Research on Permanent Supportive Housing
In evaluating the project, it is important to separately consider the “typical” Affordable Housing versus Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) also known as “Housing First.” Though mentioned rarely in the promotional materials, PSH is at least half of the “revised proposal” as far as we can tell. PSH is often described as providing “supportive services for households with a disability.” As we understand it, the “household” is most often one person and the disability is, in many cases, drug use or mental illness serious enough to contribute to homelessness. The word “first” in “Housing First” is after a strategy of providing someone with housing before they get sober. In other words, mentally ill people, often housed in single “studio” units, are free to use drugs and alcohol. When it comes to evaluating PSH, research suggests that some PSH tenants do stay housed for some period of time. But is this arrangement actually good for their health? When researchers attempted to answer this question, the results were troubling. Some outcomes were outright tragic. Several authors suggest that a different approach, “Treatment First” would do better to help these individuals improve their health.
Charlestown’s own Dr. Gerald Angoff wrote a letter to the Patriot Bridge (March 13 2023) about the distinction between Affordable and Supportive and the many challenges that the latter would face especially in this neighborhood.
- A Housing First Approach Won’t End Homelessness
changewashington.org, March 29, 2023
“…These environments are often as dangerous as the streets… Staff and residents are assaulted, residents preyed on, robbed, trafficked and more. In the five years I worked in the field, I know of maybe three clients out of hundreds who improved their quality of life and stopped using drugs…”
- Housing First is a Failure
Cicero Institute Research, January 13, 2022
“The problem is that now, 20 years on, we’ve run the Housing First experiment, and it didn’t work.”
- Right to Fail: Video Documentary
PBS Frontline, August 25, 2020.
“Thousands of New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses won the chance to live independently in supported housing, following a 2014 federal court order. FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigate what’s happened to people moved from adult homes into apartments and find more than two dozen cases in which the system failed, sometimes with deadly consequences.”
- The “Housing First” Approach has Failed: Time to Reform Federal Policy and Make it Work for Homeless Americans
The Heritage Foundation, August 4, 2020.
“Although the Housing First group showed higher rates of housing retention after 24 months, it also showed higher rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and death than the control group—which consisted of people who were simply left on the streets.”
- Permanent Supportive Housing: Evaluating the Evidence for Improving Health Outcomes Among People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 2018.
“Overall, except for some evidence that PSH improves health outcomes among individuals with HIV/AIDS, the committee finds that there is no substantial published evidence as yet to demonstrate that PSH improves health outcomes or reduces health care costs.”
- Housing Boston’s Chronically Homeless Unsheltered Population: 14 Years Later
Med Care, April 2021.
“Long-term outcomes for this permanent supportive housing program for chronically unsheltered individuals showed low housing retention and poor survival.”
- Subsidizing Addiction
City Journal, Summer 2022
“… many policies make drug abuse a prerequisite for services. Federal, state, and local programs give addicts more funds and assistance than nonaddicts. And other favors go to homeless individuals who can prove that they’re engaging in criminal activity.”
Related News Stories
- Boston Mayor Wu Unveils Mass and Cass Plan
The Boston Herald, August 25, 2023
A video of the press conference is here:
- State lawmakers weighing bill to cover first responders exposed to needles at Boston’s Mass and Cass
Boston Herald, July 24, 2023
- CNN’s Smerconish: A Proposal for the Homeless Crisis
CNN.com, July 15, 2023
“Every major city should offer shelter… but it comes with conditions!”
- Funding dries up for homeless clinic at Mass. and Cass Roundhouse Hotel
GBH News, February 23, 2023
- ‘Rough Sleepers’ Review: On the Streets of Boston
The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2023
“Dr. O’Connell once believed that housing the homeless solved the problem. After finding half a dozen corpses of the formerly homeless in newly occupied apartments, Jill—his assistant at the time and later his wife—coined the phrase “death by housing.” As Mr. Kidder writes: “Finding their corpses left Jim and Jill wondering if they weren’t violating the physician’s oath, actually harming patients by putting them in apartments.” Dr. O’Connell now believes housing to be “more complicated than medicine.”
This article is a review of the NYT Bestseller book Rough Sleepers about Boston’s Dr. Jim O’Connell. The phrase “Death By Housing” is also the title of one of the chapters in the book.
- Charlie Baker says Boston must go after dealers to solve Mass and Cass problem
The Boston Herald, November 29, 2022
- ‘Okay We Are Going To Cut This’: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu Heckled So Badly She Ends Press Briefing: Video
Forbes Breaking News, October 20, 2022
- A 9-year-old boy fell on a needle at Boston’s Clifford Park.
Boston.com, October 14,2022
- Wu moves to speed up Boston affordable housing construction with executive order
The Boston Needle Map
This map is put together by Andy Brand, a concerned resident of the South End. The source data are provided by the Boston 311 program that allows citizens to request cleanup of used syringes. The data on past requests are available here
– Browse: https://mayors24.cityofboston.gov/?service_id=55563da904853fde08a1050
– Download: https://data.boston.gov/dataset/311-service-requests
These can be aggregated and plotted on a map in an interactive dashboard:
Note this only captures cases that were reported via the 311 system. The trend seems to show a reduction in requests after 2020. One component of the decrease is explained by Mayor Michelle Wu in the aforementioned October 20 press conference. At around 7:08 Mayor Wu says “our teams have collected more than 200,000 syringes since January” and also mentions “routine cleanings”. These efforts appear to be new and in addition to the 311 requests and therefore they are not counted in the 311 dataset. Therefore the actual number of “needles on the ground” could be much higher than the dashboard reports.
Below is a screenshot of 2021 data, zoomed to show Boston, Charlestown and the St Francis House Boylston location. We use 2021 data because 2022 is only populated for half of the year in Andy’s dataset, and because of the possible data skew described in the previous paragraph:
A story about Andy’s work, among other issues affecting Mass and Cass, was published here: https://bostonopioid.github.io/discarded-needle/index.html
Update: since writing this page, we searched BOS:311 to find images of needles next to the front door of the St Francis House 39 Boylston St location. Details here.
St. Francis House as an Organization
As a nonprofit, St. Francis house is required to publish their financial information in the IRS form 990. Their latest form is available here:
It includes information on their budget, sources of funding, salaries of key officers and expenses.
Glassdoor is a website that allows employees to review their employers. Reading reviews for St. Francis House may provide insight into what issues may arise with the project. You may need to create a Glassdoor account to read the full page:
Police Incidents near the Current St. Francis Location
During the October 4 CNC meeting, a resident introduced himself as a retired Boston Police officer and mentioned the number of police incidents at the current St. Francis location. We decided to gather this data independently. First we downloaded Boston Police report data for 2022 from https://data.boston.gov/dataset/crime-incident-reports-august-2015-to-date-source-new-system, retrieved on December 29, 2022. Unfortunately the police data does not include exact addresses and is instead recorded at coordinate points roughly half a block apart from each other. St Francis House operates two locations across the street from each other: 39 Boylston St and 48 Boylston St. We conservatively filtered the data for the one point closest to these locations: (42.35231189676638, -71.06370510095782). This process may be imprecise. This may theoretically include some crimes that are very close to the location but not related to St. Francis House specifically. At the same time, this would not include a crime related to someone at St. Francis if it was geotagged one block away. St. Francis and POUA representatives have also claimed the Helm on Third project will be a different kind of housing (“not a shelter”), and that the downtown Boylston area is generally crime-prone. With those caveats in mind, we can tabulate the number of reports grouped by the OFFENSE_DESCRIPTION column. Overall, there were 86 reports for year 2022, or about one report every 4.2 days on average.
|OFFENSE_DESCRIPTION||Number of cases|
|ASSAULT – SIMPLE||15|
|DRUGS – POSSESSION/ SALE/ MANUFACTURING/ USE||10|
|ASSAULT – AGGRAVATED||5|
|SICK ASSIST – DRUG RELATED ILLNESS||3|
|LARCENY THEFT FROM BUILDING||3|
|THREATS TO DO BODILY HARM||2|
|HARASSMENT/ CRIMINAL HARASSMENT||2|
|OPERATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE (OUI) DRUGS||2|
|WEAPON VIOLATION – CARRY/ POSSESSING/ SALE/ TRAFFICKING/ OTHER||1|
|WARRANT ARREST – BOSTON WARRANT (MUST BE SUPPLEMENTAL)||1|
|TOWED MOTOR VEHICLE||1|
|SICK/INJURED/MEDICAL – PERSON||1|
|PROPERTY – LOST/ MISSING||1|
|M/V ACCIDENT – INVOLVING PEDESTRIAN – NO INJURY||1|
|MISSING PERSON – LOCATED||1|
|BURGLARY – COMMERICAL||1|
Full detail on these 86 reports is available as a CSV file here.
Sex Offenders at the Current St Francis House Location
Project proponents have stated that, although registered sex offenders live at the St Francis House Boylston locations right now, they would not be allowed to live at the new Helm on Third location. Some of us have questions as to whether this policy could change in the future, particularly if St. Francis leadership changes. It’s also not clear how they plan to screen for sex offenders who have committed crimes outside of the state or outside of the country altogether.
St Francis House operates two locations across the street from each other: 39 Boylston St and 48 Boylston St. The following is a list of Sex Offenders registered at these addresses. We count at least 15 individuals with apartment numbers, which suggests they are long-term tenants. Retrieved from nsopw.gov on Sunday, March 26, 2023:
The Boston Citywide Land Audit
A March 14, 2023 report from the City of Boston with an inventory of city-owned land parcels:
“The City owns 176.9 million total square feet of real estate made up of 2,976 unique parcels of land… 1,238 of the City’s parcels (9.5 million square feet) are vacant or underutilized.”
Neighborhoods Ranked by Affordable Housing
According to 2021 data, Charlestown has 2,405 income-restricted housing units out of a total of 9,440 housing units, or 25% income-restricted. Thus Charlestown ranks fifth after Roxbury, Chinatown, Mission Hill and South End, out of 25 neighborhoods total. The citywide average is 19.2% income-restricted. Mayor Wu’s Roslindale neighborhood is at 13%.
Page last updated on August 27, 2023