end homelessness among veterans in Massachusetts by 2015. This ambitious policy has resulted in multiple projects around the state that aim to create new, permanently affordable housing, to increase social services, and to support veterans in search of employment.
The Chelsea project will make a small, but meaningful, dent in that goal.
TND acquired the property last year and plans a complete makeover of Chelsea’s historic Hall to create 10 studio apartments, nine to provide permanent supportive housing with preference given to homeless veterans, and one for a live-in house manager. While currently underutilized, the site will become one of the focal points in the redevelopment of the Bellingham Square area where Chelsea’s City Hall is located.
TND recruited Pine Street Inn, New England’s leading provider of housing, shelter, job training and street outreach to homeless men and women as a service provider partner on the project. The two organizations are collaborating to introduce an effective model of housing formerly homeless veterans by combining permanently affordable housing, job training skills as well as live-in support from experienced Pine Street Inn staff.
“Pine Street Inn looks forward to working with veterans and the community as we provide services that will enable homeless veterans to get back on their feet,” said Lyndia Downie, President of Pine Street Inn. “We want to ensure that those who have served their country receive the support they need,” she added.
On any given day in the US, nearly 1.5 million veterans are at “imminent risk” of becoming homeless, according to a 2012 report by the Center for American Progress. In Massachusetts alone, nearly 1 in 10 (1 in 7 nationally) of the homeless population is comprised of veterans of the Armed Forces. . Francisco Toro, Chelsea Veterans Agent, explained that the issue of housing of homeless veterans should always include clinical staff to oversee the case management and transition of the veterans back into society. A key strength of the North Bellingham Veterans Home is that it meets both the housing and service needs of homeless veterans.